colonization

Terry Janis: Citizen Engagement and Constitutional Change at the White Earth Nation (Q&A)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Terry Janis, former Project Manager for the White Earth Constitution Reform Project, fields questions from the audience about his specific role in White Earth's constitutional reform process. He stresses the need for those engaging in constitutional reform to be cognizant of the fact that a process involving foundational change will necessarily entail Native nations citizens to confront and deal with the enduring legacies of colonial federal policies.

People
Resource Type
Citation

Janis, Terry. "Citizen Engagement and Constitutional Change at the White Earth Nation (Q&A)." Tribal Constitutions seminar, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Q&A session.

Audience member:

"Okay, to develop this, I guess this governance model because we've been at this for awhile now and we got our... Let me take you back. It first started, we tried to go to self-government, that was shot down; people were scared of that. Our land code, people were scared of that; that went down. But we got our own election code and that's what the people passed and membership code. I guess how I see it is you gave us all this information how to govern ourselves, the whats and ifs, what if this happens, what if that or whatever, all the unknowns. Maybe it was too much for our people to give them all that at once. Now we have a problem of backlog of over 400 and some odd homes, some houses are boarded up and need renovation and so it boils up dollars.

So let's say if we develop a model and this is important what you're talking about on communication, that's important. With that same concept, if we've already got our election code and membership code, now let's develop the housing code because we have a problem, we pay rent. Nobody understands that money goes back into their homes and whatever to develop and all. Nobody likes paying rent. They think everything's free. So we have a problem of collecting rent. If we develop this model, let's say just for the housing area to start off, develop this kind of model, bring it out to the people, not evictions, whatever might work.

So is there processes like that that'll slowly sort of keep the whole picture into the... To me, the way I look at it is, there's too much, they can't digest all that. So bit-by-bit, I guess that's how I'm looking at it. Now what we're talking about here is just the housing part of it. We've got our own education, hopefully we develop that. At least in this term, at least we can push something, working with... It's a process to make it work, at least we're going someplace instead of taking a step back all the time. I'm trying to look for solutions I guess."

Terry Janis:

"I don't know if this is on, but can you hear me okay? In every situation you have to deal with the reality of two issues, one of which is our colonization. And we as Indian people have a colonized mentality, regardless of whether we realize it or not and when we're talking about change, we have to accept that. So we are a colonized people and change in that sense is going to be difficult to accomplish. And as people that are moving our communities towards change, whether it's a broad constitution or a specific code, that's got to be part of the educational process is accepting our people for who they are and where they're at. There's beauty in our people and because of the history of what we suffered there's also darkness. And when we're thinking about how we're informing and how we're educating our people, we have to keep in mind the colonized mindsets that our people have and are we going to engage that because we have to engage it, otherwise it'll kick us in the ass. It'll stop things from moving forward. And the reality is, it's only going to be able to move forward as far as it can. Sometimes you have to take a staged process. So that's one thing.

And the second thing I spent a lot of time with earlier is just the politics of our community. Anytime you're talking about change and you're talking about an informational, educational process the politics of the community are very real and you have to deal with that. I didn't mention earlier the kind of colonized reality or colonized mindsets because it's sometimes difficult to really accept about ourselves. But...and it's not always the best strategy to say it directly, but you see it over and over and it's a part of the reality of who we are as Indian people. It's how we grew up. We have certain ideas.

My dad growing up on Pine Ridge, the idea was that him as a landowner is he was completely free; he could never be regulated, he could never be taxed, he could do what he wanted with his land. That's what it meant to be Indian on a reservation. And the reality is that's just not true at all. We as Indian people are regulated and managed and controlled more than any other people on the country, my dad included. And if the tribe wants to move forward and start to assert its sovereign authority by zoning and regulating and taxing and doing other things with their property, they're going to do that at some point. But that's our reality and the colonized mindset comes from what happened to us as Indian people, but also the unique sort of situation that we live in, what we've gotten used to, the things that we think we can do and that are inherent, but oftentimes are just circumstantial. For my dad, it's just because the tribe hasn't chosen to regulate their tax yet and that's all that is.

But I agree with you completely. Thinking through, knowing your own people, how best to achieve change, how best to inform and educate your people about that process, maybe a staged sort of process is the best way, maybe a broad complete reform-like what White Earth did is the best way. You're in the best situation to make that decision but it's a decision you have to make. You have to make that decision. It's tactical, it's strategic and you're responsible for it. As leaders, you are responsible for making that decision, period. And you'll live or die on that. Sometimes it'll be the wrong decision and then it'll all fall apart, but that's your job and that's what you do."

Herminia Frias:

"Another question...do we have a question on this side? Okay, question over here. Oh, I'm sorry. Ms. Porter did you want to respond?"

Jennifer Porter:

"Oh, no."

Audience member:

"Okay, so I have a question for you, Terry. So you mentioned maintaining a firm principle of neutrality. That's really interesting and I suspect I'm probably not the only one thinking this, but as you noted, as a Lakota person working up with Ojibwe people, it's really difficult for me to imagine that, one being a Diné, I cannot imagine Navajo, in this case we have a constitution, but a Navajo government development person who is basically in charge of putting together a reform or a government that is one for either Comanche or worse case with the Ute, speaking from that role. So referring to that again what I'm saying is I commend you White Earth Nation and you for doing that. Getting to the question is the neutrality piece to it. We all come with our values, our perceptions, our thoughts. I can't help but think that at some point during this process that you sort of like wanted to nudge folks in one way or another on some of your own issues with respect to one being an attorney and having a good understanding of federal Indian law in relation to Indian Country. I just wanted to ask how do you handle something like that?"

Terry Janis:

"Yeah, yeah. There's two answers to that. The first is that in this particular issue, this idea of neutrality, it only focuses on the educational and informational process. The whole drafting of a constitution or an amendment to a constitution, you cannot be neutral on that. You're going to make decisions and you're going to compromise and it's going to be one way or another and that's the work that tribal members really need to be doing I think. So as far as your own governmental reform, actually drafting the reforms, actually thinking them through, I think the very nature of that is positional and political and about compromise. For me the neutrality thing was important from an educational perspective, strictly in getting information out there, educating, helping people to understand, answering their questions. When they're completely wrong about something, fighting with them about that. That's the only time I took a position. When they were wrong about what they were saying about what this proposed constitution said, then I fought about that because I just wanted them to get it right. I don't want...that didn't decide for them one way or the other, I just wanted their information to be accurate, that they learned the materials and I got into plenty of fights, I had plenty of fun on that. The reason why we go to law school is we kind of like fighting a little bit, right? And so you get into plenty of fights and you have plenty of fun with that, but that neutrality position is really directly tied to the educational and informational process as a community-based thing. This is community-based work. This is going into people's house, this is personal, this is physical, this is live; you've got to be comfortable with that. You've got to get educators and people that are a part of your community training and information thing that are comfortable with that kind of arrrgh. It's a beautiful thing and it's really fun if that's what you enjoy and that's what you love as an educator and that's... So no, I never really compromised in that sense. I didn't really have a struggle with that ever."

Herminia Frias:

"We have time for one more question and just to let you know, we're going to continue this conversation after lunch. Ian Record is going to be continuing this on citizen engagement. So Robert, you'll have the last question before lunch and if you have more questions, we'll open it up again after lunch."

Robert Hershey:

"Thank you and thank you very, very much for the presentations. In response to the gentleman from Canada, I was going to talk about this in my presentation later, but let me just say really the idea of big bites versus small bites. And there are a number of constitutions, like you talked about housing, well, the Tohono O'odham have a constitution that has a lot of power reserved to the districts. The districts are responsible for home site, land site assignments. The way the Navajos constructed land site assignments through matrilineal. The Hopi, the villages have independent authority in many regards and things are specifically reserved. So by working on these different codes, your election code, your education or whatever, it might be your housing, you are actually then having the discussions, which will then transform themselves when the time comes into writing themselves as constitutional amendments. So you are basically in the process of creating constitutions by virtue of your actual practices in these different areas."

Herminia Frias:

"Thank you, Robert. And I'd like to thank both of the panelists for sharing their stories. Thank you very much. Give them a round of applause." 

Wilma Mankiller: What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective

Producer
Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series
Year

Former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller discusses the common misperceptions that people have about Indigenous people in the 21st century, and the efforts of Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity, cultures, values, and ways of life.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Mankiller, Wilma. "What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective." Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 30, 2008. Presentation.

Thank you very much Tsianina [Lomawaima] for inviting me and for working on all the details to get me here. And I also want to thank Teresa wherever Teresa is who’s been in charge of taking care of a lot of logistics and has done a great job. And how I came to be here is that I mentioned to Tom [Holm] one time -- we’re both on this commission that he mentioned -- and I mentioned to him how much I love Arizona. And I told him. ‘If I ever had to live any place other than my home and the Cherokee Nation, I’d live in Arizona.’ And he said, ‘Well, we need to get you to Arizona then.’ And so I also wanted to thank Tom for the invitation to come here today and be with all of you. And I want to thank you. I was just mentioning to Tom how honored I am always when I do public speaking that people would leave their home and their family and their other activities and come to spend an evening just so we can have dialogue together and get to know one another, and I really appreciate that very much and want to express that appreciation to you.

For me it’s an incredible honor to offer remarks about what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century as a part of the Vine Deloria series of events that are occurring here on campus. Many of us who had the privilege of knowing Vine are still trying to figure out how to live in a world without his physical presence and I believe that we can best honor him by doing exactly what this university is doing and that’s continuing to challenge the stereotypes and the misperceptions about Native people that still exist in this country. I also think that we can honor him by getting up every morning and making sure that we stand for something larger than ourselves. I think that’s a way of honoring Vine. And I also think that we can honor him by continuing the fight, his fight, our fight for treaty rights and for tribal sovereignty and also continuing the fight for our cultural survival.

So let me begin by saying that I don’t speak for all Indigenous people or even for all Cherokee people. The thoughts that I share with you tonight are derived entirely from my own experience. And most of my remarks tonight will concern Indigenous people of this country, but I have visited Indigenous people in lots of other places including China. There are very distinct ethnic communities in China, in Ecuador, in South Africa, in New Zealand and in Brazil. There are over 300 million Indigenous people in virtually every region of the world including the Sami peoples of Scandinavia, the Maya of Guatemala, numerous tribal groups in the Amazonian rainforest, the Dalits in the mountains of southern India, the San and Qua in southern Africa, aboriginal people in Australia and of course the hundreds and hundreds of Indigenous people in Mexico, Central and South America as well as here in this land that is now called America. There is enormous diversity among communities of Indigenous people, each of which has its own culture, language, history and unique way of life. Indigenous people across the globe share some common values derived from an understanding that their lives are part of and inseparable from the natural world around them.

Onondaga faith keeper Oren Lyons who spoke here recently once said, ‘Our knowledge is profound and comes from living in one place for untold generations. Our knowledge comes from watching the sun rise in the east and set in the west from the same place over great sections of time. We are as familiar with the land, river and great seas that surround us as we are with the faces of our mothers. Indeed we call the earth [Native language], Our Mother, from which all life springs. This deeply felt sense of interdependence with all other living things fuels a duty and a responsibility to conserve and protect the natural world that is a sacred provider of food, of medicine and spiritual sustenance. Hundreds of seasonal ceremonies are regularly conducted by Indigenous people to express thanksgiving for the gifts of nature and to acknowledge the seasonal changes and to remind people of their obligations to each other and to the earth.’

And the stories continue. In many Indigenous communities around the world, traditional stories embody the collective memory of the people. These stories often describe how things were in the distant past, what happened to cause the world to be as it is today and some stories project far into the future. The prophecies of a number of Indigenous groups predict that the world will end when people are no long capable of protecting nature or restoring its balance. Two of the most widely quoted prophecies are those of the Hopi and the Iroquois, both of which have long predicted that the world will end if human beings forget their responsibilities to the natural world. These prophecies seem particularly important in this era of increasing alarm about the catastrophic effects of climate change and questions, even questions about the long-term survival of humankind. Indigenous people are not the only people on earth who understand that they’re interconnected with all living things. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, ‘At some point during this journey, we lost our feeling of connectedness to the rest of nature. We now dare to wonder, ‘Are we so unique and powerful as to be essentially separate from the earth?’’

There are many thousands of people from different ethnic groups who care deeply about the environment and fight every day to protect the earth. The difference between non-Indigenous environmentalists and Indigenous people who live close to the land is that Indigenous people have the benefit, the unique benefit of having ceremonies that regularly remind them of their responsibilities to each other and their responsibilities to the land. So they remain close to the land not only in the way they live but in their hearts and in the way they view the world.

To me, sometimes when I talk to mainstream environmentalists it’s almost like environmentalism is an intellectual exercise. The difference when you talk to people who, traditional Indigenous people who live close to the land is that they feel that the connection to the land and their responsibility to take care of it is a sacred duty, it’s not an intellectual exercise. When women like Pauline Whitesinger, an elder at Black Mountain or at Big Mountain, and Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone land rights activist speak of preserving the land for future generations, they’re not talking about just future generations of humans, they are talking literally about future generations of all living things. That’s a profound difference. Pauline and Carrie live with the land and they understand the relative insignificance of human beings in the totality of the universe.

When all human beings, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people lived closer to the land, there was a greater understanding of the interdependence between humans and the land. Author and feminist Gloria Steinem observes that ‘Once, indeed nearly for all the time that human beings have walked this earth, you and I would have been living very differently in small bands, raising our children together as if each child were our own and migrating with the seasons. There were no nations, no lines drawn in the sand. Instead there were migratory paths and watering places with trade and culture blossoming wherever the paths came together in patterns that spread over the continents like lace.’

So what’s happened in the non-Native world is that there’s an absence of the stories and the ceremonies to remind them, and so they have no memory of that time when they lived very close to the land and were responsible for one another and for the land. They’re not only distant from the land and from themselves, they have little understanding of their place in the world.

I remember one time being, I live in a very rural area at the end of a dirt road within the Cherokee Nation and so very conscious of seasonal changes and of things that are going on in the natural world. And I remember once being in New York City at the magical time of dusk and watching the people. Not a single person on a crowded street in New York City looked at or acknowledged the sunset over the Hudson River or even, I imagine, thought about the gift of another day. It made me wonder how many urban dwellers, millions of urban dwellers go about their lives without ever really seeing or thinking about the miracle of the sun rising in the morning and setting again in the evening.

Aside from a different view of their relationship to the natural world, many of the world’s Indigenous people also share a sometimes fragmented but still very present sense of responsibility for one another. Cooperation has always been necessary for the survival of tribal people and even today in the more traditional communities cooperation takes precedence over competition. It’s really quite miraculous that a sense of sharing and reciprocity continues into the 21st century given the staggering amount of adversity Indigenous people have faced. Within many communities at home and I think in tribal communities around the country the greatest respect, the most respected people are not those who have amassed great material wealth or achieved great personal success. The greatest respect is reserved for those people who help other people, people who understand that as Indigenous people we’re born into a community, a specific tribal group and that our entire lives play themselves out within a set of reciprocal relationships. The people that understand that are the most respected people.

There’s evidence of this sense of reciprocity in some Cherokee traditional communities. My husband Charlie Soap leads a widespread self-help movement among the Cherokee in which low-income volunteers work to build walking trails, community centers, sports complexes, water lines and even houses. This self-help movement, in which everybody gets together and helps each other, taps into the traditional value of cooperation for the sake of the common good.

Besides a connection to the land and this sense of reciprocity, the world’s Indigenous people are also bound by the common experience of being ‘discovered’ and subjected to colonial expansion into their territories that led to the loss of an incalculable number of lives and millions and millions of acres of land and resources. The most basic rights of Indigenous people were disregarded and they were subjected to a series of policies that were designed to assimilate them into colonial society and culture. Too often, the policies resulted in poverty, high infant mortality, rampant unemployment, substance abuse and all its attendant problems.

The stories are shockingly similar all over the world. When I first read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which chronicled the systematic destruction of an African tribe’s social, cultural and economic structure, it sounded all too familiar. Take the land, discredit the leaders, ridicule the traditional healers, send the children off to distant boarding schools; very familiar story. And then I read a report called The Stolen Generation about aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly removed from their families and placed in boarding schools.

My own father and my Aunt Sally were taken from my grandfather by the U.S. government and placed in a government boarding school when they were very small, very young. So that story is very familiar to Cherokee people and to tribal people all over the world. Indigenous people everywhere on the planet are connected both by our values and by our oppression.

When contemplating the contemporary challenges and problems faced by Indigenous people worldwide, it’s important to remember that the roots of many contemporary social, economic and political problems can be found in colonial policies and those policies continue today across the globe. In the Amazonian rainforest, Indigenous people are continually battling large scale destruction of their traditional homes in the forest by multi-national mining, oil and timber companies. Some small Amazonian Indigenous communities are on the verge of extinction as the result of the murder of their leaders and the forced dispersal of their members. And to make matters worse, some well-meaning environmentalists who should be natural allies focus almost exclusively on the land and appear not to see or hear the people at all.

When I was in Brazil, one of the people there was quite humorous and he said, ‘There was a time when a lot of famous musicians, American and English musicians, would wear T-shirts that said 'Save the Rainforest.'‘ And he said, ‘You never once saw a T-shirt that said 'Save the People of the Rainforest.'‘ Though the people of the forest, the people who live in the forest and have lived there for thousands of years possess the best knowledge about how to live with and sustain the forest.

When you think about it, of the fact that folks focus on the land and not the people, it’s not surprising really because Indigenous people are not in the consciousness of many, of the people in the larger society. There’s too little accurate information available about us, available in educational institutions, in literature, in films or in the popular culture. I believe that the battle to protect the human and land rights of Indigenous people is made immeasurably more difficult by the fact that so few people know much about either the history or contemporary lives of our people and without any kind of history or cultural context, it’s almost impossible for outsiders to understand Indigenous issues. And the information that is available is often produced by non-Native people; some of which is enormously helpful. Some of the anthropological work has helped tribes restore, some tribal people restore their languages and that sort of thing. So some of the non-Native literature is enormously helpful, but too much of it is written by people who spend 15 minutes in a tribal community, become an expert, and then go out and write a book or produce a film.

So there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there. And the lack of accurate information creates a void, which is often filled with nonsensical stereotypes, which either vilify Indigenous people as troubled descendants of savage peoples on the one hand or they romanticize them as innocent children of nature, spiritual but incapable of higher thought on the other hand. Whether the stereotype romanticizes or vilifies people, it’s still very harmful I believe.

Then the stereotypes about Indigenous women are particularly appalling. While the role of Indigenous women in the family and the community, now and in the past, differs from community to community, women have always played very significant roles in most tribal societies. Yet in the media and in the larger society the power, the strength, the complexity of Indigenous women is rarely acknowledged or rarely recognized.

I believe that these public perceptions of tribal people will change in the future because Indigenous leaders now understand that there is a direct link between public perception and public policy and they understand that they must frame the issues for themselves. If Indigenous people don’t frame the issues for themselves, their opponents most certainly will. In the future, as more Indigenous people become filmmakers, writers, historians, museum curators and journalists, they’ll be able to use a dazzling array of technological tools to tell their own stories in their own voice in their own way.

Once a journalist asked me whether people in the U.S. had trouble accepting the government of the Cherokee Nation during my tenure as principal chief. I was a little surprised by the question. The government of the Cherokee Nation predated the government of the United States and the Cherokee Nation had treaties with other countries before it executed a treaty with one of the first U.S. colonies. So that question really surprised me.

During the colonial era and before, many tribal leaders sent delegations to meet with the Spanish, with the English and French in an effort to protect their lands and rights. And these tribal leaders, they would travel to foreign lands with a trusted interpreter and they took maps that had been painstakingly drawn by hand to show their lands to other heads of state. They also took along gifts, letters and proclamations. And what’s very painful now is to look back in history and see that though the tribal leaders themselves, when they traveled to these other places, thought they were being dealt with as heads of state and as equals, historical records indicate that they were sometimes viewed as objects of curiosity and sometimes a great deal of disdain though they themselves, the tribal leaders, were very earnest.

The journalist with the question about Cherokee government needn’t apologize for her lack of knowledge about tribal governments in the U.S. Many people in the U.S. know very little about us though they’ve been living in our former towns and villages now for hundreds of years.

Again, it’s impossible to even contemplate the contemporary lives or future of Indigenous people without some basic knowledge of tribal history. [I’m going to skip some of this history because you probably know all of this.] Tribal governments in the U.S. exercise their range of sovereign rights and it’s interesting because one of the most common misperceptions in the larger culture is that all tribal governments are the same or even worse that all Indian people are the same or that we speak some kind of common ‘Indian’ language. And so one of the tasks I think we have is to remind people that each tribal government is unique and that different tribal governments exercise their sovereign rights in different ways. And some tribal governments have gaming facilities, some have a number of cooperative agreements with the state governments, other tribal governments believe that we are giving up sovereignty to execute any kind of government with a statement government so they don’t engage in those governments. And there are some governments like the Onondaga that have, do not do any kind of gaming, don’t believe in gaming, and they don’t receive any kind of federal funding at all, none. And so they, and they have their traditional government that they’ve had since the beginning of time. But by and large there are many tribal governments in this country now that have their own judicial systems -- most do -- operate their own police force, they run their own schools, they administer their own clinics and hospitals and operate a wide range of business enterprises and there are now more than two dozen tribally controlled community colleges. And the interesting thing is that all these advancements that tribes have made benefit everybody in the community not just tribal people. And the history and contemporary lives and future of tribal governments is intertwined with that of their neighbors.

And even within there’s a lot of difference between various tribal groups, each of which is very distinct, has its own culture, language and history but even within tribal groups there’s a great deal of diversity. And in our tribe, members of our tribe, the Cherokee tribe, are very stratified socially, economically and culturally. There are several thousand Cherokee people that continue to speak the Cherokee language and live in Cherokee communities in rural northeastern Oklahoma. On the other end of the spectrum, there are enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation who’ve never even visited the Cherokee Nation and so there’s a great deal of stratification in our tribe and I believe in other tribes as well.

Each Indigenous community is unique just as each community in the larger society is unique. Outside our communities, I think too many people view Indigenous people through a very narrow, one-dimensional lens and really we’re very interesting and very complex and we’re certainly multi-dimensional human beings that rarely do people outside of our communities see us in that way.

So what does the future hold for Indigenous people across the globe and what challenges will they face moving further into the 21st century? I think that to see the future of Indigenous people one needs only to look at the past. If we as a people have been able to survive such a staggering loss of land, of rights, of resources and lives, how can I not be optimistic that we will survive whatever challenges lie ahead in the next 100 or even 500 years and that we can project far into the future and still have viable Indigenous communities. If we’ve survived what we’ve survived so far, I’m confident we can survive whatever lies ahead. Without question, the combined efforts of government and various religious groups to eradicate traditional knowledge system has had a profoundly negative impact on the culture as well as the social and economic systems of Indigenous people. But again, if we’ve been able to hold onto our sense of community, our sense of interdependence, our generosity of spirit, our languages, our culture, our ceremonies, our medicine, despite everything, how can I not be optimistic about the future? And though some of the original languages, ceremonies and medicine has been irretrievably lost, the ceremonial fires of many Indigenous people across the globe have survived all the upheaval. Sometimes Indigenous communities after major upheaval and removal have almost had to reinvent themselves as a people but they’ve never given up their sense of responsibility to one another and to the land. It is this sense of interdependence I believe that has sustained tribal people thus far and I believe it will sustain them well into the future.

The world’s changing, but we can adapt to change. Indigenous people know about change and have proven time and time again they can adapt to change. No matter where Native people go in the world, they take with them a strong sense of values, a strong sense of who they are and so they can fully interact with the larger society and participate in the larger society around them but still have a sense of themselves. If you look at some of the people like Vine Deloria, or [N.] Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize, or the Chickasaw gentleman, who was an astronaut, or the women who, including Maria Tall Chief, who became prima ballerinas, no matter where those people went they took with them a strong sense of who they are.

One of the things that I remember interviewing for my book LaDonna Harris and one of the things that she said strike me. She said, ‘You know, when I was living in Washington as a Senator’s wife, I did the same thing as other Senate wives did.’ But she said -- it didn’t matter who all was talking to her or what situation she was in -- 'I was Comanche and when, whatever was going on around me, I filtered that through my Comanche values and my sense of who I was. I could live in Washington in a similar house as the other Senate wives and do similar things but I never lost my sense of who I was as a Comanche woman.’ She said, ‘I’ve always hated that term that we live in two worlds.’ She said, ‘My world is that I’m a Comanche woman.’ So it was very interesting and I think a lot of people do that. And for the young people here today that are contemplating careers, it doesn’t matter whether you become a physician or a professor or a lawyer or if you live away from your homelands and can’t participate regularly in ceremonies. You can take with you the knowledge and the values wherever you go.

I believe that one of the great challenges for Indigenous people globally and particularly here in the U.S. will be in the future and now will be to develop practical models to capture, maintain and pass on traditional knowledge system to future generations. When we all lived close to one another, it was easy to pass on the knowledge. Many tribal groups even had people who were designated to remember things. It was their job to remember things and pass them on. But since people are very mobile and the world’s changed so much, we have to come up with new models to capture and maintain the knowledge and pass it on to future generations. There’s nothing in the world, nothing that we can learn anywhere that can replace that solid sense of continuity and knowing that a genuine understanding of traditional knowledge brings. We have to preserve that and we have to pass that on to future generations. There are many communities that are working on discreet aspects of culture such as language or medicine, but in my view it’s the entire system of knowledge that needs to be maintained and not just for Indigenous people but for the world at large.

Perhaps in the future Indigenous people who have an abiding and deeply held belief that all living things are related and interdependent can help policymakers understand how completely irrational it is to destroy the very natural world that sustains all life. Regrettably, in the future the battle for human and land rights will continue but the future does look somewhat better. Last year, after 30 years of advocacy by Indigenous people, the United Nations finally passed a resolution supporting the basic inherent rights of Indigenous people. The resolution by the way was passed over the objections of the United States government. The challenge I think for people working in international work now will be to make sure the provisions of the resolution are honored and the rights of Indigenous people all over the world are indeed protected. And the efforts of tribal governments in this country to take full advantage of the self-governance and self-determination policies of the U.S. government are once again a testament to the fact that Indigenous people simply do better when they have control of their own lives.

In the case of my own people, we’re an example of what happens when you have control and then when you lose control. In the case of the Cherokees, after we were forcibly removed by the United States military from the southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, we picked ourselves up and rebuilt our nations. We started some of the first schools west of the Mississippi, Indian or non-Indian, and built schools for the higher education of women. We printed our own newspapers in Cherokee and English and were at that time more literate than our neighbors in Texas and Arkansas and actually I think we probably still are. Then in the early 20th century, the federal government tried to abolish the Cherokee Nation and within two decades -- when we didn’t have a functioning central tribal government -- we went from being one of the most literate groups of people to having one of the lowest educational attainment levels of any group in eastern Oklahoma. And so that’s a direct testament to what happens when we have control and when we don’t have control.

For the past 35 years, we’ve been in an effort to revitalize the Cherokee Nation and now we once again run our own school and have an extensive array of successful education programs. The youth at our Indian school, the Sequoyah High School, recently won the state, the team, a student won the state trigonometry contest and several are Gates Millennium Scholars. Again, we do better when we have control over our own destiny. And a couple of years ago Harvard University completed over a decade of comprehensive research, which was published in a guardedly hopeful book entitled The State of Native Nations. The research indicates that most of the social and economic indicators are moving in a positive direction. Many tribal governments are strong, educational attainment levels are improving, and there is a cultural renaissance occurring in many tribal communities.

Within some Indigenous communities, there are conversations about what it means to be a traditional Indigenous person now and what it will mean in the future. I am an Indigenous woman of the 21st century, and I’m so glad I was born Cherokee and that my life has indeed played itself out within a set of reciprocal relationships in my family and community.

To me, being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means being part of a group of people with the most valuable and ancient knowledge on the planet, a people who still have a direct relationship with and sense of responsibility to the land and to other people.

To me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means being part of a community that faces a daunting set of challenges and problems and oppression and yet the communities, our communities find so many moments of grace and comfort and joy in traditional stories, in the language and in ceremonies.

I think, to me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century, all these young smart people getting an education here at the University of Arizona, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means trusting our own thinking again and not only articulating our own vision of the future clearly, but having within our communities and our people the skill set and the leadership ability to make those visions a reality.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means -- despite everything -- still being able to dream of a future in which all people will support the human rights and self-determination of Indigenous people. We still have that dream and we still have that hope. Land can be colonized and resources can be colonized but dreams can never be colonized. I always think about the time of my grandfather and the early part of the 20th century, during that bad time when our central government was in disarray, and these people never gave up the dream of having a strong central tribal government and a strong community and they would ride horses to each other’s houses throughout the Cherokee Nation and collect money in a mason jar to send a delegate to Washington to remind the leaders in Washington of their obligation, their treaty obligations to Cherokee people. So our people never gave up their dream and will never give up their dream.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means sharing traditional knowledge and best practices with Indigenous communities all over the world using the iPhone, the Blackberry, MySpace, YouTube and every other technological tool that becomes available to us.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means becoming a physician or a scientist or even an astronaut who will leave her footprints on the moon and then return home to participate in ceremonies her people have had since the beginning of time. That’s what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century.

And finally, to be an Indigenous person of the 21st century means to forego the feeling of going around with anger in our hearts over past injustices and it means not becoming paralyzed by the inaction we see around us or the totality of problems we face in our communities. We can’t be paralyzed by that and we can’t be angry over past injustice. I think it’s important for us to keep our view just as our ancestors did. We’re here because our ancestors thought about us and cared about us and fought for us. So it’s our job now to keep our vision fixed on the future. That’s what we need to do.

I really love my favorite proverb, which I’ll leave you with is a Mohawk proverb and because they teach their young people not to always be angry and focus on injustice or not be paralyzed by what’s going on around them, the problems they now face. So what they tell their young people is that you need to be thinking about the future and ‘it’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ I love that proverb. So I’ll leave you with that proverb, ‘ It’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ And thank you again for being here and open it up for some time for questions and answers. Thank you.

 

Teach youth about forms of government

Producer
Indianz.com
Year

Why aren’t the schools teaching about the IRA form of government? Why aren’t they teaching about the traditional tiospaye form of government?

The disenchantment and what appears to be apathy or even seditiousness toward the Indian Reorganization Act system of government have become “normal” among many voters in my home district. This voter consensus seems to come from the fact that they are continually reminded, via tribal council actions, of their powerlessness to correct government. It is annoying to know that this problem afflicting us here on the Pine Ridge, voters and leaders alike, rises out of the fact that not one individual living today received formal schooling on this system of government under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). It is also irritating to “see” the continuing unconcern among federal and tribal educators regarding this serious educational shortage...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Star Comes Out, Ivan. "Teach youth about forms of government." Native Sun News. July 17, 2014. Opinion. (http://www.indianz.com/News/2014/014426.asp, accessed February 4, 2024)

Indian Self-Determination and Sovereignty

Producer
Indian Country Today
Year

If ever a concept grabbed hold of hearts and minds in Indian country in the past couple decades surely it would be that of sovereignty. Native people talk about it with reverence, demanding that it be respected by the federal government, and expect their tribal governments to assert it. Even the federal government speaks the language of sovereignty when it claims to uphold the “unique government-to-government relationship” it has with tribes...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Gilio-Whitaker, Dina. "Indian Self-Determination and Sovereignty." Indian Country Today. January 17, 2013. Opinion. (https://ictnews.org/archive/indian-self-determination-and-sovereignty, accessed July 24, 2023)

Indian Identity, Choice and Change: What Do You Choose?

Producer
Indian Country Today
Year

Indigenous individuals and nations are faced with choices about identity, change and cultural continuity. The choices are not just mere faddish expressions but are deep decisions about culture, community, philosophy and personal and national futures. Many indigenous communities are divided over issues of personal identity, cultural and religious values, forms of government, and relations with the nation state. Such divisions are not endemic to indigenous nations, but they are reflections of the forced external colonial value systems and identities, as well as pragmatic choices about changing political, economic and cultural relations within the present-day world...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Champagne, Duane. "Indian Identity, Choice and Change: What Do You Choose? " Indian Country Today, September 28, 2012. Article. (https://ictnews.org/archive/indian-identity-choice-and-change-what-do-you-choose accessed July 21, 2023)

Tim Giago: Was the Indian Reorganization Act good or bad?

Author
Year

It was 75 years ago on June 18, 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act became the law of the land. On the 50th anniversary of the IRA, a conference was held at Sun Valley, Idaho to talk about the good and the bad of the Act. On the 75th birthday of the Act, there was nothing but silence. Has Indian Country forgotten the significance of the IRA?

Resource Type
Citation

Giago,Tim. "Tim Giago: Was the Indian Reorganization Act good or bad?" Indianz.com. Monday, January 28, 2013. Article. (http://www.indianz.com/News/2013/008307.asp, accessed January 28, 2013)

The 2013 Narrm Oration: Taiaiake Alfred

Producer
The University of Melbourne
Year

The 2013 Narrm Oration, "Being and becoming Indigenous: Resurgence against contemporary colonialism", was delivered by Professor Taiaiake Alfred on 28 November.

Professor Alfred is the founding Director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He specializes in traditions of governance, decolonization strategies, and land based cultural restoration.

The Narrm Oration has been hosted annually by Murrup Barak, Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development at The University of Melbourne with the support of Rio Tinto Australia since 2009.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"The 2013 Narrm Oration: Taiaiake Alfred." Murrup Barak, Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development at The University of Melbourne. The University of Melbourne. Parkville, Victoria. November 28, 2013. Video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwJNy-B3lPA, accessed January 6, 2014)

Tribal Law as Indigenous Social Reality and Separate Consciousness: [Re]Incorporating Customs and Traditions into Tribal Law

Year

At some point in my legal career, I recall becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the inconsistencies between the values in the written law of various indigenous nations and the values I knew were embedded in indigenous societies themselves. The two are not entirely in harmony, and in fact, in some instances are absolutely in opposition. I realize that in some circumstances the problem stems from the original source of the written law itself, because many indigenous nations who organized themselves under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) adopted the law drafted by the Department of Interior for the Courts of Indian Offenses or Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) courts. Yet, even recently enacted law continues to look very much like the western law of states. Many reasons for this exist. How indigenous nations create laws, as well as, who creates the law and the type of “law” being created influence what enacted law looks like...

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Cruz, Christine Zuni. "Tribal Law as Indigenous Social Reality and Separate Consciousness: [Re]Incorporating Customs and Traditions into Tribal Law." Tribal Law Journal. Volume 1: 2000/2001. UNM School of Law. Albuquerque, NM. 2001. Article. (https://lawschool.unm.edu/tlj/common/docs/volumes/vol-1-zuni-cruz-christine-tribal-law-as-indigenous-social-reality-and-separate-consciousness-reincorporating-customs-and-traditions-into-tribal-law.pdf, accessed February 15, 2024)

Indigenous Justice: Clearing Space and Place for Indigenous Epistemologies

Author
Producer
Centre for First Nations Governance
Year

The realization of Self Determination for Indigenous Peoples is an exhilarating and fascinating movement that encourages human perseverance and an unfaltering belief in human potential and responsibility. It is a multi-dimensional movement that acknowledges and accepts human flaws while becoming aware of one's place in the world. All at once it is both so simple, and yet so complex. Simple because autonomy is a basic human need: to have, not only the ability, but the space and place to self-actualize and experience continuity are fundamental basic human needs. Self determination nurtures human dignity. Yet it becomes extremely complex when its recognition is denied under a colonial regime. 

While self determination nurtures human dignity, human responsibility, self and collective actualization and continuity, a colonial regime thrives on its ability to oppress, to maintain hierarchical orderings of power and importance, authority, ignorance and a concept of time that is both linear and extremely short. If time has taught us anything it is that there are no winners under a colonial regime. To oppress human diversity and assert authority without consent is to deny human capability both in terms of individualization and collectivities. Colonial ideologies such as eurocentrism, racism, oppression and hegemonic control are used to promote and sustain a colonial regime that denies equally the colonized and the colonizers of their full human potential. 

As Canada moves painfully toward a post colonial era, one can hope that space and place will be created to better explore, understand, and apply Indigenous worldviews to all realms of life. I say painfully because it is. Moving toward a post colonial era means coming to realize the full extent and damage a colonial regime has had on all people now living on Turtle Island. Indigenous people may feel anger, non-Indigenous people may feel defensive; Canada's colonial relationship with Indigenous peoples is far from pretty. Denial and blame work together to stagnate progress. 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Victor, Wenona. "Indigenous Justice: Clearing Space and Place for Indigenous Epistemologies". Research Paper for the National Centre for First Nations Governance. The National Centre for First Nations Governance. Canada. December 2007. Paper. (https://fngovernance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/wenona_victor.pdf, accessed July 25, 2023)

Indigenous Governance: Questioning the Status and the Possibilities for Reconciliation with Canada's Commitment to Aboriginal and Treaty Rights

Producer
Centre for First Nations Governance
Year

Indigenous peoples have always had governance. This fact has been a matter of great debate among Canadian politicians and scholars for many years, but there is little doubt that Indigenous Nations had developed for themselves complex systems of government prior to colonization. The important questions that need to be asked today do not concern the pre-existence of Indigenous government but instead raise questions of the existence of Indigenous government today. Are Indian Act band councils governments? What about "traditional" governments? What about self-government? This paper responds to such questions concerning the status of Indigenous governments as governments and considers their place in the federal and constitutional order of Canada.  

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Ladner, Kiera L. "Indigenous Governance: Questioning the Status and the Possibilities for Reconciliation with Canada's Commitment to Aboriginal and Treaty Rights". Research Paper for the National Centre for First Nations Governance. The National Centre for First Nations Governance. Canada. September 15, 2006. Paper. (https://fngovernance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/kiera_ladner.pdf, accessed July 25, 2023)