Termination and Relocation policy

Suzan Shown Harjo: Five Decades of Fighting for Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination

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Native Nations Institute
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In this wide-ranging interview, longtime Native American rights advocate Suzan Harjo discusses her involvement in the development and ratification of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the legislation creating the National Museum of the American Indian. She also offers her definition of sovereignty, and paints a vivid historical picture of the forces at work that led to the passage of Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975.

Native Nations
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Harjo, Suzan Shown. "Five Decades of Fighting for Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 11, 2008. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I’m your host Ian Record. On today’s program, we welcome Suzan Harjo. Suzan Harjo is a woman of many talents. Not only is she the President and Executive Director of the Morning Star Institute, which is a national Native rights organization founded in 1984 for Native people’s traditional and cultural advocacy, arts promotion and research, but she’s also a poet, writer, lecturer and curator. So welcome here to Tucson, Suzan. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself."

Suzan Harjo:

"Okay. Well, I’m Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee. My mother was Cheyenne and my father was Muscogee Creek and I was raised culturally in both ways in Oklahoma. And I’m a writer and that took me to New York City and it took me to Washington, D.C. and a lot of what I write is federal Indian law. So I’ve developed the line of cultural rights for Native people for a long time from the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to the follow on legislation of repatriation and I was part of the coalition in 1967 after our ceremonies at Bear Butte in South Dakota that began work that led to museum reform to the National Museum of the American Indian to repatriation law and to the Religious Freedom set of laws and policies."

Ian Record:

"Well, great. And we’re going to talk about a lot of those policies that you’ve been involved in firsthand, but first I wanted to start at the basic level essentially and discuss sovereignty. And what I wanted to ask you is the word sovereignty means a lot of different things to different people. It’s a word when you’re working on the ground in Indian Country you hear tossed around all the time and that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And I was wondering if you could just talk to us and tell us how you define sovereignty for Native nations."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, the reason you hear so many definitions is first of all we think it’s an Indian word and we don’t think it means jurisdiction and who controls the king’s animals and that sort of concept of sovereignty that comes from Europe. Sovereignty is the act of sovereignty. We as Native nations are inherently sovereign and whatever we do to act sovereign is the definition of sovereignty."

Ian Record:

"It was interesting, I was actually in a panel presentation yesterday in Denver with David Lester, who’s the Executive Director of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes and he was discussing this exact question that 'sovereignty' inherently is a western term. It’s a colonizer’s term. And he defined sovereignty as, ‘it’s our right to be who the Creator intended us to be,’ and he said it’s really no more than that. And then he went on to talk about things like economic development, for instance, is just one of many ways that we work to become the people that the Creator intended us to be. I hear that same sort of refrain in your answer."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, when something’s inherent, it’s inherent. You are who you are from the inside out and it’s not something that’s over layered either in law or in policy and it’s not something that the Europeans brought from Europe. It is your language. Speaking your language is an act of sovereignty. Reclaiming your language is an act of sovereignty. So the way it’s used by many people is simply as jurisdiction or simply as gaming operations and that’s so limiting. That’s really myopic, but for some Native nations that’s all they have. They don’t have their language anymore or they don’t have other vestiges of sovereignty but we have those things that define us. We have our rights of selecting citizens, setting citizenship criteria, saying who we are and who we aren’t, who is not part of us. That is an act of sovereignty. Citizenship is an act of sovereignty. We’re not, where I think we’re kind of falling down is that a lot of our people are not respecting our Native nations, but that’s something that has been taught to us and laid on us by federal and state government and private people who have, teachers and others in public schools who for so many decades and generations disrespected our elders, disrespected our traditions, disrespected our languages, disrespected our children, on and on and on and said that we were nothing, we were dead, gone, buried, forgotten at the end of the 1800s. So it is no surprise that a lot of our people do not have a strong sense of civics about our own nationhood and our own sovereignty and our own personhood. We have to get through a lot of self-hatred, a lot of this internalized oppression. These are more than buzz phrases. This happened to us. When the federal government issued civilization regulations in the mid-1880s that outlawed the Sun Dance and all other so-called ceremonies, that outlawed Indian languages, that outlawed the so-called practices of a medicine man and characterized all that was traditional and fine and good as heathen and pagan and hostile and improper and illegal for which the people were punished mightily, some of them unto death. That was interference and suppression, social suppression, national suppression, tribal suppression, personal suppression, religious suppression of a high and low order for 50 years. They were not lifted until the 1930s. So when you have that kind of generational oppression, it doesn’t go away in one generation or two generations and still today, the question I’m asked most often when I work with different nations to undertake enterprises, things that are acts of sovereignty, the first thing I’m asked is, ‘Will this make them mad?’ Hey, well, and what are they going to do, take away the Western hemisphere? I hope it makes them mad. So sovereignty is the act of sovereignty. It’s whatever people do with their inherent powers."

Ian Record:

"Well, thank you for that answer. I wanted to move on now to again some of these monumental policy initiatives and changes in Washington that you’ve been a direct part of. As you know, since the 1960s and certainly the 1970s Native nations have aggressively moved to strengthen and expand their exercise of sovereignty. Can you describe this process from your point of view and your direct experience with that?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, I reject the premise of the question. Native nations have moved aggressively to exercise sovereignty since coming into contact with the White man. There’s no beginning in the ‘60s or beginning in the ‘70s, so I reject the premise of the question. Native nations throughout the 1900s in the Pacific Northwest, for example, were moving aggressively to carry out their treaty fishing rights and treaty hunting rights and treaty gathering rights and they were stopped continually by federal and state people who denied that there were treaty rights, denied their part of the treaty in upholding the fishing rights of the people. So much so that in the ‘70s when the treaty fishing rights case that’s called the Boldt Decision finally went to the Supreme Court and was decided in 1979, the Supreme Court in effect said, ‘This case has been before us five times this century. We don’t want to see it again.’ They had consistently ruled that the Indians were right. They had consistently upheld the treaties. So what you are asking is when America started paying attention to Indian rights, when the general public started saying, ‘Oh, maybe the Indians aren’t all dead.’ That’s not the same as Native nations vigorously pursuing and aggressively pursuing sovereign powers and sovereign rights. Native nations all over the country were trying to do what it was we were entitled to do through the orderly processes of our nations and the United States in our nation to nation relationship, which is now sometimes diminished and called a 'government-to-government' relationship, but that really is lowering the bar. So I would submit that our nations never stopped being who we are and we often were not heard or our efforts were thwarted. And why? Because one side had superior weaponry. We don’t have the nuclear bomb so of course we’re going to lose some contests. But did we roll over and play dead? No. And I don’t think that there has been a more vigorous or a less vigorous assertion of sovereignty or sovereign rights since, well, at anytime. I don’t think there’s been an ebb and flow. I think that’s a fiction."

Ian Record:

"Well, with respect to your involvement, I believe you’ve been in D.C. fighting these battles since the ‘60s and I was wondering if you could just talk about your experience there and I think in particular with respect to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. That didn’t happen overnight. That was the fruition of many years of hard fought battles and can you talk about those battles and how, essentially what was going on throughout the country manifested itself in this major policy shift in Washington?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, I didn’t get to Washington until the end of 1974, but I was outside of Washington watching the process, observing how things are done in Washington and as a journalist in part and as a radio producer in part and as a part of Native delegations to Washington. So I understood how things worked, but I was an outside person when we developed the ideas, when we envisioned the National Museum of the American Indian I was not in Washington. That was a result of our elders saying, ‘After ceremonies, don’t go away...,’ in June of ‘67, ‘...stay for meetings and let’s figure out how to do these things.’ And we came up with a whole agenda of how to gain more respect in American society and in how to elevate our status and get mummies out of, off display and that sort of thing. It was a whole agenda of respect. Now at that same time, a lot of Native people were doing other kinds of things that were developing economic development or other kinds of work in other areas and our common problem was in the way that Indian affairs were ignored in Washington, D.C. except by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then they were controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That common realization by young people, older people, elders and people who were in tribal leadership position, people who were religious leaders and people who were, as I was at the time, a practitioner of traditional religion. We all came to the same realizations that something had to be done with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Everyone having that realization led to an effort for Native nations to gain more control and for the BIA to have less control because in the ‘70s when we started going to...I first went to Washington in the early ‘70s, early ‘60s with my tribal delegation. They selected me and a boy when we -- Cheyenne boy and me -- when we were seniors in high school in Oklahoma City and they took us to Washington with them. And we were supposed to, it was the custom, stop by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and let them know where we planned to go. And so our act of resistance was that our business committee, our tribal leaders didn’t stop by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and we were followed around town by them as we went to the Justice Department, as we met with people on Capitol Hill and the Bureau of Indian Affairs agents would be short, right behind us and it was, and they were upset that we didn’t stop and talk with them and tell them where we were going so they had to follow us. That was their duty, that was their mission. So that’s the kind of thing that people were experiencing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs people really thought they controlled Indian tribes. So out of that, now it could have taken many forms. People really liked the title rather than the law itself, 'self-determination,' because it sounded good but a lot of people talked about it as self termination as well and weren’t quite sure that, there were some people who were very invested in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and having a strong federal agency presence because they had lived through termination and the severing of the federal tribal relationship so they wanted something that was solid and strong in Washington to act as an advocate for Indian people. For the most part though, it was not being an advocate for Indian people and the Indian Health Service was also perceived as something that wasn’t doing the job that it should do and there were so many people dying of the flu and colds and pneumonia in Indian Country, not to mention tuberculosis and the other far more serious in general society problems, but it was the common stuff that was taking its toll in Indian Country. So you had people in poverty, ill health, ill housed and the worst, the worst of the worst on the demographic ladder, Indians were always at the bottom of everything, the lowest employment. Anyway you could measure how a society was doing or how a people were doing, we were the worst. We were doing the worst. And so everyone understood that something had to be done to get more power to the tribes and to have more of the functions of the BIA -- that is money, that really translates into money -- transferred to the Indian tribes and that’s what was so important about the Indian Self Determination Act, not that it was a great law. You read it and say, ‘This is not much,’ but it was something and it was the answer to the anger that was building by everyone. Everyone was very upset, very angry and you had people in the Pacific Northwest being maimed and imprisoned for fishing under laws signed by the United States and treaties signed by their nation and the United States nation. 'How dare they do those things!' And so the outrage was very high and that was just a tiny escape valve for the federal government and good that it happened and it began, or helped, it helped further a trend that had begun under the [Lyndon B.] Johnson Administration where the Johnson Administration had tried to put a lot of social programs in the hands of tribes and make more social programs and more programs of general applicability available to the people, to the Indian people. And self determination under [Richard] Nixon/[Gerald] Ford, first the Nixon message and then the Ford law, was a furtherance of what the Johnson Administration had tried to do to get away from termination and get more money and power and programs in the hands of the people, just more local government. So that’s what that was all about. The Nixon 'Self-Determination' message, I remember Ramona Bennett who was the Chairwoman of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State, coming to Washington and she said, ‘I came to Washington and everywhere I went the BIA, everywhere on Capitol Hill they handed me a copy of Richard Nixon’s 'Self-Determination' message. So I read it and read it and read it on the plane on the way home and got off the plane and we took over Cushman Hospital.’ And I thought that was just a marvelous example of what it set in motion. It did set in motion the self-determining of Native people that went beyond any sort of contracting law. It was sort of like your initial question about sovereignty. What is self determination? Doing what you, in their case, the tribe needed to take over Cushman Hospital and they did. And it was just funny that it was as a result of Richard Nixon’s statement on self-determination."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, that’s interesting you mentioned that example and also your characterization of the Self-Determination Act as a tiny escape valve, at least as far as the federal government conceded it because in the research of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project, what we’ve seen is a growing number of native nations beginning in the ‘70s and particularly since that time have driven essentially a Mack truck through that tiny escape valve and aggressively pursued self determination to a far greater scope than the federal government I think ever conceived through this law."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, yes. I was in part, I was one of the people that helped interpret the Self Determination-Act when I first worked for the National Congress of American Indians and we did a lot of testifying on Capitol Hill in ‘75, and ‘75 about the meaning of the Self-Determination Act, who could do what with it, what it meant and how it could be used to benefit the Native people. And so we did look for every opportunity in the Act and if the Act was silent on something, we assumed we could do it because it didn’t say no. And that was a unique way of interpreting federal Indian law. It had been interpreted in the opposite direction by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a very long time that if something didn’t say explicitly that you could do something then the answer was no, you couldn’t do it. So we flipped that and started saying, if it doesn’t have an express prohibition against doing it, then do it, just don’t ask permission, just do it."

Ian Record:

"Just do it, the Nike slogan."

Suzan Harjo:

"Yeah."

Ian Record:

"As you know, a lot of the research of the Native Nations Institute and the Harvard Project dating back to the mid- to late 1980s -- so you’re looking at essentially a decade after this Act was passed -- has focused on why some nations have been more successful than others in pursuing their goals of self determination, whatever those goals might be. They might be economic, they might be cultural, they might be social, etc. From your perspective, do you see any common factors that perhaps empower some tribes to be more successful in that regard and perhaps some factors on the flip side that perhaps get in the way of other tribes from moving forward and pursuing their goals and achieving their goals?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, before Jack Abramoff, it was customary for the community of Native nations to come together for the common good and develop programs or general laws in a way that could be useful, beneficial for all Native peoples. What the Abramoff scandal brought to light was that there were Native peoples who were just behaving like any corporation and trying to get the edge over any other corporation and when I ran the National Congress of American Indians during the ‘80s, that was never ever the custom or the practice. So up until the late ‘80s, until we got the gaming law, everyone was supporting everyone else so it was a, you came together for mutual support and if one group, if one intertribal organization wanted to do something, everyone would support them in that effort or just stand back, certainly not oppose them. So this idea of just one-upsmanship and edging out another Native nation for profit, for personal profit I think is a sad turn of events in our national Native efforts, and there’s just no accounting for greed and we have very greedy people among us. We have a lot of greedy white people among us, a lot of greedy other kinds of people, and we have our own homegrown greedy people. So what accounts for the success of one nation and not success of another? In part that kind of greed, an overload of greed on the part of a successful nation willing to undercut, keep down another Native nation. I think that’s what was brought to light by the Abramoff scandal and what a lot of our leadership hasn’t owned up to and are still some of them covering up and that’s unfortunate. So the specific success by one nation as opposed to another may be as a result of dirty tricks and undermining and throwing a lot of money to see that the other nation is not successful. That has translated into other kinds of rights in other parts of the country and you see a lot of ugliness one nation to another and that’s where it’s backfiring for a lot of people and the leaders who let Jack Abramoff have his way or who encouraged him or hired him because they wanted a pit bull are being turned out by the people because they’re saying, ‘At home we don’t want to be this kind of person. We don’t want to be this kind of nation. We don’t want to have this kind of Native tribal character. That’s not who we are.’ And I think that’s really good. So we had to have a kind of pot boiler to make people decide. Now some are just saying, ‘Heck, yeah, we want that. We want to be the richest ones. We want to be the most cutthroat. We want to be the meanest ones.’ So it’s in a way like everything else, it all comes down to people and it all comes down to leadership and the people having the kind of leaders that they want to have, putting in office the kind of people they want to represent them. Now it doesn’t mean that they wanted the Jack Abramoff clones or payers or dupes. It does mean though that when all of that was done with and they assessed what had happened, they took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, whatever the opposite direction was and that’s still sorting itself out. We’ve been impoverished for a long time and we’ve only been comfortable...some Native nations have been comfortable, some are mega rich, only a handful, some are comfortable and some are still way in the depths of poverty. So we have to figure out what’s keeping the people in the depths of poverty. If it’s not other Native nations doing that and keeping them down, is it the federal government keeping them down? There are still people in the federal bureaucracy who are dying to get control of Indian tribes again and some of them are doing it through the kind of carrot and stick flattery. You see many, I’ve been in Washington a long time and I see people, delegations come in and they do cow tow to the very, to federal bureaucrats and they do sell out very, for a photo op and they don’t insist on substance. Not everyone. I’m talking about just a small number of people who do this. The most successful of the tribal leaders will not do the photo op unless they have something to back it up with, unless they’ve gotten something for the people, unless they have some sort of really clear promise or a negotiated agreement or a law or they, it’s not just, ‘How nice can we be to the white people?’ but some people still have that orientation and a lot of people in Washington exploit that because there are still people who are on the payroll or on the side of for other non-monetary reasons the people who are trying to exploit our resources and the people who are trying to keep us from not just making money on things, but having them altogether. So there are still people who are trying to take our gathering places, who are certainly trying to keep control of our sacred places. That has not stopped and there is a predictable backlash against any Native people that exercise sovereignty in any area, whether it’s water rights or gaming operations, whether it’s being too cultural. People get jealous of that and [say], ‘Give me some of that medicine.’ No matter what it is that is being exercised in a way that can be commodified, there are people who try to gain a share of that commodified entity or they try to take it away from Native people altogether and that’s still going on. There are still organized networks of people who call themselves in organizations 'anti-Indian' or 'equal rights' -- 'equal rights' is buzz word for no treaties, no special Indian rights. And this issue has been taken to the Supreme Court a lot and the Supreme Court always answers the same thing, ‘Special rights of Indians don’t interfere with the constitutional rights of non-Indians, so shut up.’ I mean, that’s what is supposed to happen, but that keeps going on. And in every way that Native nations raise a resource right or commit an act of sovereignty, there are non-Indian people who are there saying, ‘Either give me some or you don’t get to do that anymore.’ And why? Part of it is racism and an ancient fear that once in control of anything, Native people will be as bad to the non-Indians as the non-Indians have been to us. That is not our history. That is not our history. Whether you look at the Maine Indian land claim settlement of the claim to two-thirds of the state in a settlement for 300,000 acres of land, that was an act of compassion on the part of the Passamaquoddys and Penobscots in not suing every citizen in the claim area. That was an act of compassion because they said, ‘We don’t want to scare people the way our people have been scared.’ I thought that was so admirable of them and so they wanted their lawsuit held in abeyance pending the outcome of talks. They said, ‘Just talk to us.’ They didn’t want to go through an entire litigation process and hurt the people in that claim area. I thought that was extraordinary."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned sacred places, which is a good segue into my next question. As you mentioned, you were directly involved in the creation and the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Can you just describe what...how that act came about and really what was the impetus behind it and perhaps your perspective on its impact 30 years later?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, I keep referencing this 1967 meeting, which was the nucleus of a coalition that became a national coalition for cultural rights and we had a second meeting, because we were mostly -- although there were people from other nations there at that ‘67 meeting in June -- we were mostly Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Lakotas, your basic Little Big Horn coalition. And we talked about a lot of things and realized that the Lakotas had different issues than the Cheyennes, even though we have so much in common, that there were slightly different things, slightly different experiences, different religions, different things that we had to do that we were being prevented from doing. So everyone had the ‘no trespassing’ signs in commons, the ‘no Indians and dogs allowed’ signs in common. We all had that in common, but what we realized was we needed to know more in order to do something that would help everyone and that was our goal was to help everyone. And it really was a, there was an emphasis on freedom. So we, and I can’t emphasize enough that we were still criminalized even though the civilization regulations had been lifted 30 years earlier, we were still criminalized when we practiced our religions and we were demonized by a lot of Native people too who had bought the whole bill of goods and who called us pagans and that sort of thing in resolutions and in letters to the BIA. So we realized that we had to do a lot of things to help ourselves and to help other people so, anytime that we tried to get to a sacred place that had been confiscated and turned into the public domain, we had to go through private property, federal property, sometimes state property and everywhere were these ‘keep out’ signs and ‘no trespassing’ signs and we were literally in order to continue a pilgrimage lifting barbed wire to get to these places. We still do that today in some places, so it’s not over, it’s not ended. So we wanted to see beyond that and make sure that in making ourselves free from a lot of these constraints that we weren’t imperiling anyone else. So kind of put out the word to different parts of the country what we were doing, what we were trying to do and that we wanted museum reform, we wanted a national cultural center, that’s what we called the museum facing the capitol and so the capitol, the people who were making laws about us would have to look us in the face. And we wanted something where people weren’t confiscated eagle feathers from us and we wanted the ‘no trespassing’ signs gone. So we got an invitation from Governor Robert Lewis to go to Zuni and so we went there, a pretty big delegation, and he had invited some other people and we had a similar set of meetings for a week and discussed what they needed and what they were afraid of and what they were confronted with and so that became, we were building a door like this and then it became a wider door, kind of a taller door. Everywhere we would go there would be another kind of issue that people wanted to be a part of this thing. So while we were building a door to get everyone through, we ended up with something that was very oddly configured and you can say the same sort of thing about all of these laws in the cultural rights realm, repatriation certainly is a good example of that, and the reason it doesn’t, these don’t look like other laws is because so many different cultures and so many different ways of dealing with issues had to be accommodated. And I do mean had to be. I mean, that was a real mission that everyone felt was we needed to be absolutely inclusive and to not have language that would restrict other people. So we just continued lots and lots of meetings like this, lots of gatherings, hundreds. We had hundreds of meetings of this kind, some later at Native American Rights Fund, some out in the open where everyone would camp, some at hotels in conjunction with Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians or National Congress of American Indians, and it was a very important movement that took hold in Washington and a lot of people were responsive. And the first two people I went to were Senator Barry Goldwater in this state and Senator Ted Kennedy because they were the most conservative and most liberal and then all you do is fill in the blanks in between. And both of them were so receptive and that’s when we really knew that we were going to prevail on a national Indian cultural rights agenda was when we were able to get really broad sponsorship and then in the House another person from Arizona, Congressman Morris Udall, was our champion there. So that, and if you look at the Religious Freedom Act and you look at the report of the president pursuant to the Religious Freedom Act, it was done after a year’s implementation. After a year’s implementation of 50 agencies' review of their rules and regulations in the context of Indian religious freedom, you see that it covers a lot of areas, it covers museum reform, sacred objects, sacred places. It’s quite a broad set of policies and the overall, overarching policy statement is to preserve and protect Native religious religions and practitioners of those religions. That was huge because it, the only, it had been the policy of the United States to destroy them. So that’s why we had to have an Indian religious act and why we had to have repatriation and the like, all the follow on legislation because this was a policy statement and then you go from there to make something that is specific to a topic. So that’s sort of how we got from the ‘67 meeting to just lots and lots of, they weren’t hearings, they were gatherings where we exchanged information and there was a lot of traditional knowledge sharing and learning that we were all doing. We all came away with in effect Ph.D.s in comparative religion. It was quite the thing. And I am so privileged to have been a part of that and to have been educated by so many extraordinary people. So that period was just an amazing thing. It was an, talk about an exercise of sovereignty. This was the people rising up and saying, ‘This is what we want and need and we need it to look like this.’ And that’s what repatriation was. We continued that same process from ‘78 when we did the Religious Freedom Act to ‘89 when we finally got the Indian museum and the historic repatriation provision agreement with the Smithsonian. And after that it took only 11 months to get it applied to the rest of the United States, to every other federal agency, educational institution and museum that was, that had any sort of federal tie. And that’s a pretty remarkable thing. And we literally got everything that we wanted and a process to try to do something about the things that were causing people so many nightmares. In part, our elders in ‘67 called us together because so many people were having nightmares about people who were held in these places and things that were held, our living beings, our sacred objects, that were being held in these places and they were describing them as prisoners of war. And at that point, we didn’t know exactly how it had happened, but by the ‘80s we had found the documentation to support what our oral history told us about beheadings. We knew there had to be a policy and a program to behead us and just because it was in everyone’s oral history, but we didn’t find until the ‘80s the information about the Indian crania study of the U.S. Army Surgeon General and we didn’t know until I started having negotiating sessions at the Smithsonian with Bob Adams, who was Secretary of the Smithsonian, that they had in fact 18,500 human remains, 4,500 skulls from the Indian crania study. We knew all of that from our own history, but we didn’t know how it was done until we found the paper, and thank goodness for the Magna Carta culture.

Ian Record:

"I wanted to follow up on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and also NAGPRA, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and just get your sense, now that there’s been obviously 30 years since AIRFA, moving on 20 years, I believe, since NAGPRA. How have those two acts worked out in practice? Are they achieving the goals that those folks that you were initially working with had set out?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, AIRFA is a policy statement, so it is what it is and we expected to gain more follow-on legislation from it than we have. So our big failing would be in sacred places protection and what we need are legal protections for sacred places and what we’ve been doing is cobbling together protections made of all sorts of other laws and processes and then some outright buying of areas of sacred places. We can’t obviously buy everything and some things were taken from the Indian people and we were confined to reservations and not allowed by the civilization regulations to roam off the reservation. That was an act that was unlawful, to roam off the reservation and for all of these sacred places that were off reservation, they were attempting to stop the relationship between the place and the people going there to pray. So a lot of people went there anyway of course, but had to do it underground and had to, had to make themselves criminals and hostiles and fomenters of decent and all of that and risk imprisonment, withdrawal of rations, starvation and any open-ended sentence that an Indian agent might apply in his discretion. So these places, none of these places were taken properly. They were all stolen. These were our usual and accustomed places, these were places that it didn’t occur to our ancestors that we wouldn’t be able to go there. Yet we were stopped. It didn’t occur to them that someone would take them and say, ‘Now these are ours, not yours.’ But that’s what happened. So we haven’t fulfilled the hope that we had of securing legal protections of a general nature, of a national nature for these important places to all our peoples. As far as repatriation, that is a good example of what was supposed to happen. We did do follow-on legislation. We were able to get it and I think we were able to get it because we were able to find so much of the documentation that was about an area of American life that most people on Capitol Hill had no idea existed and they would say, ‘You’re kidding. This is what the United States did? How is this possible?’ And there it was in black and white, there it was in green boxes in museums. So we had a good case, we made a good case for repatriation and I think, and we set up three processes, two laws and one process at NMAI and they were all slightly different, they had slightly different standards, the legal standard, the test under the two laws, one for the Smithsonian and one for everyone else, was or is preponderance of the evidence, which is 5941. In the NMAI [National Museum of the American Indian] trustees repatriation policy that governs NMAI, we made that a reasonable belief standard to see if that would be different in its implementation from preponderance of the evidence, reasonable belief not quite requiring a majority of belief, however you quantify these things. And it hasn’t made all that much difference, I don’t think, proving to me at least the point that everything comes down to people. It matters who’s in the delegation on the tribal side, it matters who’s in the repository receiving side and when the people get together what is their interaction and what are their motives and are they really concentrated on the good of the Indian people, the public good for education. Are they truly concentrated on these things or is it about people looking at us as if we’re the butterfly collection or our people, our ancestors as if they’re the butterflies that are pinned down. That’s a different way of looking at the world and that’s not the kind of world that we made with the repatriation laws. We made something that was interactive, that would bring together the peoples who cared most about the subject and that it was supposed to be for the good. I think that they’ve accomplished that and they’re not finished and it’s a long process. It’s a long process because Native people, it’s not a simple matter to repatriate. No one has the ceremony for what you do when people come and dig up your grave and take your great grandma or your grandma to Washington or to University of Arizona or UCLA or the Colorado Historical Society. There’s no ceremony for that except for those who have it now. So everyone, and you don’t just invent ceremony all of a sudden. You have to say, ‘Is this like anything else? What happened when there was a flood and bodies floated up, what happened? Ah, we did this, we did that.’ So people have to think of other things that it’s most like and find a way to discuss it in a way that’s not just ripping the scab off everything that’s happened in the whole of the 500 years and find a way to discuss it in a way that everyone can be put back together again. So that’s a lot and that requires a lot. Repatriation has placed a tremendous burden on Native nations, which is usually discussed as a paperwork burden. Say, ‘Wow, we’ve got a mountain of paper.’ It’s put a tremendous burden on everyone, but when it’s done best, it’s a tremendous learning process because people, well, like the teachers say, everything is a teaching opportunity. This is a teaching and learning opportunity for everyone. It’s a way of talking to the artist in the community. We want our cultural patrimony back so you see these designs. We want our people back so people can stop having nightmares about them and we put them to rest finally. So it’s a small measure of justice in a very unjust history and an unjust world. The really smart thing we did in repatriation law in both the ‘89 and the ‘90 law and in the NMAI trustees policy was to leave the implementation of the law up to the people doing the repatriations themselves. And that was, well, we had two choices. We could have guessed and we would never have guessed right, never. There are so many surprises that have come up in the individual repatriations. Or we could do what we did, which was to punt. We agreed on the general policy, we agreed that there was going to be a repatriation law, we agreed that it would be human rights of Native Americans. All of that was agreed to. And then we didn’t tie everyone’s hands with too much law. We left a lot to be, the manner of repatriation, so people looking for guidance in the law need to look to the spirit rather than the letter and then to do what they agree to do because that’s the whole point. People are coming together for a common purpose and they need to do whatever they need to do to make it dignified, to make it respectful, to make it lasting or to make it an interim thing. They might just say, ‘This is what we’re doing for now, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do it this way afterward,’ because it’s up to the current, to the living people to define cultural appropriateness, to do religious interpretation, to understand what the people need right now and then to, what kind of presentation? Does it need to be just something that’s written down and no one talks about it again? Does it need to be something done as a ceremony? Does it need to be something done that’s not a ceremony, but done with ceremoniousness? There are all sorts of ways to do these repatriations and the best thing is for the peoples to, on the Native side and on the repository side, to come together and to deal with it in the way that they can agree to deal with it. And that’s part of healing and that’s what we wanted to accomplish. So, and that’s what I hear from lots and lots of people who do repatriations is that they have accomplished that. But it takes a long time to get from point A to point Z. It just takes a long, long time. And sometimes you don’t quite get there, but you just run out of time or you run out of patience or you feel that it’s going in a negative rather than positive direction. There are lots of reasons that people decide that the end has been reached. Sometimes it’s a person on a particular repatriation committee knows they have three months in office or a tribal leader and they just have to get it done before then. Sometimes it’s a religious thing where the important thing is to get this back before this thing happens in the sky or before this kind of thing happens or to keep the salmon running or to keep the buffalo healthy. There are all sorts of community reasons that people do things or they just want not to deal with the subject anymore and to do, to resolve it quickly and quietly. There are all sorts of reasons for pace and style and as I said, I think that’s the smartest thing we did with the repatriation laws was to leave it up to the people."

Ian Record:

"You are also, among your many activities, one of the plaintiffs in the Washington Redskins trademark lawsuit, which has been going on for several years now."

Suzan Harjo:

"Sixteen."

Ian Record:

"Sixteen -- more than several. Just describe for us briefly why this suit was brought, what was the basis of it and what the current status of it is and essentially what larger problem it’s trying to address."

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, all roads for me lead back to our ‘67 meeting at Bear Butte, which was just eye opening for me and the people kept talking about respect and respect and respect and how we were being, we were not being respected in general society and one of the things that got tossed around was all of the, all of these sports teams that were walking all over our good names and walking all over our reputations and that that was helping keep us down and helping make everything else possible and that not enough people were speaking out about it. And that really meant a lot for those of us who were from Oklahoma, where sports are a really big deal and we joined up with the effort already underway in Oklahoma to try to get rid of Little Red who was the mascot for the University of Oklahoma and that became the first of the American references in sports, Native American references in American sports to go by the wayside. It was ended...Little Red was the first dead mascot in 1970 and after that came Syracuse and Stanford and Dartmouth and a lot of others. Until this time, when we’ve eliminated over -- we collectively, not me, but we collectively -- have eliminated over two-thirds of the Native references in American sports. So we’ve won already. Now that’s in educational sports. In pro sports, not one has changed. So you have 2,200 in educational sports have changed, have dropped their stereotypes, not one in pro sports. So there was a trademark trial, a trademark lawyer, patent and trademark lawyer named Steve Baird who was doing research on causes of action in trademark law to deal with this issue and so he wanted to interview me when I was, I think I had just stepped down as Director of National Congress of American Indians, but I was all over the record on this issue for many years and decades. And so he called and he was in Minneapolis and could he come and interview me. So he and his wife came over and we were doing an interview and the first question he asked me was, ‘Why did you reject, ’ because I’d said that we’d met many times. He said, ‘Had you ever considered a lawsuit against the Washington team?’ and I said, ‘Well, yes, but we rejected the civil rights approaches and they didn’t seem quite right for this forum that we knew we would have the hardest row to hoe in pro sports.’ So he said, ‘Well, why did you reject the forum of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Board?’ And I said, ‘Oh, well, we didn’t.’ And he said, ‘Well, did you reject or why did you reject, if you did, the Lanham Act as a cause of action?’ And I said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ And he was so smart, he explained all of this to me about a pocketbook incentive lawsuit and how the Lanham Act said that you can’t get a trademark license if you have disparaging -- there are four tests -- if you have something that’s derogatory to anyone or anything or if it holds people or thing up to contempt, holds a people or thing up to ridicule or is scandalous and it seemed to me that we fit all of those. It was certainly scandalous to us, but I didn’t know if it was scandalous to general society. So he explained that it would be difficult to have them do it retroactively. What we would have to do is ask them to cancel the licenses, the trademark licenses that the team owners had received in the late ‘60s and, rather than going in the front end to have them not issue the license and that there were complexities in the lawsuit. So by the time he left, I had hired him as my lawyer and then I took a poll of the, I talked to the Board of Morning Star [Institute] and Morning Star became the sponsor for the lawsuit and then I made elaborate lists and called up six people and each one said yes. And the first one I called was Vine Deloria, Jr. and he said, ‘Oh, hell yes. I’m definitely for that.' We’ve got to do something to take this burden on ourselves as the responsible adult population and not have our, not pass this burden on to our children and their children and their children. So that’s why we did it. And his other remark was so much like one of the remarks that had been made at that ‘67 gathering where he said, ‘We have to tell people that this is not acceptable, but we have to say it and we haven’t done enough of that.’ And that was exactly what I had heard and I thought, ‘This is really such a smart man and such a wise elder.’ I think there were many of us who knew Vine was a wise elder before he accepted that he was and he was always very self deprecating. And so we had, I wanted seven people because seven is a really important number for the Cheyennes and we won in ‘99 before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Board. Filed in ‘92, won in ‘99, lost before the federal district court in 2003, and we’ve been on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals since then with one narrow question having been sent back to the lower court about whether latches, the passage of time runs against the youngest of the seven of us who was in diapers at the time that they filed for trademark protection and the Court of Appeals sent that question back with some language that said roughly, ‘There are always going to be Native Americans born and obviously some of them are going to continue to be offended. What about them?’ They were asking themselves and continue to do. So from that I concocted a lawsuit of young people who have no latches problem and again wanted to have it mirror our lawsuit and got seven, but one had to drop out. So it’s now six young Native people between the ages of 18 and 24 so there was no lag or minimal lag between them reaching their maturity and filing the lawsuit. And they filed our same lawsuit, they did that in 2006 and their lawsuit is being held in abeyance pending the outcome of ours."

Ian Record:

"So depending on how they rule on yours, they would proceed with the other one."

Suzan Harjo:

"Then they proceed, right. And it’s a different lawsuit so if they don’t, if the Court of Appeals does not reach the merits whether it’s disparaging or not to us, in our lawsuit then they have to reach it in the next one because they have no loophole, no escape hatch of latches for the Washington football club to get through. So they may escape through that loophole in ours, but they can’t through the next one and that’s just one forum and one cause of action and one tiny group of people. We’ve got a lot of relatives and there are lots of forums and all of that is to say that we’re on the downhill slide on winning this issue and, when you think about it, over 2,000 schools have gone through this process thoroughly and some at length, University of Oklahoma for almost 10 years, some of them really for a long time, before deciding to eliminate their Native references. That’s amazing. That’s really a societal sea change all around the country in the heartland, on the coast, everywhere, big towns, little towns, and almost all of those happened one by one by one except for LA [Los Angeles] Unified School District, they did it as a school district. Dallas-Fort Worth did it for half of Dallas-Fort Worth as a district. Lewisville, Kentucky did it as two counties in one school system. So other than those, though, it’s been done school by school and it’s always the same process and always the same arguments and it’s amazing how you could almost script it and say, ‘This is what’s going to be said. They’re going to say, 'You’re not offended.' You’re going to say, 'You’re not honored.' And that’s going to be the argument.’ And it has been and you almost want to say in the middle of these negotiations, ‘I know you think you’re being original, but we’ve heard it all before.’ Nonetheless, not every argument has been made in every situation and that’s what’s being played out all over America. So we’ve won on that. Whether or not we lose this lawsuit or win this lawsuit, these names are gone, these references are gone."

Ian Record:

"I wanted to wrap up with again getting back to a very general question and really what I’m curious to know from you is what do you see for the future of Indian Country and Native nations?"

Suzan Harjo:

"Well, "

Ian Record:

"I didn’t say it was a simple question, I just said it was a general one."

Suzan Harjo:

"I was the National Coordinator for the 1992 Alliance, which was from ‘89 to ‘93 really providing Native voices on the occasion of the Columbus Quincentenary, which was 1992 and one of the things that I put in place for October 1992 to kind of wrap everything up was a meeting of 100 wisdom keepers -- all Native people -- wisdom keepers, artists and writers to come together and then I co-chaired that with my old friend Oren Lyons, who’s an Onondaga Chief from the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. And we invited, we just put together a list of our, of the people we most admired and respected and asked them to come. What we were finding was that we knew a lot of different people and that a lot of people, I talked to Vine Deloria for example and he said, ‘Oh, I think that’d be really interesting. I’ve never met, ’ and he named several people. So we put together people mainly so we could just talk about the future and we called it 'Our Visions: The Next 500 Years,' and I will tell you that no one mentioned Columbus at that entire week of meetings and we came out with a wonderful statement, which I will get to you so you can read it into this record called ‘A Statement Toward the Next 500 Years.’ And essentially it says we’re going to be talking our languages, speaking in our languages, we’re going to be the Native people, we’re going to reclaim a lot of our traditions, we’re going to clear out some of the underbrush of stereotypes so our images come through. And it talked a lot about reclamation in a sense and who we were going to be not in relation to anyone else, but as ourselves. And one thing, it was just a marvelous, marvelous thing, and there were all sorts of people there who knocked each other off the charisma meter. Scott Momaday and Vine Deloria and Joy Harjo and it was just an extraordinary group of hundred people, Thomas Banyacya, just amazing, amazing people. And everyone came up with this statement. So that’s how I feel and as the years have gone by there have been so many examples of things that have gone away, things that have been called extinct that are now being revived, which is just, our old people on the Muscogee side say, ‘Never count out anyone, never count out anything because there they will appear again.’ And people all over the place say that about medicine plants that haven’t been seen in a long time and here they are. The teal blue butterfly, which was thought to be extinct for 100 years has reappeared in northern California. And the Pequot language, which, well the Pequots were said to be extinct and then there they were. I know they were there, I was the lead lobbyist on their land claim settlement. And what they have done with their extraordinary wealth through gaming and creating the world’s largest casino, Foxwoods, is they’ve done a lot of good. One of the amazing things they’ve done is to reclaim their language. They know how it sounds. There are lots of Algonquin languages that are spoken today including Cheyenne. No one, everyone thinks we’re from the plains, but we’re not. We’re from up that way. And they, so they know the sound of the language, they know words and there’s vocabulary, a lot of stuff was written down and now they have people speaking it and that’s an amazing thing. Now talk about an act of sovereignty. Here they are doing language reclamation and it really, this is what we in effect envisioned in 1992 when we did our retreat and said, ‘What is it that we want for the next 500 years? We want to be the Native people in the next 500 years and even more so than we are now.’ So this is what’s happening."

Ian Record:

"Well, Suzan, I really appreciate your time. I think a lot of people are going to learn quite a bit from your thoughts and perspectives. We’d like to thank Suzan Harjo for joining on us on this program of Leading Native Nations, a radio series of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us."

Honoring Nations: Aaron Miles: Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Aaron Miles, Natural Resource Manager for the Nez Perce Tribe, shares the progress of the Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program and talks about how the program hopefully will begin to seed a change in the mindset among those human beings who share the wolves' environment.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Miles, Aaron. "Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Andrew Lee:

"We now have a presentation from Aaron Miles from the Nez Perce Tribe who is the department manager of the wildlife there, and he's going to talk about the Nez Perce Gray Wolf Recovery Program, or actually the Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program, which has been a phenomenally successful recovery program led by the Nez Perce Tribe and was a High Honors winner in 1999. Aaron."

Aaron Miles:

"Thank you. Thanks, Andrew. I really appreciate this video. My mentor, his name was Roger Van Houghton. He was a forester, he was of Dutch descent, and I remember him when he had his computers, you carried those big cards around to program his computer and you had to keep them in the right order. The cards were about that big around or square and it had the capacity...it didn't have near the capacity of the memory that you have in these computers. And that's pretty interesting to see how kids have that technology available to them and to be able to learn like that. Like I was mentioning, Roger was a great mentor to myself.

And before I was the Natural Resource Manager, Jaime Pinkham actually was the manager who had brought in, had been a part of the wolf recovery effort initiating this with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You'll see in my slides here some of the more aspects of who I am I guess. I'm more of a fisherman, so you'll see some of the tribal elements in this, because the way our treaty reads is that we have the exclusive right for taking fish and then all other privileges, hunting and all that, come in after the fishing right. So wildlife and all that stuff is tied to our fishing rights. It's kind of a weird little set up because you think culturally, all animals are equal, all two-legged humans, we're all equal to the animals and so. Why don't we get started?

First of all, I'd like to first go over the introduction and the Nez Perce history a little bit more so you understand the dynamics of wolf recovery a little bit in conjunction with Nez Perce culture. And then I'll get into more of the logistics of Nez Perce, the contract with the gray wolf recovery from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I'll give you an up-to-date report on what we're doing right now. And then I think also kind of going over some of the...understanding the value differences between Indian versus non-Indian entities and the politics. And then kind of get into the larger picture of really looking at repairing, mitigating Nez Perce country, and so that we have a diversity of species within our country and the benefits as well.

So the first part, my administration, I have around anywhere from 90 to 100 employees right now. I have six division directors. I have everything but fisheries. In fisheries, Jaime Pinkham is now the new Fisheries Manager for the Tribe and so I work with him. And then there are several places where I represent the tribe at the Intertribal Timber Council, I'm a board member of that board. And the State-Tribal Working Group, the states and tribes work collaboratively to make recommendations on clean-up efforts for the Department of Energy and so we meet with them [DOE] quite a bit. And now we're trying to get...administer the Integrated Resources Management Plan. And then I lobby, I work with my policymakers, the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee and many of you met Justin yesterday I believe.

First of all, I've got to get started off really understanding Nez Perce culture, Nez Perce history a little bit. In 1855, how we became politically established was Chief Looking Glass, old Chief Looking Glass was hunting buffalo in Montana, buffalo country -- we'd been battling the Mandan, Hidatsa, the Blackfeet and all over for the buffalo resource. And one of the things during that time, the governor then, Isaac Stevens, wanted to negotiate a treaty with the Nez Perce Tribe and so that was held at Walla Walla, Washington or the Washington Territory. And so we had actually come in, there were 2,000 Nez Perce warriors who had actually stopped hunting and come in for this treaty. And during that time, it was not about conquering the Nez Perce, the Umatillas, the Yakimas, it was not about conquered because the cavalry only had a few...they didn't have a large number of soldiers there so it was just...it was...the tribes could have taken them out easily. It was about perpetuating our rights...reserving our rights for the future and which now I'm the seventh generation from the Treaty of 1855 signers. Chief Looking Glass...so this is the Young Looking Glass who fought in the Nez Perce War. There is not a picture of his father who signed the Treaty of 1855. As you can see, this is the circle of influence that the Nez Perce had in regards to hunting, gathering, fishing. And so what you see is the original reservation here in 1855 and you had the northeast Oregon, you had the Wallowa Band, this is where Chief Joseph comes from. And so our rights going into buffalo country to be able to hunt and then fish with our sister tribes on the Columbia River. And then battling...we fought a lot with the Shoshone Bannock down in southern Idaho.

Before the treaties or before this reservation was formed, Lewiston's right here, so you had a lot of non-Indians waiting for the opening of the reservation. What they were doing was illegally going on to the reservation and looking for gold, looking at our resources, and so there were a number of things that were unexploited at that time. This is the reservation that Joseph refused to go to and so the Nez Perce War of 1877 escalated. We were actually...Joseph and the Wallowa Band were actually heading to the reservation and two young warriors before they actually got the reservation had retaliated and killed a couple of non-Indians because they had murdered their fathers and so retaliation escalated the War of 1877, so the first battle takes place in Salmon River Country. And my great-great grandfather Two Moon and Ollicot led the first battle in which we had won most of them throughout the Nez Perce war, but the Bear's Paw is where we surrendered. And this is a picture of Big Hope Battlefield, and you can see where they placed the Howitzer up above here when they had snuck up on the Nez Perce, our encampment. The encampment was down here and that day they killed 60 to 90 women and children. It was the first act of genocide by the U.S. government on the Nez Perce people. They had blatantly come after our women and children...had smashed in the heads of all the infants just to prove a point to us and to get us back to Lapwai on the reservation. And so when the Howitzer would...the cannons would land and hit...cannonballs would hit out there in the encampment, shrapnel would blow everywhere and would kill people. And my great-great grandfather Two Moon was actually down in this area and he was one of the first...he had killed three or four soldiers that day. We had the guns in my grandpa's place for quite a while and their house burnt down and so we lost not only a number of resources from the tribe, but even the cavalry. And so the Nez Perce chased back the cavalry and made them retreat during this time. And Yellow Wolf, Chief Joseph's nephew, had actually...they went up...they only got two shots off, I believe, with the cannonball and they had dismantled that Howitzer and buried it and so it only took just a matter of minutes for the warriors to make the cavalry retreat.

And then Chief Joseph, Hinmatoylokekt, leads, he's the leader of the Nez Perce, which we had many chiefs, Chief Looking Glass, White Bird, Toohoolhoolzote and so he surrenders at Bear Paw [Nez Perce language] and my history there is...my great-grandfather was born the year after, James Miles, who was born at Fort Walsh. Some of my family had made it into Canada, into Sitting Bull's camp. That's who we were trying to reach was...we were allies with Sitting Bull and one of the things...for me I feel fortunate enough to be here today and lucky enough because the things that they did, their existence, their living and survival is the only reason why I'm here today. And so Chief Joseph, ‘I will not fight no more forever.' And then the other thing...one of the other things that he said was, ‘The earth and myself are of one mind.' And that's kind of the premise of how I look at natural resources, ‘The earth and myself are one mind.' I remember when I was going to school I had learned a lot about Aldo Leopold, I learned about the great conservationists and preservationists, but I only had to turn to my family or turn to the chiefs that have been part of our history, and so I didn't have to look very far to find guidance.

Okay, right after the War of 1877 the Nez Perce get split up, we go to the Colville Reservation, some go back to Lapwai on the Nez Perce, Umatilla, and then eventually go to Oklahoma. One of the things during this time the, here's the part that kind of, I always have a big problem with is, we were to provide testimony as Indian people to all the animals who had lost their voice when we had become in existence, so we as humans have a submissive role to animals, not dominion. And so when we have that...the ability to take an animal to feed ourselves, we are to provide testimony and to perpetuate that animal. And so during the unregulated times when ranching, mining, all these 'lords of yesterday' that Charles Wilkinson talks about in his book, they are dominating, they are...so environmental degradation and loss of habitat, this is where it happens and then extirpation and extinction of plant and animal species takes place. And during this time a tax on tribalism began through the government programs such as the Dawes Allotment Act, the boarding school era, and the Relocation Act. So becoming no longer a tribe no more, we're becoming somewhat acclimated and assimilated to become Americans, and so the animals have no voice to speak on their behalf when we're in the boarding schools, when we're learning to just become American and have dominion over the animals.

And so during that time a lot is lost, loss of the chief system and we go to...that's actually Big Hole as well, Big Hole Battlefield. So tribalism is almost lost to Eurocentric values. Indians are demonized with predators such as the wolf and grizzly bear. Indian leadership is reduced from a proud man or woman with a role in the tribe to a hopeless reservation individual. And so a lot is lost during that time of...now it's just 'me, me, me, I, I, I' -- it's no longer we together as a tribe. And then we also...I don't know if it's whether to combat and beat the white man at his own game, we adopt the first modern version of the constitution and bylaws of the Nez Perce Tribe, approved by the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs and so it's ratified by our General Council and then Robert's Rules of Order takes front and center rather than coming into a meeting setting and listening to our elders first. And so, anybody can get up and talk now without...and so maybe a loss of respect takes place there. And then later on...we've been fighting a diminishment case on the Nez Perce Reservation. Right after 1893, the Dawes Allotment Act, I think it was 1897, I believe, in our history that the Indian Affairs Commissioner said, ‘No, the reservation was not diminished when it was opened up for the Homestead Act.' And so we've been facing...we have an anti-Indian group on our reservation who is saying, ‘No, you guys accepted money so that's ceding your land away and the reservation lines disappear.' And it comes over really employment issues where we're trying to employ our tribal members. We have an unemployment rate that probably reaches 40 percent at different times, but we are with, through Harvard, I've got to say this, we are actually at the table with them and they've been a great facilitator in all this. Where's Joe [Kalt] at? Oh, there he is in the back. He's been a great help to us.

And so this is what the Indian Affairs Commissioner...the Commission defines as Nez Perce country. So it goes all the way down the Montana border over into northeast Oregon so we have the exclusive right to take fish in all streams and so we can still go on the Columbia River even outside of this barrier and if there were still buffalo in Montana we'd still be able to hunt over there, which I know some other tribes don't like that. And then here's...I wanted to bring this to your attention because this is kind of the...this is the individual practice, the practice of what we always want our kids to do, to practice and exercise our treaty rights. And this is myself at Rapid River and then this is...I'm catching a fish. There's a dam, the trap, which is about maybe 200 yards up above. But we fish three different ways: with this large dip net, there's a hoop on the end and you just put it up river and go downstream, you make one sweep and that's how you catch them in your net. The other way is we have a gaff hook, it's a large hook like this and you feel around in the river and you just pull when you feel...when it feels like a thigh or something you just yank on it. And then the other way is we spear them as well. And so we had fought the Shoshone Bannock, they had actually...we have history of where they killed a lot of Nez Perce when we were fishing during this time and so fighting over the fisheries resource was also a big deal pre-European contact.

And then this is what it's really about -- it's about our kids, our youth. This is my oldest daughter. Last year she caught eight salmon. I was very proud of her. She's very much a tomboy so she wants to go hunting and fishing. And so my two youngest boys, they're not really into that yet, but they're starting to learn and this year I catch them, they're wanting to, they carry around poles with them and act like they're fishing so that's part of their experiential learning. And then my youngest son James, he's named after my great-grandfather James Miles who was born in Canada, James Joseph Miles. My daughter Celilo and Aaron, Jr. His Indian name is 'Two Moon.' So that's kind of the exercising of our rights. That's a very important part of our lives.

People always tell me, ‘Well, Aaron...' I've been confronted by individuals saying, ‘Aaron, you don't go to powwows, you don't do this, you don't do that.' And I'm like, ‘Well, you can do whatever you want if you...whatever you want in your mind that you feel that makes you Indian.' I hunt and fish, my hair's short. My grandfathers, their hair was short and I've always been...that's always been my lifestyle. I always used to listen to them in the sweathouse; they would be talking the old Nez Perce language. You could hear women's names in there sometimes. It's just part of the culture, and so there's new culture that is established during that time and it's important that you encourage your children to go in any way that they want to just as long as they're...that they have some ethics behind them.

And so, the tribal side, now we're getting into the management side of things in which the tribe contracted the gray wolf recovery effort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995. In 1995 what I understand, I've talked with the Wildlife Director, Keith Lawrence, he's told me during that time the State of Idaho, the legislature passed...prohibited the Idaho Fish and Game from being involved with wolf recovery so the tribe lands wolf recovery by default. They think the tribe's going to land flat on their faces and not be able to recover wolves into the State of Idaho. And so the gray wolf recovery, 250 wolves later, 17 packs, we're doing good. The wolf already knows that's his country and the bulk of it's right in Nez Perce country. And so we become the contractor and then later on, last year the Idaho State Legislature memorializes the removal of all wolves from the state. And so right now to be involved with wolf management, which we're getting into de-listing, they have to undo some of the legislation that they put on the Idaho Fish and Game to be involved. And so right now, the Nez Perce Tribe is trying to bring them along, help them along with wolf management and accept the recovery efforts. And so the tribe's successes that we've had and obstacles, Curt Mack received an award for the top 100 scientists for Audubon Society for the 20th century, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Award, the Harvard Award, we've received.

The biggest obstacle is obtaining the social acceptance of wolves. We know the biological acceptance is much greater than what cattlemen and the row growers will allow the wolves to do. There's much more that they can grow. We've identified the train wrecks, where the livestock interactions and wolves take place and where the depredations take place, but the problem is the ranchers, since the American government put them there, they want the American government to bail them out. So they want subsidies or even...so if there's a depredation they want the government to pay for their livestock or their cattle and so we're trying to work with them because wolf management, that's not going to happen. There's not going to be no compensation plan for them. Right now Defenders of Wildlife, they pay for, like if a calf is killed by a wolf, they'll pay full weight, calf weight, as if it was, even if it was real small, just born, they'll pay that price for the rancher and even depredations that even look suspect that may or may not have been killed by a wolf, they'll still pay for it. And so the ranchers have a lot of...I'm not sure if it's incentives, but there's a lot that's going for them in this. Right now, we believe that the environmental groups are going to probably sue in this...the wolf recovery effort because it first called for 10 breeding pairs in the State of Idaho, 10 breeding pairs in Montana, 10 breeding pairs in Wyoming and so it's a 30 breeding pair aggregate and right now the State of Idaho is taking up the bulk of, with 17 pairs and Wyoming and Montana still are lagging, I think, I believe seven or eight, seven packs and I think Wyoming's down to like five and so they have to have 10, 10 and 10 and so that's what the environmental groups are saying or the Nez Perce is saying, ‘We know it's not going to happen in Montana and Wyoming so we've got to get everybody on the same page to get the wolves delisted' because we need more social acceptance. We need the state to be involved rather than just ignoring the whole issue.

The biggest thing in this effort that I've learned... Well, you've got to understand the value differences between Indian and non-Indian, tribalism versus individualism. Ranchers are worried about their economy, their check book, their...and it's not about...it's not about us, it's just about me, that type of mentality and the definition of 'natural' from a tribal perspective versus non-tribal. When I went to my first wolf oversight committee meeting, one of the things that I was really in awe about was everybody except the biologists were around a table talking about wolves. So you had ranchers, you had livestock owners...it was even farmers around the table and so it was like, ‘Well, where's the biologists, where's...' We've gotten to a point where how much local control can you have? So local that you just take biologists out of there and people who really care about the resources. And so learning...and also learning from the past versus sustaining the present. And so the tribes are very much...and it goes down to the tribal Garden of Eden versus the state's Garden of Eden. What is the picture that the tribe would like to see versus the state? Well, the tribe would like to see the rolling hills with pine back on those hills where the state would rather see rolling hills of wheat. And so our difference...there are so many differences that we have between the state and the tribe. And then the definition of American from Indian versus non-Indian, that's just the whole...they believe that America is all about us, and here the bulk of the land is federal land that the wolves occupy and it's all taxpayers, just not the State of Idaho taxpayers that fund wolf recovery and are part of what we want in America. And so it's also a selfish point of view in my eyes. But still, nonetheless, we're the contractor; I still got to work with individuals that have definite differences between the tribe...among the tribe. And so that leads me to my...how are we going to start mitigating in a holistic manner all of Nez Perce country, the things that we typify as 'the West'?Some of the things that we...the things I have to continue working with private landowners, changing the mindset for the highest economic return. I believe that's probably what guides the natural resources in the State of Idaho. Collectively protecting our ways of life, and what I mean by that, last week I met with the Idaho Cattlemen's Association and the...growers for the first time and I told them, I said, ‘You know, we as Indian people are very much in the same boat as you. As ranchers and farmers where maybe sometimes people perceive that as a way of the past, the dying out and we need to stick up for each other rather than looking out ways how we can get rid of each other because for us we want ranchers to accept that wolves are here, they're here to stay and this is the animal, this is the icon that was with the Nez Perce Tribe when we were flourishing economically, everything about us culturally, socially, politically before the white man was here. So we want you guys to understand that this is an important species to us spiritually, and that it's important for you to accept this animal. If you're claiming that you're five, six generations in this country, then you will accept these ways as well, not just the agrigarian part of your livelihood. It's all about the hard-working individual being able to overcome these obstacles. That's really what our heritages are about.'

Benefits of wolf recovery: so we're restoring the west. We're restoring the image of the hardworking individual with Indians, with wolves, with the predators and then learning to live with our neighbors is the biggest deal. I mean, we're so close to non-Indians, but we haven't been able to come that close, not until JFK [Kennedy School] came into, or Harvard School came in and help us out, sit down with the North [Central] Idaho Jurisdictional Alliance. We've never been able to sit down with them. I sat down with an individual who made a public comment who said, ‘bloodshed is inevitable.' He was referring to that sometime we're going to go into battle with the Alliance and so that's how far we have gotten from that point. And then the other thing is, for us elk populations become healthier. You've got a healthier ecosystem. There's some things we don't understand about wolves yet, whether they're additive or compensatory. We don't know if they're taking additional elk or additional livestock or are they just bumping out another predator so there's less of another predator deprivating on livestock and elk. One of the things that I thought was kind of humorous is the state, they actually...they want slower moving elk, they want the most elk they can have in the State of Idaho and so they can sell the greatest number of out of state tags and so the Idaho Fish and Game, their very existence is based upon money, it's not about science. And so we're learning more about them as we go through wolf recovery and it just...they want accessible elk and it's kind of a crazy thought in my mind.

And then the spiritual significance of [Nez Perce language]; [Nez Perce language] is 'wolf' in Nez Perce, restore it to the Nez Perce people. And above all, our belief in perpetuation and protection of the [Nez Perce language] is the creator, his natural resources. It's not about us, it's about how we can get the spirit animals back that belong to the Nez Perce when we used to perform [Nez Perce language], when the spiritual elements to the tribe, that we know we were facing a lot of social ailments, social-economic conditions. When I was growing up in Lapwai, we had an unemployment rate of about 80 percent. There were more dogs in Lapwai than there were human beings. There was so much going on. I'd have to walk by two bars every day when I'd walk to school and there'd be fights breaking out and it was a rough time in our tribe's history, and to be reduced from this very respected individual in a community to someone who's now just an alcoholic. Through our natural resources, that's how we address these issues and some people look at them that way or some people just seem them as totally different. And I hope that with what, I'm able to leave you here today that natural resources, that's who we are as Indian people. Without them, we're almost like we're just another regular American and we've been fighting for that right to be different for so long. We weren't a part of the civil rights movement by and large 'cause we were fighting for the right to be different with our reservations and be unique, and so that's really what America's about today and so I think America is learning that sometimes my ways are un-American, but they have to accept us whether they like it or not and learn to live with us and vice versa."

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times: Wilma Mankiller

Producer
Institute for Tribal Government
Year

Produced by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University in 2004, the landmark “Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times” interview series presents the oral histories of contemporary leaders who have played instrumental roles in Native nations' struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. The leadership themes presented in these unique videos provide a rich resource that can be used by present and future generations of Native nations, students in Native American studies programs, and other interested groups.

In this interview, conducted in July 2001, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller traces her ascendancy from a child of the termination and relocation policies of the 1950s to becoming the first female elected to serve as principal chief of her nation.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Mankiller, Wilma. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Tahlequah, Oklahoma. July 2001. Interview.

Kathryn Harrison:

"Hello. My name is Kathryn Harrison. I am presently the Chairperson of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. I have served on my council for 21 years. Tribal leaders have influenced the history of this country since time immemorial. Their stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Their teaching is alive today in our great contemporary tribal leaders whose stories told in this series are an inspiration to all Americans both tribal and non-tribal. In particular it is my hope that Indian youth everywhere will recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by these great tribal leaders."

[Native music]

Narrator:

"Wilma P. Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, was the first female in modern history to lead a major tribe. Mankiller was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1945 and today lives on the land allotted to her paternal grandfather in 1907 just after Oklahoma became a state. The family name, Mankiller, she explains is derived from the title assigned to someone who watched over Cherokee villages, a kind of warrior. Wilma Mankiller herself is a protector of her people and a kind of warrior for justice. Her goal as a community organizer and leader of the Cherokee Nation has been to help bring self-sufficiency to her people. Most of Mankiller's childhood was spent close to the land and in strong relationship with other Cherokee people. In the 1950s the Bureau of Indian Affairs encouraged the family to move to San Francisco under the Bureau's relocation program. The adjustment was extremely difficult for the Mankiller children but Wilma Mankiller was later able to benefit from participation in the social reform and liberation movements of the 1960s. She was inspired by the events of 1969 when a group of students occupied Alcatraz Island to bring attention to the concerns of tribes. Also in California her understanding of treaty rights and tribal sovereignty issues was deepened when she worked with the Pit River Tribe. Mankiller returned to her ancestral home in Oklahoma in the early 1970s. Her ideas for development in historic Cherokee communities caused Chief Ross Swimmer to take note of her work. Mankiller's work was interrupted by a near fatal accident and 17 operations. But through near-death and convalescence she emerged renewed and even more dedicated to work for her people. Chief Swimmer convinced Mankiller to run as his Deputy Chief in 1983. When Swimmer resigned to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, Mankiller assumed the duties of Chief as mandated by Cherokee law. She was strongly opposed by tribal members who did not want to be led by a woman. She ran for Chief on her own in 1987, was elected and ran and won a second term. Wilma P. Mankiller has made a great impact on her own people and other Americans as a tribal and spiritual leader. She received the Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year Award in 1987 and to her great pride one of the health clinics that she helped found bears her name. In 1998 President Clinton presented Mankiller the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In an interview conducted by the Institute for Tribal Government in July, 2001, Mankiller spoke about the historic struggles of the Cherokee people, her development as a tribal leader, her battles to win the post of Chief and the important issues for tribes today."

The Cherokee people

Wilma Mankiller:

"In 1492 we were in the southeastern part of the United States in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, a little part of Virginia, a little part of Alabama and the whole southeast. The Cherokee people I think went through a lot of different phases and a lot of different discussions about how to relate to their new neighbors. Certainly like every other tribe in the country we were forced into treaties where we always ended up ceding land and eventually lost a lot of land in the southeast just through treaties and through war and many other events. But at different periods we were at war. At other periods we had an official policy of almost accommodation where we tried to figure out how to get along with our new neighbors and whether we were in a war era or whether we were in an era of cooperation. It didn't matter, we lost our land and lost many of our rights anyway and so no matter what our official policies might have been."

The Cherokee Nation rebuilds itself after repeated injustice and assault

Wilma Mankiller:

"One of the most famous stories among the Cherokee is that when Jackson was a soldier and fighting one of the major battles that a Cherokee person actually saved his life, a Cherokee warrior saved his life and he lived to regret that. Later Jackson made his reputation as an Indian fighter and as a military man and then later when he became President, almost one of the very first acts was to try to convince the Legislature to pass the Removal Act, which eventually resulted in the Cherokees being dispossessed of their land in the southeast. Most people refer to the Cherokee removal as the Trail of Tears or the Trail Where They Cried because of the large loss of land and large loss of lives but actually all the tribes in the southeast went through the same sort of removal process. The Choctaws and the Creeks and the Chickasaws, the Seminoles, many other tribes went through the same situation. Our story I think is just the one that's more familiar. Our land where we had lived forever was given away in lotteries to White Georgians after the Cherokees were removed and this land's very different in Indian Territory than the land in the southeast. The political system, the cultural system, the medicines, the life ways, everything we'd ever known was left behind so our people arrived here with everything in disarray. Many people dead, everything familiar gone and yet what's absolutely remarkable about Cherokee people is that they almost immediately began to reform the Cherokee Nation and rebuild their families and rebuild their communities and rebuild a Nation and it's just absolutely amazing that they were able to do that given what had just occurred. So everybody helped each other. Most people were farmers and had small animals and they lived basically on a barter system where they...if one had eggs they would trade them to somebody else for milk or if one grew corn they would trade them to somebody who grew tomatoes or that sort of thing. People had a strong sense that if they were going to survive they had to rely on each other."

Life as a child at Mankiller Flats, family, community, connection to the land

Wilma Mankiller:

"My father was a full blood Cherokee who went to...attended boarding school. In those days when my father was a child they took children without permission from the parents. They literally came out and picked...to this community and picked up my aunt and picked up my father and took them to boarding school. A lot of people have stories about losing their language in school, in boarding school but my aunt and my...neither my aunt nor my father ever lost the ability to be very fluent in Cherokee. I think in part because they had each other to talk to. He had a lot of mixed experiences at boarding school but the one thing that he learned at boarding school was he learned the love of reading and of literature, which he passed on to his children. My mother is as best we can tell she says she's Heinz 57 varieties but she's Irish mostly and a little bit Dutch. She is also from this community. She went to probably maybe the seventh grade or something. Very well read, very politically astute. I guess she's what everybody would want for a mother. She is always steady, always gives her children unconditional love. My brother went to Wounded Knee and her advice to him was, ‘Well, just don't get shot.' It was mostly a life of a relationship with the land because we had a large family and a small house and no electricity or indoor plumbing or any other amenities and only one person several miles from here had a television. So our life was really very centered around the land. And we all took turns gathering water from the spring for household use and for consumption. It was the same spring that my grandfather had used and my father had used and so there was a sense of connection to the place and to the land. And so when I think of my childhood I think mostly of being outside and having a very close relationship with the land."

The family relocates to San Francisco in the 1950s

Wilma Mankiller:

"I think the Bureau of Indian Affairs basically told my father that he could have a much better life for his children if we moved away. And it seemed like a way to make sure that we were provided for and all that. That was the main sales because at the time we couldn't conceptualize a world beyond Muskogee. We'd been to Muskogee to the State Fair and to even talk about going to someplace like California was, we were unable to think about it in anyway. It would be like us sitting here saying, ‘I think I'll go to Mars,' and it was a world we couldn't visualize and couldn't imagine. We just knew that it was away from here and we'd have to leave home so we were not happy at all about that and in fact I asked my parents if I could stay here in Oklahoma with relatives. It was a very difficult time. I remember vividly the day we left on the relocation program, we're all piled in the car and headed to Stillwell and I sort of looked very carefully at everything to try to memorize it, the school, the road and everything else. And I always knew I would come back, even at 10, I knew that I would come back. We left a very isolated and somewhat insular world here, a very Cherokee world and got on a train and several days later we ended up in San Francisco with all the noise and confusion and everything else going on and we actually...the Bureau of Indian Affairs arranged for us to go to a hotel. I'll never forget, it was called the Keys Hotel in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco which is the Red Light District of San Francisco and we saw and heard things that were inconceivable to us. I remember my brother Richard and I hearing a siren and we could only relate that to what we knew so we thought it was an animal and we were trying to identify what kind of animal was making that sound. In fact I hated school ‘til I got to college. I couldn't stand school and found every opportunity that I could to avoid school because we were so different. We were country kids and we dressed like country rural people. We had the name of Mankiller. Children can be very cruel and so we were treated differently. We were immediately labeled as different and so...in school...so school became an unpleasant place. And as I got a little older we started going to the San Francisco Indian Center and that was the place where we met other people like ourselves who were from someplace else and just trying to figure out a way to...how to carve a life out in the city. And so that was extremely helpful."

Mankiller learns social issues from family: seeds of activism

Wilma Mankiller:

"There were always Indian people at our house and there was always discussion of what was going on in the world, what was going on in the communities and so eventually there were a lot of people who had ideas about relocation, which was really a very misguided policy and just about things in general. In terms of a political background or figuring out how to be engaged in the community I probably figured out how to do that just by listening to people at home. At the time I did not appreciate that. All I saw as a child and as a teenager is that dad would bring home people and my sister and I would have to give up our bedroom so these strangers could stay there but it sort of soaks in. Or dad didn't have money for us but he always had a $20 bill that he folded up and kept way in the back of his wallet that he would give to a family down on their luck. And so we would rather he had taken us to the beach or given us the money for the show and then later you realize that all that has an impact on you."

The family lives at Hunter's Point, an African-American community

Wilma Mankiller:

"And I still value that time because it gave me a close view of how an African community works from inside the community. There's a lot of strength and a lot of leadership, untapped leadership in African-American communities that nobody ever taps into and when people sit around and wring their hands about what to do about inner city problems, I think, ‘Why don't they just go sit down with the people and ask them?' In fact the first volunteer work I ever did was with the Black Panther party, which was again not like at that early stage not like the media portrays it but there were people who wanted to provide breakfast for elderly people and do a lot of...provide programs, a lot of really good things. And then in 1969 when Alcatraz was occupied, it was kind of a watershed experience for me and my whole family and four of my brothers and sisters moved over almost immediately to the island and helped out and so it was just an unbelievable period of time."

Mankiller discovers new strength from the Women's Movement

Wilma Mankiller:

"It was a marvelous time because before that I think we had like many women of my generation we had lived our lives through the men we were with and through our children and through other people, our lives were in response to somebody else, they weren't who we were and so we were always in a secondary role. We were...at the time I was doing work in the Native American community and I was the person who wrote the speeches for the men and arranged their press conferences, wrote the proposals and always tried to convince them that we should do one thing or another but never articulated my own ideas and so it was a time of awakening for us and kind of coming into our own."

Mankiller cultivates leadership skills directing a youth center in Oakland, attending San Francisco State University and working with the American Indian Resources Center

Wilma Mankiller:

"I gained skills on how to run a youth center period. I had no idea when they offered the job to me what it entailed. You had to develop curriculum, hire teachers, find the building. I thought, ‘Oh, this'll be a neat job.' Well! Anyway, so I ended up having to locate the building, find painters, fix it up, develop a curriculum and I loved the job. It was an inner city street after school program really and it was called the Native American Drop In Center. And all the kids would come after school to be there and work on their homework or have recreation and we did all kinds of things to help them feel good about themselves. At the time there was a Mescalero Apache singer named Paul Ortega who was making the rounds and so we had his music playing all the time and Jim Pepper, a Caw musician and other people like that to show them some role models, Native American role models. We taught the girls how to make shawls and taught the boys how to dance and drum, lots of things like that. It was fun."

Mankiller works with the Pit River Tribe in Northern California

Wilma Mankiller:

"Well, I think I was inspired at Alcatraz, by what had happened at Alcatraz to be more involved in things around me and I actually saw the Pit River Tribe on the evening news and they reminded me so much of people here. They were rural, Native American people who seemed familiar and so I called up their lawyer who had done an interview on the evening news and I volunteered to do some work for them, whatever they wanted me to do. And so mostly I worked as a volunteer at the legal offices in San Francisco but I spent a lot of time with Pit River people on their land and learned a lot. They were the first group of people I worked with who framed Native American sovereignty issues in an international context and saw the issues as international issues and not just national issues. So that was very helpful for me. I learned a lot about treaties, the treaty rights and the relationship between the federal government and tribal governments during that period at Pit River and in part because I worked for them as a volunteer at the legal offices and I've also helped them put together their history books and various things like that. But I learned a lot just sitting on the porch of some of the elders there at Pit River and I still have a very vivid image of these older people, Charlie Buckskin and Raymond Lague going and finding this little precious box of old papers, which supported their claims to their land near Mt. Shasta. And they treated those papers almost like they were sacred objects because it was their claim to their homeland. So that was a wonderful experience for me and my association with them was for about...until I left, until probably the mid ‘70s I was associated with them."

Mankiller balances life as a single mother, as a student and activist

Wilma Mankiller:

"I don't think that I balanced it very well for most of the time I was doing all that. I think that I had a singular focus on getting things done and so I just did the best that I could under the circumstances. My children went with me wherever I went. My children went to meetings, my children went to Pit River; whatever I did my children did those things with me. I co-founded a Freedom School in Oakland while I was there along with other Native American people and my children, I took my children out of public school for well over a year and they went to school in the Freedom School. Whatever I was involved in they were involved in."

In the mid 1970s Mankiller decides to return to Oklahoma

Wilma Mankiller:

"I think that part of the decision had to do with wanting my children to experience being part of a Cherokee community, part of it was that I wanted to do more local work and wanted to work with my own people. I had helped gather documentation for the 1977 conference in Geneva on Indigenous Rights and so I was dealing with very lofty principles of international law as they relate to Indigenous people and that's all well and good and certainly that work needs to be done but it was hard to reconcile that work with coming home and finding kids sniffing paint and people needing housing and needing healthcare."

Mankiller begins work with the Cherokee Nation in 1977

Wilma Mankiller:

"Basically I recruited Native American students from around the state for environmental training at a small college near Oklahoma City. When I took the job I had no idea where Midwest City was or where all these other tribes in Oklahoma were situated or anything. I hadn't been home that long but I thought, ‘I can figure it out.' And by the time I got processed and onboard it was early November of '77 and I had to recruit students for the spring semester beginning in January but I did it. I got the students there and did what I was supposed to do. Well, I sort of kept moving up. I started writing on my own, grants for the tribe and for projects and I've always liked writing and liked development and so then I moved into a development position and then eventually moved from the field office to the main office and moved into planning and then ultimately ended up doing community development work."

Chief Ross Swimmer moves Mankiller to tribal headquarters

Wilma Mankiller:

"Well, I had pitched to him before he started doing community development the idea of doing more work in communities like mine which is a rural Cherokee community. And the people who seemed to me to be getting the most services from Cherokee Nation were people who knew how to work the system and who had the ability to get to the Cherokee Nation. By and large they were many more mixed blood people than full blood people who knew how to get around and get things done and were much more pushy. And people in communities like mine were not getting served. And so I had written a paper, co-written a paper with a colleague at work and pitched the idea of doing work more in historic Cherokee communities. And so that...when he started thinking about doing community work I came to mind because of the paper I think."

Cherokees in small communities

Wilma Mankiller:

"I think they felt and I think they continue to feel a sense of alienation from the tribal government because the current system of tribal government that we have and which I was elected to bears little resemblance to our original way of doing things and the original way of doing things was that tribal communities had a great autonomy and their own leadership and there was no single leader or set of leaders who had unilateral authority over all the people. And so the only time all the Cherokee villages came together was probably in times of great catastrophe or an external threat and there was great respect for the local community leadership. And so Cherokee, the Cherokee Nation, like many tribes that have a form of government that's no longer their traditional form of government, have relatively low voter participation because people see the government as a place to go and get services but not the government in the sense of it being an integral part of their family or their community."

Mankiller's life is transformed by a series of events beginning in 1979

Wilma Mankiller:

"When I came home, I didn't come home and necessarily enter the world of the Cherokee Nation and politics. I came home to the traditional Cherokee world and I guess I'd missed it and I guess I didn't feel whole without that so I spent a lot of time going to stomp dances, I spent a lot of time with my uncle who's now passed away who led a ceremonial dance, a stomp dance, and my world was very different and my view of the world was very different. And so I saw the world from a different perspective and in that world disagreements were settled sometimes by medicine. There was good medicine where people could heal each other and provide comfort in times of stress or trauma or heal an illness and that sort of thing using traditional medicine. And there were also people who could use negative medicine to harm people. And during that period of time I learned from traditional Cherokee people that there were certain signs, if you were quiet and looked for signs that there were signs that you could see of an impending disaster or like a warning or something. And one of the things that they told me was that owls were messengers of bad news and so I became kind of leery of owls. The night before something really bad happened to me, two of the people who were part of what was my world then, a guy named Bird Wolf and his wife Peggy who are both full blood Cherokee people who are very involved in the ceremonial grounds came by to visit. And we spent the evening talking about, in part about the extent of which Cherokee medicine still had a huge role in the life of Cherokee people. And it was really interesting because that night that they were here we had...the house became surrounded by owls and in a way that it's just even hard to believe today that this happened because it was not the kind of behavior I've ever seen before and rarely heard of. But the owls actually came up to the window and they were everywhere, all over, and it was really very frightening. But I didn't connect that with anything going on in my life, it was just kind of a frightening situation."

In a head on collision with a car driven by a friend, Mankiller survives but her friend does not

Wilma Mankiller:

"And I remember briefly seeing the car, of course not seeing her but seeing the car, and then I didn't wake up for several days. But what was interesting and life changing is that I came so very close to death during that head on collision that I could actually feel it. I know what it feels like and it's actually very enticing and at the time I didn't know anything about near death experiences or hadn't read anything about them and so I didn't see a light or a lot of things the other people see during that period of time but I felt bathed in the most wonderful unconditional love and I felt drawn toward death. It was like this is what I lived for, everything I'd ever lived for and it was the most emotionally all-encompassing feeling that I've ever had. And I remember during that period of time when I was moving toward that feeling and was going to settle there that an image of my children, Felicia and Gina, who were young and I...that image sort of called me back and pulled me back from going there and staying there. So I think that had a profound impact on me, just the fact that I no longer, when I came out of that experience, I no longer feared death and so I therefore no longer feared life. So in a way I think because of some thinks that happened to me after that, I think that that accident prepared me for what was to come because I came out of that whole experience a different person."

Mankiller and Charlie Soap organize the Bell Community Project

Wilma Mankiller:

"Bell Community is not unlike other Cherokee, historic Cherokee communities. It was probably 85 to 87 percent of the people were bilingual. It was considered to be a rough community, a very troubled community. The school was in danger of closing cause so many young families were leaving. They had no water, no central water line. About I would say 25 percent of the people in the community had no indoor plumbing. There was a need for new houses. There was a lot of dilapidated housing in the community; very few services or programs. Many people weren't even enrolled in the Cherokee Nation tribal government and so anyway they wanted housing. In order to get housing they needed water and in that community it made more sense to do a water line. And so the Chief wanted to try to do a self help project there and so Charlie and I facilitated that process. And so the Chief and Charlie and I basically were probably the only three people who believed that people would actually rebuild their own community. So anyway we got the community together, we worked for them. They organized a steering committee with local leadership, elected from every single corner of the community and planned their own program with us as the facilitators. We just kind of kept a timeline and brought resources when we needed to, an engineer to design the system, funds to pay for the material, developed a system for organizing the labor so that it was done in a consistent way. And at the end of probably a little less than a year we finished...they finished an 18 mile water line using volunteer, totally using volunteer labor. Women worked and men worked and every family was represented."

Chief Swimmer asked Mankiller to testify for him before Congress

Wilma Mankiller:

"He had more confidence in me than I had in myself. Oh, my god, I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing and everywhere I went...I went to testify before a committee for the Chairman Yates was presiding over and after I finished my stumbling testimony he said, ‘Where's Ross Swimmer?' But, my goodness, my first trip was a disaster. It got better after that but he certainly had a lot more confidence and I'm sure he got lots of phone calls saying, ‘Who is this woman?' And then he asked me to represent him at various meetings and that sort of thing when he was ill as well."

Chief Swimmer asked Mankiller to run as his Deputy Chief

Wilma Mankiller:

"Initially I said no because I couldn't imagine myself making the transition from a community organizer and kind of a social services person who was a little bit bookworm-ish to a politician and our tribe's a very large tribe and elections are real mainstream kind of elections with...during that time they used some television, a lot of radio, a lot of direct mail. I just launched my own campaign, completely separate campaign without knowing anything about it but I used my own money and bought ads and did a lot of things to get myself elected."

Mankiller deals with resistance and hostility during her campaign

Wilma Mankiller:

"I tend to be a positive person and try to be very forward thinking and focus on the future. And there's a Mohawk saying that's probably my favorite saying that says, ‘It's very hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.' And so you can't spend a whole lot of time dwelling on negative things or crying about negative things or it blurs the future. So you have to kind of stay focused and keep moving forward. I think the accident prepared me for all that because it literally never touched me. I never saw their attacks as anything personal having to do with me. I saw them having to do with something going on with themselves or just a disagreement they had with me on an issue. I never took it personally and I think I was very fortunate throughout my entire political career that I was able to do that. I'm able to stay real focused on what I need to do, whether it's build a clinic or win an election. It's not about me, it's about a much larger issue and if I would have let my energy be drained off into thinking about me or my reaction to hostility, I'd have never got anything done and so I just didn't focus on it. I think that in any given political situation, people who put themselves out there to be elected know that there's immediately going to be a contingent of people who are very hostile, some overtly hateful who are going to be that way for reasons of their own that have little to do with me. And then I think people have a legitimate right to disagree with their leaders and so they have a right to have their own view of things."

As Deputy Chief, Mankiller heads the tribal council

Wilma Mankiller:

"Well, at first, because the entire tribal council had opposed my election they weren't real crazy about my being their president and so it took awhile to establish a relationship with them. And once they saw that I was going to be serious and focused and wasn't going to be drawn into games or negativity in anyway, that I was about the business of the tribe, I think they settled down and we settled into kind of a routine. And of course they thought the world would crash and burn when Ross Swimmer resigned two years after I was elected Deputy Chief to go head the Bureau of Indian Affairs and then I became principle Chief. Then they were just absolutely alarmed. So there were a number of threads running then. I think they one thought that things were going to be terrible for the last two years of Ross's term which I filled and on the other hand they thought, ‘Well, we'll just live through these two years and we'll defeat her in the next election,' which was the 1987 election. So it was a very difficult time because our constitution allows for the Deputy Chief to move into the Principle Chief's office if he resigns or vacates the office. If the council had had to make the decision I would have never been selected. They would have selected somebody else. So I was left with his staff, his mandate, a council that didn't support me and I had to figure out a way to get some work done in that situation."

Mankiller runs for Chief with the enthusiastic support of her husband and family

Wilma Mankiller:

"Charlie was very enthusiastic and very, very supportive of my election and I would not have won election without his support because he's very fluent in Cherokee and was able to talk to a lot of people who, older people and other people who would not I don't think had voted for me -- men -- a lot of people would not have voted for me had he not been able to sit down and talk with them in Cherokee and explain to them why I should be elected. So he was critical to my election. My whole family was supportive. My mom got out and put up signs and my sisters served as poll watchers so everybody was extremely supportive of me during that whole period of time.

Her priorities as Chief

Wilma Mankiller:

"When I came to the Cherokee Nation in 1977 as an employee there was almost no healthcare system. Our options were two Indian hospitals one Claremore Indian Hospital, the other one was Hastings Indian Hospital and being able to take the plans put together by tribal health staff and tribal members and make those plans real is probably the thing I'm most proud of. We basically were told by the people that we needed to decentralize healthcare and move it closer to the people. So during my tenure we built a $13 million clinic in one community, $11 million clinic in another community, we bought a hospital in still another community and renovated a building in another community and when I left we'd started another $10 million project in another community and so we built a lot of healthcare facilities that are closer to people. And the one in Stillwell in this town, our hometown, is named after me. The council...I was out of town and the council passed a resolution naming the clinic in this town the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center, which is interesting given the fact, given how I started out with the council."

Relationships with other tribes

Wilma Mankiller:

"It would seem natural to me because I had been involved in the San Francisco Indian Center with many tribes and had done a lot of work among other tribes. Having relationships with other tribes seemed not only natural and normal but desirable. I wanted to know what they were doing and oftentimes some of the smaller tribes with far less resources than the Cherokee Nation were doing far more innovative than what we were doing at the Cherokee Nation. So I learned things from them, we shared information, we tried to support one another and help one another. And so I think that for some tribes I think they get a little tired of always hearing about the big tribes like the Cherokee Nation or the Navajo Nation and so there's a little bit of that but I think by and large there was a great relationship. The two times when tribes had to select people to represent them with President Reagan and with President Clinton and both times I was selected by the tribes themselves as one of the people to go and meet with the President. So was Pete Zah, my partner in a lot of this work."

Cherokee lands and environment

Wilma Mankiller:

"I personally had taken a hard and fast rule, pro-environmental rule so we weren't approached by a lot of people who would do damage to the environment so that was never a real huge issue for us. I think someone came once, you could always tell these guys that are coming from organizations that'll devastate the environment, they generally have a Rolex watch and a great spiel about how they can protect the environment and do all this stuff and so we would send them away."

During his lifetime, the great Chief John Ross revered the judicial system of the United States. Mankiller comments on the system today

Wilma Mankiller:

"I think I was less shocked than the rest of America by the Supreme Court's involvement in the 2000 election because I've seen how politicized the judicial system can be. We're very fortunate in the 10th Circuit in Denver for our region to have I think a pretty fair set of judges but that's certainly not the norm. I think that I've come to understand how very political the justice system is and you can simply look at the number of Native American women and men that are in prison and the number of Black men and Black women that are in prison and look at, compare that to White people who have committed similar crimes and understand a little bit about the judicial system in this country. And so I didn't have...I don't think I had the blind faith that other people had and I've never had the optimism that John Ross had that the judicial system was indeed just. So I wasn't shocked by what the Supreme Court did at all, not at all. I think it's significantly diminished the stature of the Court in the eyes of most Americans."

What progressive people can learn from opposing forces

Wilma Mankiller:

"Well, I'll tell you, the right wing has certainly figured out how to organize families and communities around the issues that are important to them and I think that people on the left in the ‘60s let the right just walk away with issues around spirituality and religion and a lot of other family values and they practically turned religion and spirituality in a bad word because they have such a narrow interpretation of...the right has such a narrow interpretation of religion and spirituality. I think we have a lot to learn about how they listened to the people then organized around issues that are important to everyday people. I think there's that lesson. For me, because I live in a state that's very conservative and there are a lot of right wing people, I'd rather deal with up front, right wing people than I would these squishy liberal people who are just as racist, just as greedy and are just as unsupportive of Native American rights who will read these wonderful stories about Chief Seattle and quote him in their meetings but who wouldn't lift a finger to help tribes and tribal sovereignty issues or tribal rights or who would not stand with Indian people in times of trouble. Give me an out and out racist any day than someone who will have the liberal chatter at a cocktail party and have more of a smoke and mirrors way of doing the same thing."

Interdependence and our responsibilities to the earth

Wilma Mankiller:

"What I mean by interdependence is I think that the Creator gave Indigenous people ceremonies to help us understand our responsibilities to each other and the responsibilities to the land and I think that the original instructions we were given as Indigenous people are what keeps us together as a people and that everything's connected to everything else. And so to me a life is not worth living unless you're engaged in the community around you, unless you have some sense of interdependence with other people and with the land and so when I speak of interdependence that's what I speak about. I think that the message we hear on television and magazines and films about doing for yourself and only thinking about yourself and that sort of thing, I think we should reject those messages and remember that we have a responsibility to each other as human beings and we have a responsibility to the land."

Major challenges for tribes today

Wilma Mankiller:

"We have just a daunting set of health, education, housing and economic development problems but the central issue I think for people is going to be...the central question is going to be, ‘How do we hold on to a sense of who we are as Indigenous people?' We can't do that if we lose traditional medicines, traditional knowledge systems, any sense of connection to our history and to our stories and to the land. And we've lost everything if we've lost that."

The prophecy of Charlie and the two wolves

Wilma Mankiller:

"Since almost the time of contact the Cherokees have debated the question of how to interact with the world around us and still hold on to a strong sense of who we are as Cherokee people. And the question became more confusing and more difficult as Cherokee people began to intermarry with Whites. And so at some point in history Charlie the Prophet appeared, a Cherokee man appeared before a meeting with two wolves and he warned the Cherokee people that they would die if they didn't go back to the old ways, the old Cherokee ways of planting their own food and living according to the old values. And I keep that statue and I have also a poster in the hallway of this same prophet to kind of remind me that it's an ongoing and continual debate among Cherokee people. How do we hold onto a sense of who we are as Cherokee people and still interact with the society around us? And I think that Charlie the Prophet when he was talking about the Cherokee people would die if they didn't go back to the old ways, he wasn't talking about physical death, he was talking about a spiritual and a cultural death and so I think his message is an important one that if we're to survive as tribal people and enter the 21st Century and beyond that the single most important thing we can do is to find a way to hold onto our culture, hold onto our life ways, hold onto our ceremonies and songs and language and sense of who we are."

The Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times series and accompanying curricula are for the educational programs of tribes, schools and colleges. For usage authorization, to place an order or for further information, call or write Institute for Tribal Government – PA, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207-0751. Telephone: 503-725-9000. Email: tribalgov@pdx.edu.

[Native music]

The Institute for Tribal Government is directed by a Policy Board of 23 tribal leaders,
Hon. Kathryn Harrison (Grand Ronde) leads the Great Tribal Leaders project and is assisted by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, Director and Kay Reid, Oral Historian

Videotaping and Video Assistance
Chuck Hudson, Jeremy Fivecrows and John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Editing
Green Fire Productions

Photo Credit:
Wilma P. Mankiller
Clinton Presidential Materials Project

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times is also supported by the non-profit Tribal Leadership Forum, and by grants from:
Spirit Mountain Community Fund
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Chickasaw Nation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe
Delaware Nation of Oklahoma
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Jayne Fawcett, Ambassador
Mohegan Tribal Council
And other tribal governments

Support has also been received from:
Portland State University
Qwest Foundation
Pendleton Woolen Mills
The U.S. Dept. of Education
The Administration for Native Americans
Bonneville Power Administration
And the U.S. Dept. of Defense

This program is not to be reproduced without the express written permission of the Institute for Tribal Government

© 2004 The Institute for Tribal Government 

 

Robert A. Williams, Jr.: Law and Sovereignty: Putting Tribal Powers to Work

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

University of Arizona Professor of Law Robert A. Williams, Jr. provides an overview of the U.S. government's centuries-long assault on tribal sovereignty -- in particular the ability of Native nations to make and enforce law -- and stresses the importance of Native nations systematically building their capacity to exercise jurisdiction over their own land and affairs in this nation-building era.

Resource Type
Citation

Williams, Rob. "Law and Sovereignty: Putting Tribal Powers to Work." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 23, 2011. Presentation.

"I'm always humbled when I get to read through the list of folks who attend these events and you're all very busy and you're all doing very important things and good work. And it really is an honor to be able to address you, and that Steve [Cornell] and NNI are kind enough to sort of turn me loose for an hour and to see what damage I can do.

What I want to talk about today is 'Law and Sovereignty: Putting Tribal Powers to Work,' and I particularly want to focus on the role of tribal courts and tribal law making in that equation, those aspects of sovereignty. There's lots of different aspects of tribal sovereignty, self-determination, but this idea of law-making is an important one. Let me just throw a fancy legal word out there to you and you can really impress people back on the rez. It's Latin. It's called 'jurisgenesis.' Juris -- J-U-R-I-S -- is law, juridical, jurisdiction. Jurisgenesis. 'Genesis' -- you don't have to be Latin to know that. That comes from the Bible, the beginning, the beginning of law, the creation of law. Jurisgenesis is the creation of law, that we are law-making communities. Some of the examples are, for example, the Amish make their own law. They always argue to be exempt from Social Security and from sending their children to secular schools. We know that the group, a community of Hasidic Jews in New York, control a very ancient network of diamond trading and they have their own law. They don't use the courts of the United States. They have their own jurisdiction, they assert their own law. They engage in their own creation of law, their own acts of jurisgenesis. And that's what I want to talk about today.

The United States Supreme Court, in the most important case affirming tribal sovereignty over the legal affairs of the reservation, called Williams v. Lee in 1959...my colleague and co-author Charles Wilkinson says that Williams v. Lee really inaugurated the modern era of Indian rights, 1959, before the Supreme Court. And in that case a Navajo had bought goods on credit from the local Indian trader and that Indian trader then tried to sue her for defaulting on the contract for those goods in state courts. And up until 1959 that's what had always happened. In Arizona, in South Dakota, and many of the states you're from, everyone just assumed that if an Indian owed you money you sued them in state court. But in this case the Navajo re-established their own tribal legal system, their own tribal courts, an act of jurisgenesis. And the Supreme Court said that state jurisdiction over this contract, which took place on the reservation, would invade the sovereignty, would violate the sovereignty expressed through that strong, independent tribal judiciary. And really the birth of the modern tribal court system springs from Williams v. Lee and that affirmation of the jurisgenerative power, the law-creating power of Indian communities. And one of the things that Justice Douglas, one of the great justices...I mean when you go to law school, you learn about the all-star Supreme Court justices. Who are the great ones? John Marshall, Earl Warren, Louis Brandeis, William O. Douglas. And Douglas in Williams v. Lee makes one of the most famous pronouncements in all of Indian law. And he said, 'Here's the question of whether Arizona has jurisdiction over the Navajo reservation, absent governing acts of Congress or treaties that took it away.' The question has always been whether the state action infringed on the right of reservation Indians to make their own laws and be ruled by them; infringed on your sovereign right to make your own laws and be ruled by them. That affirmation of your jurisgenerative capacity to create law from your own customs and traditions is one of the most powerful sources of recognized sovereignty in the United States Constitution, and it's still alive in your own communities today.

So that's what I want to focus on. Before I do that -- because what I'm really talking about is the challenge you face -- how do you take up that challenge of becoming jurisgenerative communities that take responsibility for your own law over every aspect of life on the reservation -- whether it be child welfare, whether it be criminal jurisdiction over Indians and non-Indians, whether it be civil jurisdiction over contract disputes, jurisdiction over employment actions at the reservation -- all the different things you can and will assert jurisdiction over? How do you meet that incredibly important nation-building challenge? Because your ability to build your nations is really going to be directly related to your ability to build strong, independent judiciaries or legal systems or mediation systems. You're going to have to choose the model to recognize and empower your jurisgenerative capacity. It might be a system in which everybody walks in with black robes and bangs a gavel, it might be a system of peace makers, it might be a system of sentence and circles, but one way or another you're going to have to respond to the challenge of becoming jurisgenerative communities, because you're not sovereigns, you're wasting your sovereignty if you don't step up to that challenge. So to understand that challenge, no matter where you're from -- I do a lot of work all over the world with Indigenous communities -- and this desire, this aspiration to engage in law creation, to go back to the old ways and see what might fit to meet the challenges of the new, and a lot does for those communities that have engaged in this jurisgenerative act to recreate, to renew -- the renaissance of tribal law making that's going on around the world -- is what I want to talk about.

But before I can talk about that, I have to set the stage so you understand where you're coming from. Because where you're coming from in many ways informs, shapes, controls, threatens, complicates where you want to get to. We all know that. My tribe's the Lumbees. We have a saying, ‘If it wasn't for family, what else would hold you back?' You don't have that saying? Something like it, right? Something like it. And your history holds us back. We're fighting our history every day. We're colonized people; we're traumatized. We suffer the psychic harms. We have the generational trauma. This stuff has been confirmed by social science that this trauma is handed down generationally. You just don't wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, we've reformed our constitution and got a new one. Now we're just going to forget our history, forget our past.' So I think it's important to understand the history of federal Indian law and policy because we know Indian people, even the stereotypes. We always think ahead seven generations and we're tradition bound, so we always want to know what the elders did and what our traditions tell us to do, and we learn from the wisdom of how our elders responded to crises because we think life is a circle, it's going to come back. And so with that, I think it always helps -- many of you know pieces of this story, some of you may even know the whole story, I doubt it -- but in as short a time as possible, I'm going to try and at least give you an overview of the story of the history of federal Indian law and policy and help you understand some of the characteristics and challenges so you can sort of get a lay of how the land has laid out for your elders before. [Because] if you see the terrain and the paths that they took and the decisions they made -- some bad, some good -- you learn from that. That's what Native knowledge is all about. That's what common law is all about, right? If a decision worked before to facilitate contract exchange, let's keep doing it that way. There is value, there's knowledge in the past, and our job is to sort of pull that stuff into the present to understand how it might or might not apply. Sounds a lot like what we do as lawyers. That's what the challenge is.

So I always like to say before Europeans came here -- the pre-constitutional era, about 1532 to 1789 -- what's going on then is that Europeans are asserting their rights as superiors. Basically the theory comes from the Crusades. So Europe has been fighting tribal peoples and infidels and savages and barbarians ever since the Romans, we know that. The Romans went out and conquered the tribes of Western Europe; the Normans came in and conquered the tribes of England. The West has been -- don't take it personally -- it's not an American thing, it's not a Western hemisphere thing. The West has been persecuting tribes for 3,000 years. They just don't like you guys. In fact, it's so inbred that you can find it in the very first book of The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer. How many people have heard of Homer fighting the Cyclops, the one-eyed man eating Cyclops? He says, ‘We came to the land of the lawless and inhuman Cyclops who neither plant nor plow but who rely on providence to provide them but their land is goodly abundant with grapes and wild things that grow.' Sound familiar? Uh oh. Boy, that's going to come back to haunt us, isn't it? They've been doing this for 3,000 years. So it's nothing personal. And so in the 15th century Columbus comes over here and he says, ‘You know, these people are just like all the other non-Christian savages and infidels that we claimed total sovereignty and control over in the Middle East or in the Crusades, Charlemagne, the Teutonic Knights.' The Teutonic Knights, they were just Christians empowered by the Pope to get on their horses and terrorize the pagan Lithuanians until they submitted to Catholicism. And of course the Lithuanians say, ‘Oh, yeah, we're Catholic.' And then the Lithuanian knights would leave and they'd go back to their pagan tribal ceremonies and the knights would have to come in again. Sound familiar? So essentially the Europeans are doing what they've always done. Wherever they find dark-skinned, different people who don't believe in God, they claim superior sovereignty over them. And that means everything.

There's this great case in England written by James Coke. And I mention that name because he not only was chief justice of England but he was the lawyer who advised the Jamestown Colony. Yeah, I know, conflict of interest but we didn't have the ABA [American Bar Association] code back then. And he actually drew up the charter, which James signed, authorizing the Virginia Company to go and bring the infidels and heathens living as savages to civility in the Christian gospel. Go conquer. So Coke also issues this case called Calvin's Case. And what he says is that when a Christian king invades the kingdom of an infidel, he doesn't have to pay any attention to their laws [because] they don't follow the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. And so therefore their oath is no good, they can't swear to God. So therefore they can't have any rights that the king will recognize in an English court. That's the reasoning. ‘You're savages, how can you have rights against white people? How can you have superior rights to your land when you just roam and wander and hunt?' Ever see 'Monty Python'? When you hear people talk about wandering savages, just do the Monty Python routine [because] that's what they think. That's what their ancestors did. How many people honestly, you meet a white person, they say, ‘Okay, do you ride a horse?' Right. Yeah? I've had 60-year-old grandmothers tell me guys walk up in the airport and ask them that question, ‘You riding a horse?' ‘Oh, yeah, sure. I have to.' You know.

So essentially the precedents are all set. You've all been conquered or decimated by disease or lied to or had your land stolen or your women disempowered. Because many of the North American Indian tribes of the east coast, the women controlled the property and they controlled the naming of chiefs, and that was one of the first things that Europeans subverted through bribes and machinations and getting the chiefs to sign the treaties. Now it's amazing when you look at those treaties from the 1660s and 1700 [because] all the chiefs are signing the exact same name. I can't believe thousands of chiefs signing the exact...what's that name that they all sign? X. 'Zorro?' 'No, I'm an Indian, it's 'X.' Have my land, take Manhattan.' All right. So the formative years are when the U.S. comes in and they basically adopt the principles of the English. They assert the rights of discovery that whoever discovers Indians has jurisdiction and sovereignty over them. But they do some other important things that you need to know about.

They enact a constitution, and because their experience had been that the yahoos in the states were the Indians most deadliest enemies that they had to make Indians exclusively federal affairs, because the states were crazy. They would go out and form posses and militias and just engage in massacre. And then what would happen is the Indians would go up in rebellion or the states would totally ignore a treaty that had been negotiated to quiet the Indians down. And so then it would be the Indians go on the warpath and the states, they don't care. And it's the federal government that has to raise the army to go and quiet the frontier. So the [U.S.] Constitution is absolutely clear -- and think about this, I'm going to play a lawyer's trick -- it's absolutely clear that the Constitution comprehensively puts all of Indian affairs into Congress's power. And they do that by one simple statement. So think of the founders. These are the guys drafting the Constitution. And you're really trying to understand, what do they really think about Indians? And I'm not... just think about it. Have you ever wondered what the founders really thought about Indians? Well, I'm going to tell you because it's in their constitution. So what the Supreme Court says is that we know that the founders gave Congress all the power they needed over every aspect of Indian affairs. This power includes the power to take away their criminal jurisdiction, this power includes the power to destroy their religion, this power includes the power to break up their land and distribute it in allotments, this power includes the power to steal their kids out of their homes and send them to Indian boarding schools, this power includes the power to break treaties with them [because] they're savages. Now you would think that the Constitution would really spell that out. You would hope, right? [Because] that's a lot of power that the Court says Congress has under the Constitution. And you know how Congress took care to make sure that they got all that power? They said -- write this down [because] it's very long, I'll go very slow -- ‘Congress has power over Indian commerce.' That's the only time Indians are mentioned. Why? Because -- as I tell you -- you were basically a business proposition to the founders. And that's all they needed over you [because] the only business they cared about was getting your land, and everything else is immaterial. That's your legal status under the Constitution. But remember that. And the Supreme Court has consistently affirmed in the United States v. Kagama that the people of the states where the Indians are found are often their deadliest enemies. So the state has no jurisdiction on your land, over you or your people or your land, never has and continues to be the law of the United States.

We get treaty making. How many of you here come from treaty tribes either in Canada or the U.S.? Incredibly important documents; they're an Indian invention. Wampum belts, you know those things that savages carry around, the beads [because] we like beads. Those wampum, well, they're sacred treaty documents. And the English and the Dutch learned right away if you want to make treaties with an Indian, the 'X' stuff didn't work, when the Indians outnumbered the colonies very early on, that X stuff wasn't going to work. You put it down in a treaty belt [because] that was a sacred text that the sacred keeper of the belts would come out and interpret and remind William Penn and remind the governor of Montreal called Onontio. How many people here are from Canada? Onontio, Governor [Charles de] Montmagny, Onontio. What does Montmagny translate into? Great Mountain. Onontio is the Haudenosaunee word for 'big mountain.' He was adopted into the kinship system. Those treaty, what I call North American Indian diplomacy, those traditions go way back before Europeans. And when Indians were in a position of strength able to assert and exercise their sovereignty, Europeans negotiated according to those protocols and those traditions. And that's why the treaties, particularly the early treaties contained some pretty good language and some pretty good promises. They formed the legal basis of much of your sovereignty, but it's a recognition of what is inherent in you already, for U.S. Indian law recognizes that whatever hasn't been taken away remains. You're sovereigns only if Congress limits it.

Of course what begins to happen is that the United States goes through a Civil War, builds a railroad, acquires essentially what used to be Mexico -- we're standing on Mexican territory, O'odham territory -- the United States acquired this through the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of 1848 and that allowed them to build a railroad connecting the country. And so all those Indians we had put out in Oklahoma and were running around out there on the prairies and plains states that we never thought would be in the way, well, now we kind of need to build a railroad through there. And some of the best routes will be through where the Sioux are and the Cheyenne and the Comanche and the Navajos. So we better make some treaties with them and get those people rounded up and into control and on tighter, confined reservations. And so Congress in 1871 basically [because] the House is PO'd at the Senate for ratifying treaties that contained sweetheart deals for the railroad companies say, ‘You know what, we ain't going to appropriate any more money for your treaties.' What did I tell you? You're just a business proposition. ‘We're not going to appropriate any more money for your treaties and we're only going to break this stalemate if you promise never to make any more treaties with Indians again.' It's the only time -- are you listening to this? It's the only time in the history of the United States that both houses of Congress had voted to divest themselves of the constitutional power. Never happened before, never happened since. There is no other incident in history where Congress has said, ‘Oh, we have a power in the Constitution? No thanks. We don't want it. Okay, we promise never to touch it again.' It's that, Wow, it's mystical. Ooh, the treaty-making power. Put it away in a box. Lock it [because] we can't be doing that any more.' But nonetheless you have those treaties and they're recognized in the United States law -- know where they come from.

And of course what happens is that once the court says that, because you're savages and infidels and under our guardianship, we need to be able to administer your property in a way that you might not appreciate. We're going to pass the Allotment Act over your objections and we're going to allot all your entire reservations. But the problem is you have 144 million acres and we have lots of Irish immigrants and Eastern European immigrants who want to move out there and you've got the lands all tied up. So here's what we'll do, we'll divide up all your reservations into 160 acre allotments and what that'll do is reduce your 144 -- are you writing? -- your 144 million acres of land. If we divide it up into heads of households 160 acres each, that will reduce your 144 million acres of land under the treaties 90 million acres. So you'll get about 48 million acres, much of it marginal, much of it unwatered, much of it dirt and rocks, because the other 90 million acres we're going to give to homesteaders. And what will happen is, because they get all the lands that are around the rivers and the really good lands, you can watch how they grow crops and you can learn how to do it from them. They will civilize you. That was the idea behind the allotment. Courts of Indian Offenses. My god, we've broken up your land holding patterns, we've broken up your family patterns, we're sending your kids to boarding schools, we've divided up your clan and kin just purposely to disaggregate you through allotment. That was a purposeful policy, was disaggregating clan and kinship relations by placing brothers in different corners of the reservations with their individual allotments. And they even know if it was a matriarchal society to move the aunties around. They got really good at these sorts of practices of colonial governmentality.

And so of course what happens is a breakdown of law and order. And we know there's a breakdown of law and order [because] if you look at the Courts of Indian Offenses and their statutory authority, one of the first things they talk about is polygamy. We've got to cut down on polygamy. Well, you're killing off people left and right, you're killing off the men, you've taken away all the food. Have you ever thought about why there might be sisters, cousins, grandmothers, husbands, nephews moving in together into relationships you have no understanding about? But that gives you authority under the Courts of Indian Offenses to go and prosecute those crimes.

Then there's a big depression. It hits Indian Country incredibly hard. If you talk to your grandparents, ask them what it was like before the Wall Street crash. Indian Country was feeling it as were many of the more poor areas of the country. And when the depression hit it just devastated Indian Country. And the [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt administration comes in with a broad mandate to shake things up. And so what he decides to do is, as part of his New Deal, is reorganize Indian tribes and passes the Indian Reorganization Act along with those other famous reorganization acts establishing the Bureau of Irish Affairs, the Bureau of Jewish Affairs, the Bureau of Hispanic Affairs. We all know those great bureaus. You can go to Washington and see the big buildings and the huge bureaucracies built up around those different ethnic groups, who were all reorganized. No, you were the only people that needed to be reorganized [because] they'd screwed you up so much they had to start all over, is what they thought. So we're going to reorganize Indians and we're going to give you written constitutions and we're going to give you tribal councils. And literally, it's -- I'm not going to mention the name of this reservation but it's one I know very well -- when they asked the Indian agent, ‘Well, gosh, we established elective districts, 12 elective districts. And we've got to figure out how to divide that up? We don't gerrymander here.' And they said, ‘Well, do you have a cattle range map?' ‘Yeah.' ‘How many districts does that have?' ‘Twelve.' ‘Use that. That's how you select your political representatives through the way, the pass that the cattle roam.'

I'm going to give you the resume of the guy that Roosevelt picks to head up the Bureau of Indian Affairs: a Communist labor organizer in New York got his head beat in by the Pinkertons; left his wife and children and shacked up with a Broadway actress in a West Virginia river, lived the life of the wilderness; got bored with that, left her, moved to Santa Fe and shacked up with George O'Keefe and D.H. Lawrence and Isadora Duncan. And his first book on Indians, which qualified it [because] he was a born and bred Commie, was called Red Atlantis. John Collier, that was your Bureau of Indian Affairs director during the Roosevelt administration. Oh, I'm not going to tinker with these Indians am I? Gosh, what an interesting sociological experiment I've been given. Let's see what happens.

It starts getting better. Not really, because then Termination comes. Now Termination is like the height of the '50s. And if you read the Argo of -- sort of -- international foreign relations, the only other place you see the word being used is to describe the operations of CIA agents in foreign countries. So we're terminating dictators that we don't like and Indian tribes. And basically it just means end the treaty rights, end the constitutional status of Indian tribes [because] we're tired. And guess where we want to turn you over to? The states. That everybody's in the federal governments for hundreds of years has said [is] our deadliest enemies. Why would you do that? Because we want to promote your civil rights. That's how the Termination Era was used. It was, ‘Oh, blacks want to integrate. We'll try it with you Indians living in a communist society there on the reservation. We're going to turn you on to corporate shareholders and take Menominee's timber mill and turn it into MEI Enterprises; give you punch clocks and consultants and everything else. Then you'll be happy. Look what we did for the Native Alaskans, turned them all into corporations.' It's easy. Snap! Just like that [because] that's the power that Congress has. They can terminate you tomorrow if you piss them off enough. Don't say I didn't warn you. ‘Oh, gosh! Professor Williams told me this might happen. Why weren't you there at that NNI event, at that workshop? He told us. You didn't believe me.'

So Indians really did fight back. That's the birth of the NCAI, people like Vine Deloria. You start getting into the 60s and the Self-Determination Era, 1961. The [John F.] Kennedy administration repudiates Termination. Indians start joining the civil rights movement but they are trying to articulate their own unique voice. We don't want integration; we don't want assimilation. We want our treaties honored; we want the historic relationship between Congress and the tribes, that trust relationship enforced in a meaningful way consistent with emerging international human rights law principles of the state's duty of protection of Indigenous peoples. Isn't that what trust is? It's a duty of protection. And that's exactly what the International Human Rights Covenants say. The state has a duty of protection of all forms of culture, of all languages, of all religions. You can't go exterminating it because it happens to be economically inefficient. You can't go exterminating it because they happen to be a different race who you don't want to disrupt the purity of your own blood as in South Africa. People have fundamental human rights. And Indians start picking up on that discourse and begin to challenge many of the assumptions about what they wanted. And they begin to assert their jurisdiction.

I always love to tell this story cause I...so I was born in 1955. So like I was a teenager when my mother wouldn't let me go out to Alcatraz and join all the other Indians there. I swear since that time, everybody else went [because] everywhere I go there's like a million Indians who were at Alcatraz. ‘Yeah, I was there. Wounded Knee, too!' How many were there? Come on, look at the pictures, it's like eight guys and three women. Y'all hid if you were there. You were there at the BIA takeover? ‘Oh, yeah, I got mimeo copies. Look at that.' That's cred to me. If you've got the mimeo copies from the BIA records then you've got some cred but otherwise...But like Vine Deloria used to tell me, he says, ‘Man, it was great being an Indian leader back in the '60s. We'd go out there with Brando, we'd get shot at and he'd be ducking. We'd be going to fish-ins and we'd be trashing the BIA. Being a tribal leader today sucks. Man, sitting in budget meetings all the time, going to Washington, dealing with lobbyists, having to go in and talk to those idiot Congress people.' At that moment I swear to god, [Supreme Court Justice William] Rehnquist walked by. Rehnquist walked by, [because] we had him as a guest lecturer and Vine -- and he was old -- and Vine said, ‘Who is that, Williams?' I said, ‘Well, that's Chief Justice Rehnquist.' He said, ‘Man, he looks like S.' I remember that story very well.

But it's hard being a tribal chairperson today. It's hard being a tribal councilperson. It's hard running a tribal program. It ain't much fun. How many people had more fun days last week working than not so fun? How many fun days did y'all have? Give me one fun day that you had last week. [Sighs] Well, now you know why I do comedy [because] you guys need it. But I hope you understand there's a serious message here. Creating an independent tribal judiciary is hard work, because my uncle used to just pick up the phone and call the tribal judge when there was a problem. Why can't I do that? Or my aunt used to go attack the tribal budget when her nephew was in jail and she felt he didn't belong there. Or I remember the old council battles where they wouldn't fund the tribal defenders office [because' it just wasn't important enough. ‘Those kids were all guilty. Let them rot in jail without a lawyer.' I won't mention the community but I went up and gave... I used to give real fancy talks as a professor: 'This is why we need a juvenile justice system...' Until one day some of the aunties stand up and say, ‘We ought to go back to custom and tradition.' I go, 'Yeah, that's what I've been saying. Beat the hell out of them, then they're good.' ‘No, that's not the message. That's not what I meant by custom and tradition!' (That's just my first slide. Steve's getting really upset.)

So the good old days are over. It's hard work. You're in what I call the Nation-Building Era. I tell my students the good old days, the Self-Determination Era, in the sense that you all know what the boundaries of your self-determination are [because] you're pushing up against them every day, that's what the -- if you're a tribal leader -- the hard work of being a tribal leader is pushing those boundaries. But you know where they are [because] you get the AG upset or you get some judge sitting in Pima County ticked off or someone calls from the governor's office or something. So you're pushing those boundaries but you know what they are.

We know there hasn't been significant Indian legislation that tribes have aggressively pushed for that really created meaningful reform and recognition of rights since the Indian Child Welfare Act. It was that recognition of fundamental human rights, but we've been able to expand our jurisdiction over other Indians, right? The Duro Fix, the [U.S. v.] Lara case. Tribes were told, ‘We'll let you exercise criminal jurisdiction over other Indians as long as you don't even bring up Oliphant [v. Suquamish Indian Tribe] and the fact that case says you don't have it over non-Indians.' Okay. [Because] we'll get this and we'll prove we can do it and then things will, we'll see how it develops and see if we can mount that next challenge for that tribal [jurisdiction]. That's how we do things. It's hard work. We build step by step. And one of those important steps is putting the pieces in place to meet these challenges. And one of the most vital pieces is a strong tribal court [because] you've got limits on Indian self-determination defined by Congress and the courts, not tribes, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. And a lot of you are probably spending money on lobbyists beating back assaults on that.

Now you're dealing with labor unions. Okay, so, labor unions. We all know the stereotypes. I feel sorry, as someone who worries about Indian stereotypes, I feel sorry for people in labor unions and some of the stereotypes they have. But this is not something that you want to deal with. Labor relations are knock down, drag out. They come in, and let me tell you something, my father-in-law is in the labor movement. I have a tremendous respect for what these people do. Their ethic of belief in the labor movement is every bit as strong as your ethic of belief in tribal self-determination. And so if you're confronted, it's really hard work to sit down and work out common ground so that you can work together or maybe not work together. But at least do it in a way that's constructive and doesn't alienate all the employees in your establishment for example. So that's a challenge.

If I had told Billy Frank that you are fighting on the banks of the Columbia River for the right to avoid NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] certification, he wouldn't have believed it. No one knew where the struggle was going to develop. You don't know where it's coming next. You've got an incredibly hostile Supreme Court. Again, I love the people at NARF [Native American Rights Fund]. They're brilliant lawyers there. I've worked with them. And they and a bunch of other Indian lawyers said the best strategy now for Indian tribes before the Supreme Court is don't go, stay away. And it's hard work just to kind of get the cases through the circuit level in a way that the court won't pick them despite your desire not to have them go.

So you've got horrible cases coming out. You've got anti-Indian groups, anti-affirmative action. We just passed a proposition in this state that outlaws affirmative action in financial aid and in admissions. It's going to have a devastating impact, particularly on non-federally enrolled tribal kids. A lot of Indians can be full blood but they're not federally enrolled. And so since they're not federally enrolled, they're really a minority. And so you have these totally arbitrary distinctions where you have 100 percent Navajo and Pueblo kid where you have the flip on the matriarchal/patriarchal membership roll. And they're 100 percent, but they don't belong to the tribe. And under this bill, they're not entitled to affirmative action and financial aid or in admissions. They're in the pool with everybody else.

We've got shrinking federal budgets, rising health costs, No Child Left Behind, rising crime, unemployed youth, gangs, drugs, poor infrastructure. Let's throw some in. This is a cleansing ceremony. Anybody want to throw one in there? Come on, shout one out that I didn't include. Suicide -- oh, my god, yeah, good -- bad, horrible. Good in that, exactly. The voice coming from where it's happening at, you know. Domestic violence -- ah, good. I'm going to add the index of misery, the hard work. If you took one of these issues and made it your life's work and moved the ball ten yards down the field, you'd be Hercules, you'd be the new Amazon woman they're casting. To take all of them on at the same time with the resources you have, it's hard work. And your enterprises are competing inan increasingly multi-cultural, multi-global environment. [So where am I at on time [because] I want to leave time for questions? What time do I have here? Good, I'm going to wrap this up and then I'm going to let you fire away.]

So, here's where I kind of tie-in the nation-building stuff. We know that the real keys are practical self-rule. Well, think of what a tribal court does for you. It takes your tribal law and custom, its traditions, your constitution, the codes, the statues that you enact and apply them every day in a transparent, rational, non-political, non-partisan way so that everybody on the reservation -- Indian and non-Indian -- feels they are treated as equals with equal dignity and respect as human beings according to our tribal customs and traditions. A tribal court keeps you guys honest. You need that oversight, you need that accountability, you need somebody who has the final say on, ‘Just what the hell were you doing with this expense account report?'

Strategic orientation and leadership -- we've been talking about that. But you need something else. You need a legal framework for nation building. Remember your tribal powers. Remember your tribal constitution. Some of them may date back even before the IRA. How suitable are they to your needs today? Think about the way you treat issues of waivers of sovereign immunity. Think about your criminal codes, your juvenile codes. What have you done to make your nation stronger in those areas during your tenure on the council, during your leadership of a tribal program, in the classroom?

I want to kind of give one test to ya'll. I'll leave you with this and then I'll open it up for questions 'cause this'll get you thinking. Hopefully, I've provoked you enough to kind of think about where you're at in meeting this challenge. But this is a university and we like instruments. We've got to have data. So I collect this data, I promise they're writing it down. If you want to be anonymous, okay, but I want you to take this quiz. This is the tribal leader's executive education test for whether your reservation has an independent judiciary. And this'll tell you whether or not you really need an independent judiciary as part of your major nation-building task. On my reservation, the chair is related to the chief justice, yes or no? Just mark it down. On my reservation, the chair is poker buddies with the chief justice? On my reservation, judicial review means the council can review any judge who makes an unpopular decision and fire him, yes or no? On my reservation, checks and balances are something the tribal finance office can't ever seem to keep track of, yes or no? This is serious. You're compromising the integrity of my study by laughing. On my reservation, separation of powers means the council doesn't ask questions about the judiciary's travel expenses and the judiciary doesn't ask questions about the council's? Oh, my god. I've had people pass out. So just let us know, raise your hand if you're feeling...I've given this test [at] hundreds of workshops. These are the oldest jokes in the world. Come on. Okay. On my reservation, the question of whether the tribe should ever waive its sovereign immunity is something that only a fool would bring up in council? Serious question.

Okay, so here's how you judge yourselves. Six to five no's, you have a very independent judiciary. You don't have any work to do in that area. One to two no's, it's kangaroo [court] city baby. So where are you at? Are you hopping up and down trying to figure out where you're out in this nation-building challenge? Are you going to tackle it head on? Well, let's talk about that. We have a few questions. Let's talk about that challenge in some of your questions about this need for an independent judiciary to really recognize all those things we're talking about gelling together, the synchronicity of the nation building model."

Q&A Session

Audience member:

"How do we fight as a collective body and as individual tribes those of us that are fighting that white man's colonial rule? We were in court a couple weeks ago and we're dealing with...we've had contact since 1640 when our tribal system was set up in the 1700s based upon that trusteeship of put three people in a, three men in water, they're going to control everything and we can control them. Give them a bottle, they can sign their X and we get their lands and all. And how we deal with their water rights and their land rights and who can do what on their land and...so you just don't have any rights anymore. How do we fight that, and what is our recourse for those things?"

Robert Williams:

"So do you hire outside law counsel to do this for you?"

Audience member:

"We have our own and we have outside law counsel. We have tribal lawyers."

Robert Williams:

"And how's that work divided?"

Audience member:

"Of course the white man is getting more and the tribal member lawyer gets this much..."

Robert Williams:

"And what do they bill you per hour?"

Audience member:

"Probably $700 and our trial lawyers maybe get $125. What did my sister say? She gets 38 cents per hour."

Robert Williams:

"It's a tribe around here. Because I've been associated with them so long and have been intimately involved with them for so long, some of the details I don't remember. So I'm just going to give you a basic narrative of what happened when I came here in 1987 and was asked to be a judge at the Tohono O'odham tribal court. There's a guy there named Ned Norris...I love Ned as a brother. And we used to sit in the trailer at Tohono O'odham court. I remember going down there -- they asked me to be judge -- and I'm looking for a building and I can't find it. And I call up and Ned says, ‘The trailer, dummy. What'd you think, we had our own building? This is tribal court.' So I go in the trailer. And the library is like 30-year-old volumes given out by the law school that were eaten away and it was just absolutely horrible. And Ned's sitting there thinking, ‘Rob, one day I'm going to run this place.' I go, ‘You can have it, man!' But Ned had vision, you know what I'm saying? Ned had vision.

And you know what I saw over the course of 25 years, I saw people like Ned and chief judges and tribal council members and great tribal leaders who started...They had an attorney general and they had like one lawyer and basically their job was to farm stuff out to the big firms in Phoenix and to Tucson and to New York on their water rights litigation and they were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. It sort of constrained their ability to assert their sovereignty and it also constrained their ability to pick their battles and to strategize [because] they had this firm doing that and that firm doing this and you had two guys or women in there who just really didn't have control. They weren't having strategic control, they were like insurance adjustors. Don't answer, but if that sounds familiar you see where I'm going. And you can begin to see the lessons, because what I saw happen there was, they said, ‘We need to protect the rights of people here. We've got a crime problem, we're going to invest in our police, we're going to do community policing, we're going to build our own jail, we're going to stop sending our kids to Pima County where they hang themselves and nobody cares. We're going to provide alcohol counseling. We're not going to lock up people as a first resort; we're going to give people a second chance. And that's going to require investing in lawyers and tribal advocates and training and judges and that's going to cost money.'

But guess what? They started training their own lawyers. And some of those lawyers that started out as advocates went to law school and then went into the attorney general's office. Again, this is going to be a really radical proposal, but I bet you all agree. I would rather have a tribal attorney who understands the tribe really well than who understands a technical area of law really well. Sound familiar? These people -- whether they're your own tribe or other Indians or non-Indians -- who come and work in those entry level positions, they learn the community, they learn who to talk to, who not to talk to, keep your head straight, know how the community feels about certain things. They become valuable instruments. And they started moving into the AG's office and instead of paying Phoenix $500 an hour, they were paying those folks a salary of $80,000, but a lot less than $500 an hour -- do the math -- to work on their water rights case. And I've seen that legal department. And again, it's a feeder system. They're developing their own and you've created a legal system. Remember the requirements, the legal infrastructure? You've got a strong AG and they can take on your water rights cases and you've got a strong legislative legal counsel who can help you draft your codes and your ordinances. And what you find on very successful reservations is somebody's resume -- they've done three or four of those jobs -- and the good ones go in, get the office in order and are asked to take on a new challenge. And you're investing in people rather than in some stupid law firm's mahogany desk."

Audience member:

"We're at that point now. We just got our federal recognition after a 32-year fight. We've been a state-recognized tribe, so we have run our own things, but we are in the process of doing tribal courts grant so we can put our law enforcement and our tribal court in place. We are working on constitution, not ratifying what was drafted yet, but trying to look at it. And that's why we're here to help put our governance in place with that and all. But again, it's like we're fighting. You have the state attorney general...now we're in...we went for federal recognition so that the feds would take up our land claim case, which now with Carcieri [v. Salazar] and everything else, the game's changed. The rules changed."

Robert Williams:

"Strategic orientation. That sounds what's key for you guys is to keep your eye on the prize. You're fighting fires every day. Prioritize, strategize, learn, build resources as you go along, and pick your fights well. And you'll find out that one fight well fought teaches them a lesson. Let me tell you something that I learned. I've done some litigation with some very good litigators. And the first thing a good litigator told me was, focus on your opponent's greatest strength and turn it into a weakness. And in this area, I hate to say your law firms are your opponents, but when you look at those monthly billings sometimes, ‘What does this guy got against me?' But their greatest strength is their expertise and knowledge. If you build and invest in that expertise and knowledge as part of your strategic orientation, if you invest in judicial training, think about the cost that you save when you can bring cases in your own tribal courts. Imagine if you have a tribal contract and it gets flipped into state court. Then you don't have anybody who's ready to litigate that case. You're going to be paying $500-600 an hour for state litigation. Whereas if you were confident enough to waive your sovereign immunity into your own tribal courts and you had independent judges who could hear that case and the outside business community knew they would get a fair shake and your guy can walk out that trailer to the court next door and doesn't have to bill you to go into Pima County Courthouse, think of all the money you save."

Audience member:

"Or federal circuit court."

Robert Williams:

"Thank you. Boy. I would. No, I wouldn't want to see your billings but I bet you pay for Kleenex for these guys. If they pack Kleenex in their suitcase, they charge you. Other questions?"

Audience member:

"Can you comment a little more on waiving sovereign immunity for economic gains?"

Robert Williams:

"Yeah. Many tribes, I think, ‘the most successful tribes.' Now, what do I mean by successful tribes? There's lots of ways to measure success, but to me these are tribes that have healthy, vibrant communities. And you go there, you just feel things are moving forward, that people have a vision, that there's a shared sense of responsibility and reward that we're doing things the right way. What I find is those tribes have tackled the issue of their sovereign immunity. Twenty years ago, it was very rare to see tribes willing to address the issue of strategically choosing when to waive sovereign immunity for certain types of businesses and business entities. And there are still tribes and many of the old-line tribal council members who feel that a waiver of tribal sovereign immunity -- no matter how carefully crafted and strategically thought out -- is a surrender of sovereignty. It's not. It's using your sovereignty. It's a tool. It can be a bargaining tool. It can make you stronger. It can make you think about where you need to use it and where you don't. You can think about how it can leverage other investment opportunities.

For example, I've seen this at negotiations and the negotiations get hung up on choice of form. ‘Okay, well, we're going to...we want to put this contract dispute,' it goes into Oklahoma court. And the tribe sits there and says, ‘Well, we're not going to waive our sovereign immunity.' And that's it. The deal goes away. Think about the tribe saying, ‘Uh, we don't have anything in principle about defending our actions. We're entering into this in good faith. We know we're going to honor our obligations but contracts break. Sometimes there's problems, but we'll waive our sovereign immunity but we'll do it in our own courts. And we'll invite you to sit in on our courts and see how they work. And we'll show you, we'll introduce you to our judges and you can look at their resumes and you can see their training. And we can guarantee you a fair hearing and we can point to other litigants in our tribal court -- some of whom have won, some of whom have lost. We can refer you to outside attorneys who've been in our tribal court and you'll see if you're willing.' So at least it gets you to part two of the deal. Instead of the door closing, you've opened up another issue for negotiation and you've kept the deal rolling.

So I think that the tribes that I think have been kind of most thoughtful about how they use this tool and when they use this tool and the power it gives them have been the ones that I think have been able to do things economically. And both in terms of housing, community development -- there's a whole range of issues where tribal sovereignty can stand as a barrier to the hard work that needs to be done. And quite frankly, you can go and insure up to an amount. Again you can limit your liability under an insurance policy. You can make the Republican legislators happy by eliminating punitives in tort cases. They love that. That's what the whole fight over medical malpractice is. Many tribes have eliminated punitive damages in their own courts. And so the only people who are going to end up upset about that are trial lawyers." 

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times: Billy Frank, Jr.

Producer
Institute for Tribal Government
Year

Produced by the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University in 2004, the "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" interview series presents the oral histories of contemporary tribal leaders who have been active in the struggle for tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and treaty rights. The leadership themes presented in these unique videos provide a rich resource that can be used by present and future generations of Native nations, students in Native American studies programs, and other interested groups.

In this interview, conducted in June 2001, longtime treaty rights activist and chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Billy Frank, Jr. (Nisqually) shares his experiences as a leader battling on the front lines to protect and maintain the treaty-guaranteed fishing rights of his people and other Native peoples in the Pacific Northwest.

This video resource is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Institute for Tribal Government.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Frank, Jr., Billy. "Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times" (interview series). Institute for Tribal Government, Portland State University. Olympia, Washington. June 2001. Interview.

Kathryn Harrison:

"Hello. My name is Kathryn Harrison. I am presently the Chairperson of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon. I have served on my council for 21 years. Tribal leaders have influenced the history of this country since time immemorial. Their stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Their teaching is alive today in our great contemporary tribal leaders, whose stories told in this series are an inspiration to all Americans, both tribal and non-tribal. In particular it is my hope that Indian youth everywhere will recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by these great tribal leaders."

[Native music]

Narrator:

"Billy Frank, Jr., born in 1931, is a member of the Nisqually Tribe in southwestern Washington. A principal activist in the struggle to uphold Indian treaty fishing rights, he learned his tribe's heritage from the vivid stories of his father, Willie Frank. The life of the Nisqually people was abruptly altered in the mid-1850s, the treaty period of federal Indian policy in the northwest. The Medicine Creek Treaty took away some of the Nisqually villages and prairies but it did guarantee the tribe's right to fish at 'all usual and accustomed grounds and stations in common with all citizens of the territory.' Billy Frank was fishing with his father in an area restricted by the State of Washington when, at age 14, he was first arrested. The opponents of tribal fishers held that tribal members were subject to state regulations while fishing off their reservations and that treaties signed in the mid-1800s were invalid. Over the years he was arrested more than 50 times. His family endured repeated persecution, raids, beatings, fines and jail. The so-called 'Fish Wars' of the 1960s and '70s became a symbol of the struggle for tribal sovereignty rights across the nation with celebrities like Dick Gregory lending support. Many U.S. citizens became aware of sovereignty issues being played out in the Pacific Northwest. The politically charged events, which rival a Shakespearean history, culminated in the landmark ruling of federal judge George Boldt in 1974: 'Indian fishers are entitled to half of the harvestable catch of salmon in Washington.' But Billy Frank learned that victory in court did not eliminate conflict and hostility. He became an artist of shrewd compromise, bringing diverse interests together to seek solutions on complicated issues. In 1992, he received the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Award. Today, he chairs the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which represents 20 Washington tribes in negotiating natural resource management plans with state and federal officials. Charles Wilkinson, in Messages from Frank's Landing, writes, 'Billy Frank, Jr. has been celebrated as a visionary, but if we go deeper and truer, we learn that he is best understood as a plain spoken bearer of traditions, passing along messages from his father, grandfather, from those further back, from all Indian people really, messages about the natural world, about society's past, about this society, and about societies to come.' Wilkinson reflects on the development of Billy Frank as a leader: 'If it is true that Billy's first three decades scarcely suggested what was to come, it is also true that a standard account of a budding activist's education and jobs rarely reveals the personal qualities churning and building over the years of a young life that will cause a person to assume the burden of challenging accepted authority on behalf of a sacred cause.' The Institute for Tribal Government interviewed Billy Frank in June 2001 at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission."

The Nisqually Watershed before the arrival of explorers and settlers

Billy Frank:

"You know, this place was a magical place, and my dad and grandpa always talked about how they never wished for anything. They had everything, and they always asked my dad about Social Security number and he never did have one. He always said he never did need one. He had everything. He had all the fish and all the food, we had all the vegetables up on the prairie, we had all of our medicines, we had everything. We had shellfish down here and clean water and clean air and just everything that you needed. Every year on the watershed, we had our lodges up in the mountain where we picked huckleberries and all of our berries and gathered up on our mountain and then down with our canoes we went down and out into Puget Sound and gathered and dried all of our shellfish. We caught a lot of flounders and different foods that we'd put up for winter but it was always a cycle of the first salmon would come in in springtime and that would start our ceremonies and winter would be over. And then from that day on we start preparing for the next winter and so that cycle would just keep going. We had our flutes and we had our drums and we made our own music and we knew our own songs and we played them and danced and we had everything. Our society was intact."

The State of Washington often fought tribal treaty fishing rights

Billy Frank:

"All of a sudden, the laws started to be wrote. Here comes the State of Washington, became the State of Washington, and of course they had a legislature that started writing laws and they wrote laws against us, us Indian people, for fishing and not on the reservation, but our reservation was only like maybe two miles long along the watershed. And so they pretty well had us just on the reservation. That's what brought about the U.S. v. Washington, because it just was a continual fight with the State of Washington, and even the United States Army was on the State of Washington's side. They were across the river all the time and the State of Washington used their property to get to us. I just continued to go to jail along with a whole bunch of us and we continued to fight the State of Washington. Other tribes also continued to do that now. So we protested."

Billy Frank's mentors were Nisqually leader Leschi and his own mother and father. His father was moved to what is now Frank's Landing when the Army took over most of the Nisqually reservation for Fort Lewis in 1917.

Billy Frank:

"My dad lived to be 104 and mom lived to be 96 so they were with us all the time and that was, they held us together and kept us together and that was a big part of us. The Bureau of Indian Affairs -- which at that time was in South Dakota somewhere -- and they knew that the Army was taking over the reservation, two thirds of it, but they said, "˜If you buy land, Willie Frank, anywhere we'll put it back in trust for you, restricted trust status,' and so that's why we ended up at the mouth of the river. But yeah, dad had a hard time. He was taken away to school when he was young and they took all the Indian kids up to this side of Seattle, a long ways away from home and they gathered them all up and hauled them off to school. All of that time, if you're not in the community, people die and aunts die and uncles, and people all of a sudden they're gone."

Fishing was a way of life, and getting arrested

Billy Frank:

"I'd take my canoe and go up the river and I'd leave my canoe. You can't do that now, there's so many people along the watershed you can't even hide your canoe or anything. But I could hide my canoe along the river and I could go up the trail at dark time, no light or anything, get my canoe and come down, pick my net up and come on home. I'd just pick one or two nets up. It would depend what I had in and I'd just float down. Nobody'd ever hear me or see me or nothing. But if they were laying for you, then they could catch you. Well, they were laying for me, and they caught me on that side of the river, because where you go is you usually find a bar -- either a sand bar or gravel bar -- and you park there and you fix your net out and take your fish out. That's when these guys caught me the first time and then a whole hell of a lot of times after that. They wouldn't take my canoe at that time, they wouldn't confiscate all your things. They'd take maybe one net or something, but they wouldn't take the canoe or anything. Then they start taking everything, taking the body and everything that we had. I fished all the time, and sneaking out and fishing. I fished right off the front of the house. Our house was right on the river. But they continued to arrest me up until 1950 and it was '54 when I got out of the Marine Corps and then after I got out, then we started to fish and going back to jail again, just a whole lot of things was happening then. But that was the "˜50s. Of course, the "˜50s wasn't a good time for Indian people. They were taking our reservations in other parts of the country, termination was going on strong throughout the United States and we were getting involved in all of this fighting termination, and so there was a lot of things happening. [Dwight] Eisenhower was president at the time and started to terminate all the tribes and they started relocation of Indians and sending them to Los Angeles and New York and wherever, Chicago and Seattle and everywhere. So all of them things were happening in our time. But we were still fishing on the river and still not even dreaming that we were going to be part of some big movement. The Civil Rights movement started happening in the '60s and then all of a sudden the Kennedys and all of the other things that happened throughout our time, my time. But taking part in all that and being there and understanding that we had...you have to live a long time. These guys will die. Our strategy is United States Supreme Court guys, they'll die, Congress, they'll die, new guys will come along, Governors will die, Senators will die, bad guys. The bad guys will die. And will there be another bad guy? I hope not. I hope they'll be better understanding of our people. So that's how we keep going because...I always say, 'I'll outlive all these guys.' But when I'm gone and all of the people that we have that are my age and beyond or younger, they'll take our place and it'll be the same, our people, nothing will change. We will still have the treaty, we'll still have fighting to bring our salmon back now that they're gone and clean water and the principles of life and the food chain that has to sustain all of us. This is what it's all about. I'll never quit doing what I do. Everybody says, 'Have you got a retirement?' 'Hell, no, I ain't got a retirement. I live right here. I'm not going anywhere.' If things go to hell I can go down here and dig clams and catch fish and flounders and they're still there. That's what I do and that's being an Indian, just being an Indian and try to bring people together to work together. That's the only way that the salmon and the water and the environment, the habitat's all going to work if we bring people together and people come together to try to find a balance for the salmon. If we can't find a balance in the middle of the road for the salmon, then they'll be gone. You can't fight and be way over there, you can't fight and be way over there. You've got to be, find a balance and keep moving forward and try to make it better every day. And so that's a principle of life that I have to live on and even though sometimes we go to court, the State of Washington vs. the Indian tribes or the United States government taking our side. That's not bad. That's something that we have to do. We have to get a principle of law before we can all continue to move down the road or something."

The importance of outside support and coalitions

Billy Frank:

"One of my old friends is gone now. His name was Ralph Johnson at the University of Washington, a professor. We have them in Portland and we have them all along the United States, our professors that fight for treaty rights and he said, 'You have a treaty, don't ever let the United States government or anybody such as Slade Gorton, Senator Slade Gorton...that treaty is there and they better respect it and not abrogate it, even the United States Supreme Court and Congress and so on.' So that was a big part of us being educated and understanding what we were doing in this big fight. The fight never ends. The fight's going on today. It's just a war between a culture and them. There was good people that didn't like what the State of Washington was doing and the United States government was doing and what the dams were doing and what was going on with just the environment. So there was coalitions all over and there was people at the universities and there was doctors and there was people just in every profession was thinking of getting involved. Certainly we'd have never made it without them. You can't...with all your power and all your community and everybody staying together -- you can't fight that battle alone."

The Sohappy vs. Smith case in 1969 led to Judge Robert Belloni's ruling of a "˜fair and equitable share of fish for tribes', which influenced later debates on 'allocations.' Years after the ruling, David Sohappy, Sr. served a sentence in federal prison for selling fish out of season, suffering several strokes in prison.

Billy Frank:

"It's an ongoing fight, a continual ongoing fight, even in the year 2000 now. There's just been so many things that I...David [Sohappy], my partner, my friend, I went over and testified for him over at Yakima. They killed David. The United States people killed David Sohappy, one of our own people that wanted to be left alone to just be able to harvest salmon down on the Columbia River, and what in the hell is...that is not a big thing, of 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 or 5,000 salmon a year, whatever for this community. What is so big about that? They made such a big thing and they put him in prison and killed him, trade and everything. And way back in 1800s, they talked about trade, they talked about commerce for the Indian people and we had it then. We had it way before Lewis and Clark ever came. We had trade with big baskets of salmon and trading with these ships and everything. Here in 1968 and up until our time it was, anytime that we had anything to do with the economy they didn't want us to be part of it, even blaming us for killing the salmon or whatever it might be, even though we had judges on the Columbia River as well as in our district over here that ruled for us and continue to rule for us today and thank them. We never win anything. It's sad but true. Even the United States Supreme Court were hanging on today with the five-to-four decision for the tribes on sovereignty and they're still ruling for us, thank goodness. We're just hanging on by our teeth when it comes to law. But I think the Sohappy case and other cases on the Columbia River were positive cases and they set a precedent for the United States to uphold the sovereignty of tribes. The allocation can't work if we go back to the turn of the century because there was a lot of fish, 20 or 30 million salmon in the Columbia River. Now there's three million, very little fish. So that allocation...but they looked at the tribes over here and they said the tribes have to have an allocation and they looked at the non-Indian and they cut him way down. So out of all of that fighting and law and trying to...and winning, something good comes out of that but you look at it and we're still fighting. They are still raping the water. They want potatoes, they want grapes, that's more important than salmon and they use the water, the irrigation. Eighty percent is going to them guys for potatoes and whatever they grow irrigating. What goes for the fish? They've left...they've completely sold the fish out, the United States as well as the states and the political people. Survival, survival is what we're talking about, survival of us Indian people and of our salmon and our food chain out there and our whales and our eagles and all of our fur bearing animals and everything. We're talking about all of those things and our mountains and our trees. That's what we're talking about."

Judge George Boldt and the courtroom scene in U.S. v. Washington, when Boldt ruled that Indian fishers are entitled to half the harvestable catch of salmon

Billy Frank:

"In this one particular case on a day there's standing room only in this place. You had to get there early to get into the courtroom, and for 70 days it went on like that. This day this lady over in Suquamish, lives across the bay from Seattle, she was up on the stand, and Slade Gorton and his prosecutors were there for the State of Washington, they were asking questions on everyone. Grandma Haler was up there and she was, the judge was sitting here and she's sitting here and she...they started asking her some questions about some of the things that went on and she couldn't understand them so she started talking Indian to dad, which dad was...she's sitting here and dad's way over there and she started talking Indian to, our language to dad and dad answered her back. And boy, the prosecutor jumped up and objected. 'We can't have this going on in the courtroom,' and all this. Judge Boldt overruled these guys and said, 'If she wants to clarify what you're saying, she can talk to grandpa.' And this is...that was a recognition of our language, a recognition of us -- what the judge just did -- and an understanding person that's a federal judge, conservative judge that understood what we were saying and what we were doing and trying to get the information out to him so he could make a decision. It was a lot of things like that that the judge did in that courtroom, that he had respect for all of our people. He had respect for all of our people, and just things that he did on his own as a human being in what he did. There's other judges that did similar things, but that's one of the things that I don't forget because when he rendered the decision in '74, I got to take him around to all the tribes. He had retired and all the tribes had wanted to give him dinners so I took him to all the tribes. Judge Boldt is well and alive even though he's gone, that case and the respect that he had for all of our people, our grandmas, our grandpas and our uncles and our aunts and our children. It was just...we respected him so much and we gave him that big welcome when we all took him and had big dinners. Every one of these reservations did something for him. And also Senator Gorton, then Attorney General of the State of Washington, was telling the people of the State of Washington that, 'You don't have to abide by that ruling because we're going to get it overturned when it gets to the United States Supreme Court,' which it did get to the United States Supreme Court in 1979 and they upheld it. So all of that was telling the people, the people of the state to proceed as usual, go out and rape the fishes you were doing and go out and fish illegal even though we have regulations. And so they were fishing illegal out here. In 1980, a task force was formed and I testified that there was lights from Canada to South Sound here, just non-Indians fishing night and day out in these waters raping the salmon and they did. And the State of Washington let them do it. Now Judge Boldt brought them back in court and took their sovereignty away. He took the State of Washington...Slade Gorton come in and he said, 'You're that far from being held in contempt of court. As of today...' Now there was shooting going on in the water, they were shooting at each other and just a whole lot of bad things happening in the State of Washington on commercial fishery. And so he told them at that time that, 'You no longer manage the salmon. The federal court...I manage the salmon. National Marine Fisheries and the Coast Guard will immediately take over out here in these waters.'"

Resistance, hostility and racism after the Boldt decision

Billy Frank:

"Racism, they were putting sugar in our gas tanks and in 1974 we had a gas war. You guys are too young to know this, but there was a gas war in the United States and nobody would gas our boats up out here. They'd gas all the non-Indian boats, they wouldn't gas the Indian boats. So I'm out here representing the tribes in this office and, 'What the hell is going on?' Our fishermen were, they couldn't buy gas out here on the water. And so that's racism at it's best going on into the fisheries management and everything else. So all of these things and it was hard feelings going every direction and they were shooting at each other and there was every kind of thing happening in the northwest. But we were still managing it, we were here, the tribes were here with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and all of our tribes and we were still managing putting a comprehensive plan together like the judge ordered."

The tribes are involved on every front -- the mindset that it takes to persevere

Billy Frank:

"Down on the river on my canoe I always thought, 'Jesus, I wish I had somebody that was protecting us.' I'd look at the State of Washington over there and they had a fishery department, they were saying they were managing, but they were always mismanaging it seemed like, and they had attorney general and they had their government doing what they do. But nobody was protecting us, nobody was protecting the salmon, nobody was protecting the watersheds and nobody was protecting our treaty. But the tribes are unique, very unique in as far as being the best and the best at management, the best at doing whatever they do and always being the protector or the one that speaks for whether it's the grass or whether it's the river or whether it's the mud out there or whether it's the clean air or whatever it might be, it's always bringing common sense to what's all around us, whether we're there or over there or where it might be. I've always thought...now here we are today, we have a laboratory back here with doctors and how did we get there, we started out with maybe three or four people here and all of a sudden we have a range of professional people, the highest quality people there is down in Oregon and wherever we might be. The tribes have their own management going and we coordinate among all of us. We coordinate from there over to here and down there and the Pacific Coast and Canada. We're in the international treaty. When we started with the treaty, U.S.-Canada International Treaty, they were intercepting all of our fish coming down here. And we couldn't get in the door, we the Indian tribes could not get in the door in U.S.-Canada. They wouldn't even let us sit on any of the panels or anything, any government position. U.S. Fish and Wildlife was our representative, United States Commerce was our representative and we said, 'No, we've got to be our own representative.'"

The relationship of the Nisqually Tribe with the Army and Fort Lewis

Billy Frank:

"They managed that country like if it was ours. They don't harvest and clear-cut and do all the crazy things. We know that their mission is to train troops and we work together. They do not drive the tanks over the rivers and the streams anymore. They got cement bridges built. So these are positive things that we can live together and work together and share the watershed. So that's kind of where we are and that makes me feel good."

In a battle over dams, Judge Stephen Grossman took testimony about the conditions of the Nisqually River from 100-year-old Willie Frank.

Billy Frank:

"We'd go to Seattle every year to the federal building in Seattle and so I'd take dad every year. We'd go up there and we'd stay and we'd have hearings for two weeks. But two particular days I'd have to take dad up and all the lawyers from the City of Tacoma and all the lawyers from the City of Centralia and the State of Washington and the tribes and the Federal Energy Commission with their lawyers and our judge presiding over it. And so we started to put the watershed together and getting in-stream flows and so on and so forth and the plan...this is the Nisqually plan going into effect. And so Judge Grossman, my great friend and I think the world of him, we were up there, dad now had reached 100 years old and I told the judge that, 'Dad can no longer, I can't bring dad up anymore. We've got to park and walk up these stairs and then the elevator and whatever.' I said, 'We're not going to bring him up anymore, dad's going to stay home.' And so he said this in front of everybody and put it into the record and he said, 'Well, Willie Frank, Dad, Grandpa can't come up here anymore. He's 100 years old now,' I don't know what he said and then he said, 'But I want to know if anybody has a problem with us...we're going to move the courtroom down to grandpa's house on the Nisqually River tomorrow morning at 10:00. Now is there any objections?' Nobody will object to a judge and so, 'Court will preside in grandpa's house tomorrow morning at 10:00.' So everybody come from Seattle clean to grandpa's house at the Landing and the Federal Energy Commission and Judge Grossman, they held court right there."

Billy Frank speaks about transcending past grievances, focusing on the future and what can be done.

Billy Frank:

"I think back, way back to Chief Joseph and him saying, 'I've got to quit fighting and I've got to gather my people up.' To me, everything is survival, everything is survival not for me so much, it's my kids and our aunts and uncles and our relatives that are all out here. Everything that we do is not...it's for survival of everything that's around us. So I know the politics, I know who sits on these task forces, they're here today, the President appointed them in 1980, they're still here, I work with them. There's bad guys and there's good guys. You take advantage of whoever you have in this picture that we're in to work to bring everything together. I think that we're on the good side, we're not on the bad side and that's a big difference in life when you can always say that you're on the good side. I think that...everybody says, 'Well, how can you keep going with these guys?' There's a change every day and there's a change for the bad and then there's a change for the good and to try to find a balance out of that for our people, we just hang in there long enough things get better and they might get worse in the meantime, but then they start getting better and getting better means that you have new thinkers coming up, you have new children coming up, you have new...our people are still there and they're still ready to sit down and work, they're still down in the coves, they're still up the rivers, they're still along the Pacific Coast and they're still out on the prairies. You've got to go see them people and you've got to go take part in their energy and their ceremonies and things in Canada or wherever it might be. That's a whole thing in life if you can see that and take part in it."

The state of Nisqually watershed in 2001

Billy Frank:

"The watershed is in fairly good shape. We have a lot of good programs going on it. Certainly the Nisqually Tribe manages the watershed and along with the state and a whole bunch of environmental people and people working together and local governments as well as the counties and on both sides of the river and the Army. And I think the watershed is a workable watershed and the farmers and the ag [agricultural] people, everybody on that watershed participates, so that's a good thing, the hydroelectric dams and all of us. Even though sometimes we go through these droughts and everything, we work together to try to find a balance and that's the most important thing. Now our salmon, our steelhead is pretty well gone, they're wild steelhead. We don't know why they have never come back. There are just a lot of things that happen. Our pink salmon are getting healthier and that's a wild stock and our chum salmon are not as healthy as they used to be, but we're still holding our own on those, them are all wild. And then the rest, the Chinook and the coho and sockeye and other things that we've got are artificial and so we have to take advantage of that and try to work the wild and the artificial together and we're working on that every day and it's a continual thing that we work on. But that watershed is a workable watershed with all the people that's involved on it. I think we've been able to be observed out there by the United States as kind of a model watershed to try to bring people together to look at it and try to design other watersheds."

How to be a leader on the local and national level

Billy Frank:

"Well, the tribes are the ones that allow me to do that. The tribes, I don't do anything to hurt the tribes and I don't do anything to hurt any of our people politically or any way. I'm always trying to help wherever I can and support and bring them together. If there's a conflict of any kind between other tribes or anything I try to help and make some sense out of it. But the tribes allow me to basically speak with one voice. We have our commission and all of our tribes belong to them and they all...we pass resolutions and we pass initiatives to go forward to Congress or wherever we might be. It's like our Columbia River people and our California people, we try to all work together in this form of management for natural resources and support one another."

How to work with people who think the choices are either/or, fish or power, salmon or farmers

Billy Frank:

"Maybe some of these people you can't work with, but you don't give up on them. You don't give up on them and you don't tell them to go to hell because you're just going to have to get the best of them by doing what you do. You can talk to them in a forum or you can talk to them one on one and you can make them feel bad, you can...you use every damn trick you've got in the book. You can make them ashamed of themselves. You can get down and dirty with these people and you can talk about money, you can talk about who the hell they are and you can talk about where we was and where we are today and where in the hell are we going if we follow your route. You educate these people as you talk."

The importance of educating people, from tribes to Congress

Billy Frank:

"A big part of it now is all education. I could be speaking all the time, there's no stop to that, at the universities or the kids down here in the grade school and I do that. But a lot of it is testifying in front of the United States Congress, it's getting hearings throughout our country, it's trying to educate the courts to be part of the watershed: 'Spend your money on the watershed, that's an investment that's going to always be there.' It's the type of things that you can actually make happen with the position that you're in, to make them think about what has to be done. But education is the biggest part of trying to turn this big ship the right way; even our own people, educating our own people of the direction that we all have to go. It's a big job and will always be there."

Wa He Lut School, the dream of Maiselle Bridges

Billy Frank:

"It was her dream to have an Indian school at the Landing. She's my oldest sister. In 1974 the school was born in a little one-room building we built and then the Army was across the street from us. The little road was right here but the Army owned this piece of land. So on September of '74 we moved the schoolhouse, we just moved it over on the Army land and then we built our school over there. Before the general or anybody could know what was going on we had a school and about 20 kids going to school over there. Pretty soon the general come down one day and we were blacktopping the road going into the school, it was all mud and everything so we were blacktopping. He said, 'Billy, what are you doing?' And I said, 'Oh, we're blacktopping this road.' And so he said, 'You can't do this, this is Army land.' I said, 'Well, you never did run our pigs off on this side or our horses and so now you're going to run our school children off?' And so I went to...Senator [Warren] Magnuson was a senator of the United States at that time, and Senator Magnuson was our senator here in the State of Washington, I said, 'I've got a school down here that is on Army property and the Army wants me to move off and I'm not moving, all of us, my sister and all of us.' So we negotiated with the Army and so now we have that property. The Army deeded it over to dad and the Landing and it's being held there for our school purposes. Now we have like 130 kids going there. Senator Gorton was a big part of making sure that that school was rebuilt after the flood. The flood of 1998 was this big flood that we all along the Pacific Coast here, it was a terrible flood. It devastated our Nisqually River and everything. It took our school our and everything but we built a new school and that's it in that picture, but he was a big part along with Norm Dixon, Congressman Norm Dixon and all of our delegation from the State of Washington. They made sure that that school is still well and healthy and is funded. We just really take pride in these kids."

The message Billy Frank would like to leave

Billy Frank:

"We're going to survive and we're going to be healthy. With the help of all the neighbors, of all the medicines that are out there, the new technology is going to be better, the technology that's going to put the dams out of business. There won't be no more fight over dams; they'll be all gone. There'll be new technology to find power and so on and so forth. There'll be new technology to take these things that are destroying our environment out there, that destroyed some of our bays, these big giant plants that are put in poisons the water and everything, they'll be gone. They'll be gone. Why will they be gone? Because there's technology now that it's not feasible to have these dams any more, it's not feasible to have these kind of plants that destroy our little cities and smell them up and everything. These are things that if you're looking at life and you're a manager you look at way down the road, things might be bad today but how are we going to get better. Are we going to get better down the road? Yeah, we're going to get better."

The Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times series and accompanying curricula are for the educational programs of tribes, schools and colleges. For usage authorization, to place an order or for further information, call or write Institute for Tribal Government – PA, Portland State University, P.O. Box 751, Portland, Oregon, 97207-0751. Telephone: 503-725-9000. Email: tribalgov@pdx.edu.

[Native music]

The Institute for Tribal Government is directed by a Policy Board of 23 tribal leaders,
Hon. Kathryn Harrison (Grand Ronde) leads the Great Tribal Leaders project and is assisted by former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, Director and Kay Reid, Oral Historian

Videotaping and Video Assistance
Chuck Hudson, Jeremy Fivecrows and John Platt of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Editing
Green Fire Productions

Special Thanks to Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Charles Wilkinson, Author
"Messages from Frank's Landing"
University of Washington Press, Publisher

Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times is also supported by the non-profit Tribal Leadership Forum, and by grants from:
Spirit Mountain Community Fund
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Chickasaw Nation
Coeur d'Alene Tribe
Delaware Nation of Oklahoma
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
Jayne Fawcett, Ambassador
Mohegan Tribal Council
And other tribal governments

Support has also been received from
Portland State University
Qwest Foundation
Pendleton Woolen Mills
The U.S. Dept. of Education
The Administration for Native Americans
Bonneville Power Administration
And the U.S. Dept. of Defense

This program is not to be reproduced without the express written permission of the Institute for Tribal Government

© 2004 The Institute for Tribal Government

From the Rebuilding Native Nations Course Series: "The Citizen Potawatomi Nation's Path to Self-Determination"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Professor Joseph P. Kalt describes the dramatic rebirth of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, citing its development of capable governance as the key to its economic development success.

Native Nations
Citation

Kalt, Joseph P. "Constitutions: Critical Components of Native Nation Building." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy. University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2012. Lecture.

“I’ll tell just one story about constitutional reform. On the left, you see a picture of basically the entirety of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma in the mid-1970s. This tribe -, well-documented -- in the mid 1970s, this tribe had two-and-a-half acres of land, 550 dollars in the bank, and that house trailer. That’s their tribal headquarters. Some tribal members that have been out there said they remember their parents talking about, ‘The house trailer is the boxing ring,’ because there would be cycles of impeachment where the tribal chairs would be impeached or removed from office. And the new guys coming in would come in and have to physically fight to get the old guys out. And they tell a famous story , they’re proud of this story in a certain way because of what I’ll put up on the right in a second. They tell a famous story, that house trailer, one of the impeached chairs of the tribe, his son is at the front door of the house trailer, ‘Dad! They're coming to kick us out!’ So dad’s afraid of getting beat up, and he kicks the side out of that house trailer and jumps in one of those cars. And Citizen Potawatomi points out that those are the three worst cars ever built. It’s a Ford Pinto, a Gremlin, and a Dodge Dart.

And today, Citizen Potawatomi Nation basically owns Shawnee, Oklahoma. They are not only the economic engine, they are the political engine of their region of Oklahoma. And just recently, in what may be one of the most striking instances of the effective assertion of tribal sovereignty, a local town, non-Indian town has opted into the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s court system. This is like real sovereignty when somebody says, ‘I want to be under your system of government and your court system.’ Well, this is a fascinating development. And part of story is well, how did it happen? And time and time again where you see these dramatic turnarounds, Citizen Potawatomi on the left mid-1970s, today Citizen Potawatomi Nation, engine of Shawnee, Oklahoma economically, politically, socially. They’ve taken a community -- these are Okies -- in the 1930s, this community was scattered like so many other people in Oklahoma. Consequently, they have Potawatomis all over in places you can associate with the Dust Bowl effects: Bakersfield, California; Fresno, California; Sacramento; Phoenix; other places. They now run tribal council meetings essentially with simultaneous big-screen TVs in multiple communities, and they’re building sub-headquarters, essentially. I think they’re trying to buy land in Phoenix right now to build one. I believe they’ve opened one in Bakersfield or Fresno, Sacramento, something like that. They basically used their development prowess to bring the community back together. How do they do it? Well, it's very interesting. The story they tell, and so many tribes with these dramatic turnarounds tell this story. I can’t tell you how many times , you’ve heard these famous cases of economic development: Mississippi Choctaw, Mescalero Apache, some of these places in the 1980s that started to break the patterns of poverty and dependency. And we go -- twenty years ago when I had more hair, I’d go out and interview some of these tribal chairs. ‘What’d you do to turn things around?' And I’d expect them to tell me stories about business. No. Almost invariably, they tell me a story, ‘We changed our constitution. We changed our constitution.’ There's a link here, a strong link, between economic development and constitutions. Turns out, economic development and the curing of so many of the social ills that come along with poverty, dependency and so forth -- economic development is fundamentally a challenge of governance, not resources. I go out and I go to conferences in Indian Country all the time and I keep hearing, ‘Oh, we need more resources and better training.’ It’s true, resources and training are useful; but if you can’t govern yourselves, everything falls apart."

Honoring Nations: Jeannie Barbour: Chickasaw Press

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Jeannie Barbour, creative director for the Chickasaw Nation, shares the history and success of the Chickasaw Press and discusses how it serves as a concrete expression of Chickasaw self-governance.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Barbour, Jeannie. "Chickasaw Press." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 18, 2009. Presentation.

"[Chickasaw language] and good morning. It is an honor to have the opportunity to make a presentation about the Chickasaw Press to you all this morning. I would like to thank the Honoring Nations staff for their hospitality and the great work that they do with Indian tribes. It is obvious by your accomplishments that you have asked yourselves the same all important question, 'How can I best contribute to my tribal community?' The basic necessities of housing, healthcare and education provide communities with positive quality of life, but we must also be vigilant in the preservation and revitalization of each of our unique cultural practices and lifeways. Tribal language, history, arts, traditional healing practices and oral tradition define who we are as a people. Our elders are honored because of their knowledge of these things and we recognize these things will help prepare our children for life in a complex world. Throughout history, Indian people have recognized the need for civic engagement.

Encouraging civic engagement has always been an essential mandate for Chickasaw government and its people. It is the belief that all citizens can contribute ideas, energy and action for improving their communities. After Oklahoma Statehood in 1907, there was a systematic effort by the federal government to dismantle not only Chickasaw government but Chickasaw society as well. This had a devastating effect on tribal communities. Many Chickasaw people left as a result of relocation policies of one sort or another, draining the Chickasaw Nation of vital human resources and knowledge. However, Chickasaw people practiced civic engagement by supporting one another through the long dormant period that was the first part of the 20th century. They continued to meet. They continued to practice stomp dance, share their songs, speak the language and band together as a unique and distinctive people. Astute members of the tribe began to take advantage of opportunities presented by history's events in the 1960s and '70s. By the 1980s, the Chickasaw Nation was seeing the fruits of their vision for economic self-sufficiency. Through diligence and hard work over the past 30 years, the Chickasaw Nation has experienced incredible governmental and economic revitalization. Tribal members who had left were invited to return to the Chickasaw Nation, bringing with them skills and knowledge that would benefit all Chickasaw people. Tribal members that chose to remain outside the boundaries of the nation were also embraced. Chickasaw leadership recognized the need to develop programs designed to reconnect some of these people with traditional knowledge, history and practices still present in many Chickasaw communities in Oklahoma. There was a lack of documented Chickasaw history available. Only a handful of historical accounts of Chickasaw history existed. Very few of those were written by Chickasaw people or even from a Chickasaw perspective. It was decided that a solution to this challenge was to generate our own research and scholarship.

The Chickasaw Press was created in 2006 as part of a larger initiative to help in this process. Community involvement in the planning and establishment of the press was considered vital. A committee of Chickasaw individuals and others with knowledge of publishing, writing, scholarship and research were brought together to discuss the structure and the mission. The group prepared a proposal outlining their plan, which was presented to tribal leadership for approval. In a very short time, the Press was up and running and publishing books of significance to Chickasaw people. The Press is neither a vanity press for public relations nor a print shop for brochures and pamphlets. Instead, it was designed on the model of a peer-reviewed university press. Eight staff members consisting of individuals trained in editing, graphic arts, writing, marketing, publicity and sales are employed by the Press. Currently we are building the necessary support structures for the Press to achieve sustainability. These include tribal funding and a Press business plan looking toward self-sufficiency; also, programming to recruit and create Chickasaw historians and scholars.

The Chickasaw Press publishes books about Chickasaw history and culture. This knowledge is critical to the preservation and continuance of a shared Chickasaw cultural identity, particularly as our population increases both within and outside of our boundaries. Generating and publishing our own research is not only an act of ownership over our own history but is also an exercise of self-determination and cultural sovereignty. Since Chickasaw Press's inception and including our new releases scheduled for the end of this month, we will have published three biographies of important Chickasaw historical figures; one volume of Chickasaw history essays; a companion volume of oral histories and profiles; one book of Chickasaw poetry; two professionally photographed pictorial essays of contemporary Chickasaw society, culture; and a volume of paintings of Chickasaw elders by renowned Chickasaw artist Mike Larson. In an effort to provide information about other tribes as well, a biography of a noted Potawatomi artist is scheduled for release through the Press in the fall. Dozens of oral histories, citizen interviews, contributions by Chickasaw poets and photos of contemporary citizens populate the pages of these books. Some of the books are replete with images of Chickasaw contemporary and traditional arts, traditional games and food. Places of natural beauty and historic significance within the Chickasaw Nation are also showcased.

The books, in important ways, make Chickasaw history and the contemporary culture come alive. It is not unreasonable to suggest that any nation needs its own literature to be viable in the modern world. These books encourage civic engagement simultaneously, on a national level and on a personal level. Chickasaw people are hungry for this kind of affirmation. Although we do not have measureable data at this time, the creation of the Chickasaw Press and the tribe's division of history and culture have sparked a greater interest in and more discussion of Chickasaw history. Press staff members have participated in the development of history classes spanning ancient Chickasaw history to present day. Four hundred people attended the first session in December of 2007. Seven hundred attended the class the following spring.

The Press has also participated in revitalization efforts of Chickasaw language by sponsoring the publishing of the language book Let's Speak Chickasaw. This book is in its second printing since its release just a few months ago. Some of our books deal with sensitive areas of Chickasaw life and history. There has been reluctance in the past to publish oral traditional stories handed down from generations of Chickasaw storytellers. These stories represent, in important ways, information about the Chickasaw universe and tribal people's place in that universe. Our official tribal storyteller and her chosen apprentice started working this week with a Press staff writer and editor to document some of the tribe's traditional stories before they are lost. Tribal storyteller Glenda Galvan told the Press, 'For the first time, because the Chickasaw Press exists, I feel confidence in our ability to publish and thereby preserve these sacred stories accurately and respectfully.' She had been approached by other publishers down through the years about these stories and had rejected each inquiry. She also told us only now that the Chickasaw Nation has a tribal publisher makes her feel comfortable about sharing her stories that have been passed through generations of her family.

Because the Chickasaw Nation hopes to create new generations of Chickasaw researchers and scholars, it is establishing a new state-of-the-art cultural center/research center as well as Department of Chickasaw Studies, all within the Division of History and Culture. Our goals are number one, to interest young Chickasaws in researching and writing about Chickasaw history and culture, and to recruit Chickasaw scholars to come home to work as in-house faculty in the Chickasaw Studies Department. We value traditional oral knowledge as well as academic knowledge. The research center, Chickasaw Studies Department and Chickasaw Press serve as part of an overall infrastructure to facilitate the teaching and learning of Chickasaw history and culture. The Chickasaw Nation realizes that it is not an island unto itself. Tribal citizens live and share civic engagement responsibilities with non-Indians in Oklahoma communities. An ever-present challenge facing the Chickasaw Nation is that non-Native people know very little about tribal sovereignty, self governance or Chickasaw history. Sharing history with others through these tribal initiatives addresses this issue in a non-confrontational manner. The better others understand the Chickasaw Nation and its people, the better its government can work with them in government-to-government relationships.

In closing, as a director I would like to say the Chickasaw Press stands as an original and significant example of tribal self-governance. It is based on Chickasaw values of community, sharing and education. Its specific mission is to revitalize and strengthen tribal cultural identity. The Chickasaw Press is based on the following beliefs: that history and culture are dynamic and alive; that knowledge of tribal history creates a shared identity and understanding of our current circumstances and needs and a basis for future decision-making; that we should take ownership of our history and practice ethical, culturally appropriate research methods; and that if more of our neighbors know about us, the more effectively we will be able to sustain productive government-to-government relationships and good will.

American Indians are not an extinct people. Their cultures have a past, a present and a future. Generalizations about Native people contribute to stereotypic notions that make no allowance for individuality or for any possibility of change over time. Cultural identity should be maintained and valued. Indian people have made a substantial contribution to the world and specifically to America. It is important that Native writers express themselves.

In the interest of civic engagement, it is important that presses print their work. It is our hope that other tribal nations will consider developing their own presses. We are currently writing a handbook outlining the process we took in this endeavor. When it is complete, we will share the booklet with Honoring Nations to distribute to those of you who are interested. Again, thank you. We at the Press wish each and every one of you every success in your work." 

Wilma Mankiller: Governance, Leadership and the Cherokee Nation

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

As part of its ongoing interview series "Leading Native Nations," the Native Nations Institute (NNI) interviewed Wilma Mankiller, the late and former Chief of the Cherokee Nation, in September 2008. In the interview, she discussed her compelling personal story as well as the challenges the Cherokee Nation have overcome, the lessons that can be learned from this experience, and her thoughts on nation building, governance, and leadership.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Mankiller, Wilma. "Governance, Leadership, and the Cherokee Nation." Leading Native Nations interview series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 29, 2008. Interview.

Ian Record:  "Welcome to Leading Native Nations, a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. I am your host, Ian Record. Today I am honored to welcome to the program the world-renowned Indigenous leader, Wilma Mankiller. As many of you know, Wilma was the first ever female chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, serving as her nation’s highest leader from 1985 to 1995. She also is author of the national best-seller Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. Perhaps the most notable of her many accolades came in 1998 when then-President Bill Clinton awarded Wilma the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Currently, she serves on numerous organization boards and works with several non-profits to promote community development efforts throughout Indigenous country. Welcome Wilma and thank you for joining us today."

Wilma Mankiller: "You’re welcome. Thank you, I’m happy to be here."

Question: "I’d like to start with a question I ask all of the guests on this program and that is how do you define sovereignty? What does it really mean for Native Nations?"

Mankiller: "I think that the sovereign rights of tribes are inherent. And I think that when thinking about that sovereign it’s important to remind everyday Americans that tribal governments existed before there was a United States government and that many tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, had treaties with other governments before they had a treaty with the first U.S. colony. So the definition of sovereignty is to have control over your own lands and resources and assets, and to have control over your own vision for the future, and to be able to have absolute, to absolutely determine your own destiny."

Q: "As a follow up, in that realm of sovereignty, how to you define a healthy Native community, what does it look like to you?"

Mankiller:  "For me, a healthy community would mean that people would have access to good health care, to education, to all the amenities that are available to a lot of Americans that are not now available to all Native people. But first and foremost I think that in a whole, healthy Native community is a community that still has a sense of interdependence, a community where people trust their own thinking, where people believe in themselves, when people are able to define for themselves what they want for their community, and then have within the community the skills and the ability to make that a reality."

Q: "The Cherokee Nation is the second-largest Native Nation in the United States as you well know, with at last count more than 240,000 citizens, probably more than that now. What challenges does the sheer size of that nation, of your nation, pose to its nation-building efforts, and how does the nation meet those challenges?"

Mankiller:  "I think that probably the biggest challenge is just the increasing cultural, social and economic stratification of the population. And so that in a population that size, for example, just culturally, we have in our communities people that are full Cherokee, that speak Cherokee, that have remained close to their culture. On the other end of the spectrum, we have some Cherokee-enrolled tribal members that have never even been to the Cherokee Nation and don’t have the same connection to the land and to the community, but are enrolled members and certainly have a right to membership, but are different in the way they think. Economically, we have tribal members that are struggling. I live in a very low-income community, in a county with a very low per capita income. So we have some tribal members that have a very low income and on the other end of the spectrum, we have some tribal members who are extremely wealthy. The fellow who owns the Tennessee Titans is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, for example, and there are many other examples of people like that. So I think the challenges is, one of the challenges with a population that size and that stratified – socially, economically, and culturally – is to try to make sure that you find some common ground for all the people who live very different lives, often."

Q:  "You once referred to the Cherokee Nation as a revitalized tribe, stating that, 'After every major upheaval, we have been able to gather together as a people and rebuild a community and a government. Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward.' Can you dwell on that statement, particularly with respect to the Cherokee Nation’s present and recent past?"

Mankiller:  "I can, and I believe very firmly that the Cherokee Nation is symbolic of other nations as well because I’ve seen the same sort of just heroic ability and to hold onto a sense of who we are as a people and rebuild our families and communities and governments again. What I meant by that is if you look back at Cherokee history, even before removal, and all the things that happened to the Cherokee people and the continuous shrinking of the land base and then the tragedy of the forced removal by the United States military from the southeast to Indian Territory. If you look at how our people reacted to that it’s pretty amazing. When Cherokee people arrived, the last contingent of Cherokee people arrived in 1838 in Indian Territory, what is now Oklahoma, there had been a bitter political division within the tribe over whether Cherokee people should fight to the death to remain in the southeast or participate in that removal. So there was a bitter political division within the tribe. About one-fourth of our entire tribe was dead, that either died on the removal or died while being held in stockades. People had left behind everything they’d ever known in the southeast – places where there were cultural practices, places where their people were buried, places where they had a strong connection with – and watched their homes being raffled off to non-Native settlers. So they arrive with all of that after the removal and yet it’s really remarkable to see what they did. What they did almost immediately is they began rebuilding their families, rebuilding their communities, and rebuilding a government in Indian Territory despite everything that had happened. And it’s amazing. They built some of the first government buildings anywhere in Indian Territory, which are now the oldest buildings in what is now Oklahoma. They built a Supreme Court building. They printed newspapers in Cherokee and English. They started a school system, one of the first school systems west of the Mississippi, Indian or non-Indian, and they built a school for the education of women which is pretty remarkable for that period of time in that part of the world. And so that spirit that allowed them to go through that kind of tragedy and pain and division and yet, keep their vision fixed firmly on the future I think is what I meant when I said that we’re a revitalized tribe. And then after the Civil War, the Cherokee Nation was attacked by the United States Government, and various laws – the Curtis Act, the Dawes Act, our land was allotted – and we again faced another major upheaval. And so, between the early 1900s and the early ‘70s, we were not electing our own tribal leaders. And what’s remarkable is that in my grandfather’s time – and my grandfather’s name was John Yone (sp?), 'Yone' means 'bear' (Mankiller) – in my grandfather’s time, nobody ever, no Cherokees ever gave up the dream of having their own tribal government again. In my grandfather’s era, they would ride horses to each other’s houses and the Cherokee people, they would collect money in a mason jar to send representatives to Washington to tell them that we had treaty rights and we had rights to our own self-governance. So that’s what I mean, I think, when I talk about the spirit of survival and the tenacity of Cherokee people and their just abiding commitment to maintaining a sense of community and a sense of tribal government."

Q: "Let’s turn now to your personal story. Reflecting on your experience, first of all living in an impoverished neighborhood in San Francisco in the 1960s, you once said and I quote, 'That poor people have more tenacity for solving their own problems than most people give them credit for.' Can you elaborate on that statement, particularly with respect to Native peoples efforts to rebuild their nations?"

Mankiller:  "Sure, let me preface my remarks by saying that my family participated in the Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation program, which was really a poorly disguised attempt to remove Native people from their homelands and that’s how we ended up in San Francisco for twenty years. And the better life the Bureau of Indian Affairs promised us was actually a very rough housing project. What I learned living in a housing project in San Francisco which was predominantly African American is that people took care of each other in that community which was very isolated, and is still isolated, the housing project is called Hunter’s Point, the people helped one another and that’s how they got by in life. And what I saw in my own community before we left home, I was ten when we left Oklahoma and went to San Francisco, and what I’ve seen since I’ve returned home is a strong sense of interdependence in our community, and then in other communities that I’ve become aware of as well. People from Mexico, Central and South America, people that live in many of those communities have that same sense of responsibility for one another and interdependence. In our communities, there are always people who have formal leadership positions and titles and then there are the go-to people that folks gravitate toward when there is a crisis. And there are many people in our communities and in all low income communities that have great capacity for leadership, and I believe that community revitalization efforts can never be successful unless they begin at the grassroots level with families who know their community better than anything, outsiders who want to help a community with whatever project – whether its getting a water system or housing or health care or whatever, may have ideas about how to do that, but its never going to be successful if its conceptualized in a vacuum outside the community. For projects to be successful, they have to come from the people and because, you know you can be an expert in anything, there are a lot of smart people at this University, but people who live in low income communities are experts in their community. So the idea is to get a partnership between people who may have external resources and people in the community and then with that partnership they can move forward."

Q:  "Really what you’re talking about is solutions from within, solutions from the ground up, solutions from not just -- as you said, people in elected positions -- but local community leadership. How important is that? When you look across Indian Country and you work in Indian Country and you see some Indian communities very much dependent on the federal government to change things or they expect their tribal governments to do it all. And you’re essentially saying that the spirit of interdependence, the spirit of local solutions in the community, is really what change needs to happen."

Mankiller: "I think that all of that is part of a process of trusting your own thinking. I think if you trust your own thinking and you truly believe that within the cultural context of your tribal community that you can rebuild your nation then you can. Part of what’s happened over centuries of oppression is that our people came to rely on the federal government or the Bureau of Indian Affairs or well-meaning social workers to try to tell us how we should be and to provide things for us. And what’s happened I think in the last few decades is that people are saying, 'No! We can articulate our own needs and we actually have the skills to be able to make, to solve those problems, and make our dreams a reality.' So at the very outset of trying to do something – and I think you have to have a sense of self-efficacy – all these people are always going around to tribal communities with these hot shot business ideas and these other kinds of things, well you know what, you’re not going to get there until you do the basic work first. And the basic work first I think is working with people and making sure that people trust their own thinking first and have a strong sense of self-efficacy and believe in themselves. And once they believe in themselves and have that strong sense then they can do anything; they can move forward with that. It’s pretty easy to do that. People often ask my husband and I how we got people in rural communities to volunteer to build their own houses and water systems and that sort of thing. All we did was trust people; it’s that simple. I mean, not trust idly; it was an absolute trust. Can’t read and write, it doesn’t matter. If you have other skills; maybe the guy who can’t read and write in the community is the best repairman of heavy equipment and can keep the waterline going. There’s a role for everybody. Maybe someone in the community is a good writer, who can help write grants. There’s a role for everybody. So trust in your own thinking I think is key to that."

Q: "Really what you’re getting at is that rebuilding Native Nations, moving those nations forward, forging a common vision is really dependent on broad ownership in that process, it cant just be a top-down solution."

Mankiller: "Absolutely. Before I returned home, I did some work to prepare people for the 1977 treaty conference in Geneva, we were sending lots of Native people to Geneva. And it was interesting, but for me working on sovereignty in an international legal concept is one piece of work that’s important. But, for me, if you’re going to talk about sovereignty, you have to bring the people with you; you can’t be just tribal leaders talking to each other, and academics talking to each other about sovereignty. It has to be with families too, it has to begin with families. And so what we’re describing here is a part of that process."

Q: "Getting back to your personal story, I’m going to move now to 1969. It’s well known that you took part in the Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz Island. And you credited that experience with giving you more self-respect and a sense of pride. How did that change your life, that experience?"

Mankiller: "Well, it profoundly changed my life. I was a young house wife married to an Ecuadorian kind of living a middle class life in San Francisco. And when I took the boat over to Alcatraz – my brothers and sisters had gone over to join the occupation – and when I took the boat over to Alcatraz it was like an act of revolution almost to do that, to say, 'You know, I’m an adult.' And when I got there and I met leaders like Richard Oakes and John Trudell and many other people there and they articulated things that I had felt, but didn’t know how to express. And they talked about the fundamental rights of tribal governments and the conditions in tribal communities around the country, in a way that was very strong. It was the first time I had ever seen Native people stand up and stare down the United States government. Of course that had a profound impact on me. And because I had all these feelings running around, but didn’t know quite how to express them, so they expressed for me a lot of the things that I felt. And of course at the San Francisco Indian Center I had heard people talking about the relocation program and a lot of other issues, but not in the way these young people spoke about them. Richard Oakes who was Mohawk, and the first leader, was very articulate and very clear about the fundamental rights of tribal government."

Q: "Delving more deeply into this issue of community ownership and rebuilding communities, in the 1970s you returned to Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation. Can you tell us about your early work with the Cherokee community of Bell and specifically the lessons that community can teach other Native Nations about the importance of tribal citizens taking ownership in rebuilding their communities?"

Mankiller:  "Okay, the Bell community in the early ‘70s and late ‘70s was a predominantly Cherokee community, a bilingual community. About 95 percent of the population was Cherokee, there were a few non-Native families there. About 25 percent had no indoor plumbing. Very dilapidated housing. There was a local school there that was getting ready to close because young families were all moving out. And it’s one of dozens of small Cherokee communities within the Cherokee Nation that are more traditional communities. And they had been trying to get housing and they couldn’t get housing without a decent water system. So we decided that we could do a self-help project there. The idea was conceptualized not by me, it was conceptualized by Ross Swimmer. And I was a staff person at that time, the idea of a self-help project. So because I had this idea about community people being able to lead and had been very vocal about that and about the tribe putting more resources into ideas like that, I was tapped to lead the project. So what we basically said to the community is, 'If you want this to happen, this is your community, this is your houses, this is your kids. And if you want this to happen, you’re going to have to work on it.' And so we will, myself and my husband – my husband was my partner on this project, Charlie Soap – what we said to the people in the Bell community is that, 'We’ll provide the technical assistance and the resources if you will physically build a waterline, I mean put the pipe in the ground, cover it up, build it. And we will get the materials for some new homes and solar panels and we’ll rehab some homes in this community, get the resources to do that if you’ll do the work.' And this was a radical idea at that time, so they were saying: 'Why do we have to do that? The people down the road, the Indian Health Service builds their waterline and the Housing Authority builds their houses. Why should we do that?' And so we went through a process for about a year of meetings and talking and working with people to see that, so that they saw, not just us, but that they saw that it was in their best interest to do that. And that by rebuilding, physically rebuilding their community they would also rebuild a sense of control over their lives. The sense that we had when we went to the first meeting in Bell where almost nobody showed up by the way, the sense we had was that people thought: 'Aw things have always been like this, they’re always going to be like that. A lot of people have promised to help us. It’s not going to happen.' So we had to go from that point to a point where people believed that they actually could learn how to build their own waterline, they could rebuild their community, that things could be better, that the future could be better. So over a period of meetings, it was a long process of meetings, and that tapped into the values of the community. We got people to the point where they believed they could build the water system. Outsiders often focus on what the problems the community had when we started there, but we saw assets too. When we went into the community, the people who fished would share their fish with people in the community, people who hunted would share what they got with people who needed it, and during winter, if older people needed wood for their stoves, people would still get it for them. And so what we did was pretty simple. We just tapped into what we saw already existing there. Outside people said to us at that time, 'Well a lot of people in that community are on welfare. They won’t even work for a living. How do you expect them to volunteer to do these things?' Well, there’s no place to work. If there was a place to work, I’m sure they would, but there’s no place to work there. And so, we felt confident that people would rise to the occasion and build their own water systems and rehab and build their own houses because of what we saw in the community there, despite the problem. And so for me, the first day when we started building the water line, we had organized for a year and divided the water line project into sections so that each family had responsibility for a certain section. Driving down into the Bell community the first day, it was a pretty big deal because for me, it affirmed everything I believed about poor people. I always believed that poor people would rise to the occasion if you partnered with them. And so when I turned the corner and I saw all the people standing there getting ready to start the waterline, it affirmed for me my fundamental belief that we can rebuild our communities and we can rebuild our nations. To me Bell, a little tiny community within the Cherokee Nation, is symbolic of our nations, our people themselves stood on a porch and decided that they could rebuild their community themselves and they did it. And I believe that our leaders can get together and decide that they can rebuild their nations and they can do it."

Q: "In 1985, you became the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation after your predecessor Ross Swimmer stepped down to become the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. You subsequently won two elections for principal chief, the second with 82 percent of the vote before leaving office in 1985. Among other accomplishments during your tenure, you oversaw the Cherokee Nation’s historic Self-Determination Agreement with the federal government whereby the Cherokee Nation took over control of Nation programs and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. How important was that step in advancing the Cherokee Nation’s efforts to rebuild their Nation and achieve self-sufficiency?"

Mankiller: "Let me start by talking about my election. I was actually elected in 1983 to Deputy Chief position; Ross Swimmer didn’t appoint me. I don’t think he would have appointed me, given that his entire tribal council opposed me. And so I ran for Deputy Chief in 1983 and was elected to that position so when he left in 1985, I automatically assumed his position. But, with regard to self-determination, it was critical. I began my first work in tribal government as a volunteer for the Pit River Tribe in northern California which didn’t take any federal funding. So I was a strong believer that tribe’s should be able to allocate their own resources and make their own decisions about the needs of their people. So during the self-determination era, we took advantage of that every step of the way. And I was in the planning department when we first started contracting tribal programs. So there was a sea change from the time I began working for the tribal government in 1977 to the time that we signed our first self-governance agreement. And I had had a kidney transplant and I was in a hospital in Boston when our first self-governance agreement needed to be signed, and I insisted that they Fedex it to me; I got out of my bed and set out and signed that self-governance agreement because I considered it so critical and so important for our people."

Q: "Following up on that, how did accountability change when you took over your own programs? Often in Indian Country, you see when the outsiders are calling the shots, when they screw up their not around to pay the consequences, it’s the local people. How did the feeling of accountability change when the Cherokee Nation took over?"

Mankiller: "For us, I don’t think it changed that much. We always felt very accountable and we always just dealt with whatever we had to deal with. We were very accustomed to having federal audits and that sort of thing. And so I don’t think that it fundamentally changed the way we did business. We understood that we couldn’t make the Bureau of Indian Affairs a scapegoat anymore. So I’m not sure that it changed that much; I found that most tribal governments are very accountable and set up their own systems for making sure that the funds get appropriated and allocated for the things that they were destined to be appropriated for. And so I’m not sure that made a fundamental change."

Q: "Okay. In 1976, the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution was ratified and just two decades later however, the Nation initiated a major overhaul of that constitution which culminated in the ratification of significant reforms just a few years ago. What compelled the Cherokee Nation to undertake constitutional reform and what were the major outcomes?"

Mankiller: "I think there was a period of time after I left office, and I didn’t run for office again, there was a four-year period when there was a great deal of debate and controversy within the Cherokee Nation. And I think the idea of reforming the constitution came out of that whole controversial era. I’m not sure that our model is the best model for anyone to follow; there’s some lessons people can learn from what we did. My feeling is that the constitution reform efforts, recent constitutional reform efforts, did not come from the people, they came from outside the communities. And my sense – I live in a Cherokee community and my husband works in Cherokee communities – and so we’re in that part of the Cherokee Nation, I’m not sure all the constitutional amendments were properly vetted or necessarily understood and completely supported by people. If you look at the hearings that they conducted around the Cherokee Nation, there wasn’t wide attendance at those hearings. So I guess if there’s a lesson for other tribal governments, if you’re going to do constitutional change, and make sure that the people that will be directly affected by the constitutional changes fully and completely…Take your time. Take your time. Changing a constitution is a major thing. Don’t rush into it. And look at each amendment separately and make sure that people completely and thoroughly understand it before putting it out there."

Q:  "And part of the constitutional reform process that the Cherokee Nation employed involved the Cherokee Constitutional Convention. And that’s essentially a permanent body that periodically reviews the Constitution. How important is that, I mean you talked about 'take your time,' and is that part of that focus on taking your time?"

Mankiller: "It is, but I think again it depends on whose involved in the Constitutional Convention. If you’re going to have a constitutional convention of opinion leaders and political leaders and that sort of thing, that’s one thing. But, if you want a broad citizen participation, then you need a different kind of convention. So, in a tribe as large as ours, a single constitutional convention is not going to get it. There would have to be constitutional conventions in lots of different places with lots of different populations. So again, the lesson I think from our experiences is to have broad participation and take it very slowly and have a great deal of discussion before putting it up for a vote."

Q:  "Because essentially what you need to do by taking it slowly is get that community behind it, which doesn’t happen overnight. [Mankiller: 'Absolutely, absolutely.'] Since you became principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985, Indigenous Country has witnessed a surge in the number of females assuming elected leadership positions in their nations. What, from your perspective, do you feel is driving that trend?"

Mankiller: "I think that there are more pipeline opportunities for women. As tribal governments grow and expand and contract their own hospitals and run their own school systems and run their own businesses, that there are more opportunities for women to administer programs. And they’re in highly visible places. They get to work within tribal government and know tribal government and become known in the community. And so, there are more opportunities for women to lead within the tribe and then some go from an administrative position to running for council and then running for top leadership positions. And I think that education is a factor; I think that more Native women are getting an education, and more Native women are taking advantage of administrative and leadership opportunities within tribal government."

Q: "We’ve already talked about this issue, but I want to ask you a question directly on point. You once said that, 'I want to be remembered as the person who helped us restore faith in ourselves.' Why is this restoration of faith and self so important to securing a vibrant self-determining future for the Cherokee Nation?"

Mankiller: "Well, when I hear that quote I cringe because it sounds very self-important, so I actually hate that quote. But I do believe that an essential part of leadership is, besides all the things like making sure you’re working on legislative issues and legal issues and health and education and jobs and all that sort of thing, is to try to help people understand their own history and understand where we are within the context of that history and to believe in ourselves; to look at our past and see what we’ve done as a people and to remind people that if they want to see our future they just simply need to look at our past to believe in ourselves, to believe in our intellectual ability, to believe in our skills, to believe in our ability to think up solutions to our own problems. I think that is critical to our survival."

Q:  "Following up on that, what you’re really talking about is leaders not just as decision-makers, leaders engaging their citizens, teaching their citizens about what’s possible as you talked about, but also learning from citizens and really engaging them in this rebuilding process."

Mankiller: "Well, I think good leaders make decisions based on information they’ve received from their people. And leadership should be about listening to people, especially listening to people who differ from you and have very different ideas than you do, and then taking the ideas of the people and synthesizing them and then figuring out how to move forward. Leaders who make unilateral decisions and charge ahead I don’t think are good leadership. Good leadership is consultative and good leadership simply means listening to people. And what I tried to do very diligently when I was in office is to set up regular community meetings and I learned a lot more about what was going on in our tribal government in those community meetings then I did by listening to the staff. And so I think that for me the idea of listening is key to good leadership."

Q:  "Moving on, the Cherokee Nation has received multiple awards from the Honoring Nations Program of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development including one for its Cherokee Nation history course, which is mandatory for all new Nation employees, and one for its Cherokee language revitalization project, which seeks to revitalize the Cherokee language by focusing on Cherokee youth. Why did the Cherokee Nation develop these two programs and what role do they play in the Nation’s rebuilding efforts?"

Mankiller: "Well, I think that the history course is just critical. And again I think that for all of us we live busy lives and everyone goes to school and receives a good education, but not that many people have the opportunity to learn about the legal and the political and the cultural history of their own people. And so, the history course provides a historical and cultural context for the current work of staff and members of the Cherokee Nation. It’s a very popular course. I think it’s important to understand our context and where we’ve been in order to figure out how to move forward. And then with the language revitalization program that was started because less than ten thousand people of our tribal membership is still fluent in the Cherokee language. And I think that our current chief felt that there needed to be some radical intervention at all levels and so they’re teaching Cherokee language in the preschool programs, in the public schools, there’s a Cherokee language course at the local university, and encouraging community leaders to speak Cherokee as well. So I think they’re both critical to our survival. If we get you know down the road five hundred years from now, and nobody remembers our history and nobody speaks our language, it’s not going to be very healthy for our people. So this is a tip to make sure that five hundred years from now we’ll still have a viable language and still have a sense of who we are as a people."

Q: "Pretend for a moment that I am a newly elected tribal leader who has been chosen to serve his nation for the first time. Drawing on your extensive experience as a tribal leader, what advice can you share to help empower me to rebuild my nation?"

Mankiller: "I think the best advice I would give is to develop teams of interdisciplinary teams of people to help you in problem-solving; don’t try to do it by yourself. And to rely on people, not just on staff, but people in the community to help you solve big problems. I think that that’s very very important. The other thing is that I think it’s important for leaders to remain focused. The mistake I see not just in tribal leaders, but in leaders in general whether they’re leading a country or leading a parent committee, is that they try to do too many things. And so it’s very important to say, 'What is it I want to accomplish during my term? What are the two or three major things that I want to accomplish during my term?' And then stay focused on them. We have such a daunting set of problems to face each day in tribal government that sometimes you can get sidetracked and the little things take up as much time as the big things and so it’s important to remain focused; that’s another thing I think is very very important. The other thing is I think there needs to be kind of a seamlessness between – this is just a personal thing – between your personal life and your professional life. Indian Country is a very small place and within a tribe it’s even smaller, so that you can't mistreat women, for example, and then be in a leadership position of leading women. So I think that people expect their leaders to conduct themselves in a certain way and it’s important to do that. I had the privilege of working with Peterson Zah, President of the Navajo Nation, and he is just a great example of a family man, a grandfather, someone who always conducted himself with just great dignity and great respect and I think that that’s important too to remember when you’re in leadership its not about you, you represent people and always keep the faces of those people in your head when you go someplace, you’re representing them and when you speak, you’re speaking for them. I think that’s important as well."

Q: "You talked about the importance of leaders focusing on the big picture and not getting sidetracked with the little things. How important are rules and specifically, rules that clearly define the boundaries of your position, how important is that to empowering leaders to be able to focus on the big picture? Because oftentimes, among some Native Nations where the rules aren’t clearly defined, the council feels particular, the council or chief executives feel like they have to do everything because there’s no rules or boundaries set to keep them focused on the big picture."

Mankiller:  "Right, I think that the single most important aspect of that is for there to be a clear role for the executive officer, whether it’s a principal chief or chairman of a business committee, and a clear role for the tribal council. One thing that helped me was that those roles weren’t fuzzy. We had three branches of government, the tribal council had a very clear legislative role and they also had a role for fiscal oversight and budgetary issues, and then my role was to manage, and the courts had their role. And so I think that having a clearly defined role is critical, very critical. And if people don’t have that now, I would encourage them to work very hard to make that happen. I can’t imagine having to make decisions by committee you know, consult people, work with them, but not having fifteen or twenty different people trying to make a decision."

Q:  "These days you’re dedicating a lot of your time and energy to raising awareness about the importance of Native Nations, providing the mainstream media and the general public a clear balanced picture of contemporary Native America. In particular, the amazing stories of success, innovation and renaissance that are taking place across Indigenous Country. Why is this educational effort so critical to Native Nations ability to achieve their nation-building goals?"

Mankiller: "It’s critical because even after hundreds of years of living in our former towns and villages, most Americans don’t know anything about us and there’s not accurate information about Native people in the popular culture, there’s not accurate information about Native people in literature, there’s not accurate information in secondary schools and universities. And because there’s so little accurate information about Native people, a lot of nonsensical stereotypes get developed. And because of those stereotypes, every time a tribal leader goes to the United States Congress and particularly for new members of Congress, they have to educate them about the history of Native people in this country. And so there’s still a number of people who want us to be like we were three hundred years ago or something. And so I think that it’s critical; I actually see shaping public perception as a sovereignty protection issue because I believe very strongly that public perception shapes public policy and that unless we take control of our own image and help frame our own issues and change the image of our people, that it will ultimately affect public policy."

Conclusion: "Well Wilma, I’d like to thank you very much for joining us today. I’ve learned a great deal and I’m sure our audience has as well. That’s all for today’s program of Leading Native Nations, produced by the Native Nations Institute and Arizona Public Media at the University of Arizona. To learn more about this program and Wilma Mankiller and her inspirational story, please visit the Native Nations Institute’s website at www.nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2008 Arizona Board of Regents."

Legend Lake: A Talking Circle

Producer
Terra Institute's Building Bridges Program
Year

The documentary video recounts the saga of Legend Lake, a beautiful 5,160 acre lake development, formed by joining 9 smaller lakes in the Menominee Indian Reservation (with the same boundaries as Menominee County) in northern Wisconsin whose shore land was subdivided and sold mostly to non-Menominee people. Legend Lake represents another chapter in the long and often contentious relationship between American Indians and non-Indians in Wisconsin. 

Why and how the lake came into being, what land issues have arisen and what might be done to manage them is the subject of this video and related reference materials which build on the video's themes. While the documentary is instructive in its own right, the packet of study materials provides teachers, students and community members with more information for greater understanding of the differing perspectives on land in the Legend Lake area...

Native Nations
Citation

Rolo, Mark Anthony. "Legend Lake: A Talking Circle." Terra Institute, LTD. Produced for the Terra Institute's Building Bridges Program. 2010. Documentary. (http://www.terrainstitute.org/legend_lake.html, accessed March 1, 2013)

Sovereignty Under Arrest? Public Law 280 and Its Discontents

Producer
Oregon State University
Year

Law enforcement in Indian Country has been characterized as a maze of injustice, one in which offenders too easily escape and victims are too easily lost (Amnesty International, 2007). Tribal, state, and federal governments have recently sought to amend this through the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) in 2010 and the expansion of cross-deputization agreements. Positioning itself amid these developments, this study seeks to determine the administrative impact of Public Law 280 (P.L. 280), which creates a concurrent jurisdictional regime between states and tribes. Taking a mixed-methodological approach, the law's effect on the sovereignty and resource capacity of tribal justice systems is first analyzed using existing data for 162 American Indian reservations. Through a series of logistic regressions, hypotheses are tested to determine whether a statistically significant difference emerges between policy treatments under P.L. 280. This quantitative analysis is then grounded in a case study of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who are unique for their 1981 retrocession of criminal jurisdiction in the mandatory P.L. 280 state of Oregon. Both content analysis of archival records and semi-structured interviews with tribal, state, and federal public officials shed light on experiences of the criminal justice system before, during, and after P.L. 280. This research contributes to the overarching objectives of TLOA, which seek to locate best practices and administrative models in reducing crime and victimization on reservations...

Resource Type
Citation

Cline, Sarah N. "Sovereignty Under Arrest? Public Law 280 and Its Discontents." Master's thesis (Master of Public Policy). Oregon State University. May 20, 2013. Paper. (https://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/downloads/5999n518q, accessed November 30, 2023)