Wayne L. Ducheneaux II, executive director of Native Governance Center, recalled being in a room with a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and the moderator asked: “Would everyone with treaty rights raise your hands.”
“Every Indian’s hand shot up and every non-Indian’s hand stays down,” he recalled.
It’s an icebreaker Ducheneaux now uses to open a discussion about how everyone has treaty rights, non just Indians. “It’s just that those rights are vested differently,” he said.
“For Tribal nations, treaty rights are about securing a homeland and asserting the right to self-determination.” he said. “Non Indian people have treaty rights as well. Their vesting is their ability to occupy space that Tribal nations vacated.”
Native Governance Center works to assist Tribal nations to strengthen their governance systems and their capacity to exercise their sovereignty. It grew out of Bush Foundation’s work to promote Tribal sovereignty. The Center’s work is expanding to include public education.
“The more people understand about Indian Country, the easier things are going to be for Indian Country,” said Ducheneaux, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation.
The Center’s icebreaker seems like a great public education tool to open a conversation on the history of treaties and how they are a two-way contract. There is a long history of the U.S. government coercing treaties, then breaking them. When you look at the treaty rights that Native nations maintain, they are miniscule compared to the treaty rights gained by non-Indigenous peoples.
A lot of people don’t know treaty history or choose to ignore it. So when Indigenous people try to exercise treaty rights, say to hunt, fish and gather on off-reservation lands, they get strong push back from some non-Indigenous people who see Indians as somehow getting special treatment.
Put another way, some people erroneously view treaty rights as a gift from the U.S. government to Indigenous nations. They are not. They represent an agreement negotiated between two sovereign nations, with rights and obligations applying to both sides.
Non-Indigenous people forget that their ability to have their homes on Indigenous lands rests on treaty rights. When non-Indigenous people want to rip up a treaty and, say, end special fishing rights, they are effectively tearing up their land deed.
Last year, Native Governance Center co-sponsored an event on Land Acknowledgement Statements. Healing Minnesota Stories wrote a blog on it: . With 5,000 views, it was our second most read post in 2019. Check it out if you haven’t already. We’ll post future Native Governance Center events here.