This Day In History: A Landmark Case for Indian Gaming … and an Oxymoron

(OK, we’re a day late getting this one up … but still worth posting.)

This day in history, June 14, marks both a day of independence and dependence for Native Americans.

Let’s start with June 14, 1976, to remember a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case with Minnesota roots. In Bryan v. Itasca County, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state couldn’t tax property owned by a Native American on a reservation without Congressional permission.  As Wikipedia explains:

The case arose when a Minnesota county taxed an Indian’s mobile home  located on the reservation. The Court ruled that the state did not have the authority to impose such a tax or, more generally, to regulate behavior on the reservation.

The impact of this ruling went well beyond tax policy. It set the precedent that opened the door to Indian gaming on reservations.

Now move forward 15 years to June 14, 1991. President George Bush issued a statement reaffirming the government-to-government relationship between tribal governments and the U.S. federal government, using the nonsensical term “dependent sovereignty.”

The statement starts out like this:

On January 24, 1983, the Reagan-Bush Administration issued a statement on Indian Policy recognizing and reaffirming a government-to-government relationship between Indian tribes and the Federal Government. This relationship is the cornerstone of the Bush-Quayle Administration’s policy of fostering tribal self-government and self-determination.

And it ends like this:

Today we move forward toward a permanent relationship of understanding and trust, a relationship in which the tribes of the nations sit in positions of dependent sovereignty along with the other governments that compose the family that is America.

Synonyms for dependent are: subordinate and subservient.

Synonyms for sovereignty are: autonomy, independence, self government, and freedom.

So another turn of phrase for “dependent sovereignty” might be “subordinate freedom” or “subservient self government.”

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