The Indigenous Rights Movement
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I thought I would follow up Wednesday’s essay with some more background information and a host of links regarding the Indigenous Peoples rights movement. There has developed over more than three decades now an extensive range of national, and a whole network of international, organizations and documents advancing the historic cause of Indigenous Peoples.
With respect to the USSC 1823 decision Johnson v. M’Intosh and the Doctrine of Discovery, I linked last time to Peter d’Errico, one of the foremost experts on these matters. Peter’s recent book, Federal Anti-Indian Law, is subtitled “The Legal Entrapment of Indigenous Peoples.” The book’s thesis, in its title, is that what is known in the U.S. as federal Indian law actually works against American Indians, perpetuating the system of domination enacted by conquest and Johnson v. M’Intosh. In so doing, even when courts find in favor of Native claims, in accord with the legal system that perpetuates their continuing subjugation, Indian law continues to entrap Native Americans in that very system of domination, as Peter argues here in essay form.
So, for instance, when — to the surprise and pleasure of many — conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch turns out to be a sensitive supporter of Indian claims brought before the SC, as Antonin Scalia was often unsympathetic, Gorsuch nonetheless expresses that support within the legal legacy of Johnson v. M’Intosh and the reaffirming history of decisions built on it. One may be tempted, as most do succumb to do, to feel glad for the ameliorating effects of these supportive findings, but it is amelioration that is nonetheless a dead for Native self-determination and can never lead to liberation. A ward more kindly treated is anyway still a ward – and wards of the federal government is precisely how Indian nations are defined by U.S. federal law, which asserts plenary authority over them.
You may find this one example enlightening. The Lakota people sued for many decades to have returned to them the Black Hills of South Dakota, which were taken through literal civilian invasion and theft (Deadwood, you HBO viewers) and numerous abrogations of treaty agreements – abrogations that, by the way, the U.S. government has from the start asserted it is its right to commit. Remarkably, in 1980, the US Supreme Court finally found for the Lakota and ordered that $100 million be paid to the Great Sioux Nation in compensation. But the Sioux don’t want the money. They want the land, which is sacred to them. The U.S. government won’t give them the land. It just won’t. (So there.)