Judge Rules Indian Child Welfare Act Unconstitutional

A U.S. District Court Judge in Texas has ruled the Indian Child Welfare Law Act (ICWA) unconstitutional, calling it a race-based policy. The decision could reverse a 40-year-old federal law to protect indigenous families and cultures.

Expect an appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Red Lake: Back to Square One with Enbridge Pipeline Trespass

(From Wikimedia Commons)

For many years, large corporations have run crude oil pipelines across a small piece of land owned by the Red Lake Nation, in effect trespassing on reservation property.

Red Lake and the pipelines’ current owner, Enbridge, had been in negotiations over a cash-and-land deal and reached a tentative deal in 2015. That just fell through. The Red Lake Tribal Council voted 5-3 last week to rescind the deal, according to news reports. (The 2015 deal had included an $18.5 million payment to Red Lake, but that payment was not made.)

The Tribal Council vote was the result of the tireless efforts of Red Lake member Marty Cobenais, who has opposed crude oil pipelines through the state and opposed efforts to sell tribal lands.

It’s not clear yet how Red Lake’s decision will affect Enbridge and the pipelines that cross that tract of land. (On a separate front, Enbridge is trying to push through a deal to expand and reroute one of its pipelines, Line 3, which is a whole separate controversy, and written about elsewhere on this blog.)

On Martin Luther King Day, I would like to explore a different question: How did this trespass on Red Lake land happen in the first place? It’s symbolic of how easy it has been historically (and today) to ignore and take advantage of Native rights.

Continue reading

Sen. Klobuchar Weighs In on “Scaffold”; Trump Budget Hurts Indian County

A crowd gathered for a Dakota healing ceremony to deconstruct Scaffold June 2.

The Walker Sculpture Garden reopened on Saturday, an event delayed by protests over the controversial new work Scaffold which ultimately was removed. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke at the Grand Reopening and talked about Scaffold, according to a Star Tribune story.

A commentary on capital punishment, Scaffold’s prominent feature replicated the giant 1862 gallows used to hang 38 Dakota men all at once, following the Dakota-U.S. War. Neither the artist nor the Walker thought to engage the Dakota community around the work, one of the worst moments in their nation’s history and the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Institution and artist have apologized and had the sculpture removed, never to be rebuilt.

The Star Tribune reported Klobuchar’s words:

“Today is about a celebration of our modern garden in the present,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, standing with Olga Viso, the art center’s executive director, and others. “But it is also about history. As we learned so painfully in the last few weeks, it is about how, in the present, we remember and respect the past.”

Klobuchar told the crowd that her husband, John Bessler, grew up in Mankato, a few blocks from where the 1862 mass hanging took place, and later wrote a book about the executions: “Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions In Minnesota.” Not everyone knew about “this heart-wrenching story,” she said. But because of recent protests, meetings and the sculpture’s removal, “many more now do.”

The Walker’s mistake, Klobuchar continued, “jarred us into remembering that history has a way of repeating itself if not respected and remembered.”

Comment: The Star Tribune story also said: “The reopening had been pushed back a week after American Indian leaders protested the inclusion of ‘Scaffold’ …” That’s true, but incomplete. There were many non-Native people who found the sculpture inappropriate, too. That helped pressure the Walker to act. It is important to remember this is not just an “American Indian” issue.

Trump Budget Hurts Indian Country

Indian Country Today ran a June 9 story titled: Will President Trump Eliminate the BIA? The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funding has been on the decline in recent years and Trump’s plan continues that trend, the story said. The president’s plan allocates $2.5 billion for Indian affairs—a $370 million reduction for the BIA and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) alone. Yet there are more federally recognized tribes (567) than ever  before, all with divergent needs, it said.

In addition, it noted:

On March 13, Trump signed an executive order entitled “A Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” and he has since directed the Office of Management and Budget “to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies…components of agencies, and agency programs.”

Indian Country doesn’t know yet how the Department of the Interior might try to “reorganize” the BIA, but it is worried and watching.

Did the Federal Government Exercise its “Federal Trust Responsibility” to the Standing Rock Nation? It Seems the Answer is No

One of the issues that has received little attention in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) debate is whether the federal government exercised its trust responsibility to protect Native American peoples and lands.

According to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs FAQ:

The federal Indian trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Indian tribes…

The federal Indian trust responsibility is also a legally enforceable fiduciary obligation on the part of the United States to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources …

This is not a responsibility limited to the BIA, it extends to the entire federal government. So where did this federal trust obligation get exercised in the DAPL debate?

Let’s explore this a little deeper. Continue reading

Mismanagement of the Indian Trust Fund: Abuse Continues Into the Modern Era

Some people might comfort themselves by trying to dismiss the ill treatment of Native Americans as something that happened a long time ago. It is simply not the case. As one example, consider the report by the U.S. House Committee on Government Operations: “Misplaced Trust: The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Mismanagement of the Indian Trust Fund.” It was published on this day in history, April 22, 1992.

The report runs some 70 pages. It found that financial problems had been “neglected for dec­ades.” The only recourse Native peoples and tribes had to try to fix the problem was to go to the BIA — the very agency that was the cause of the problem. The report cited  Committee member Rep. Albert Bustamonte as saying “if this type of mismanagement taken place in any other trust arrangements such as Social Security, there would be war.”

The problems eventually spurred a massive lawsuit. Even after a decade of reforms, the government was still trying to fix the problems well into the 2000s.

Continue reading

American Indian Governance and Its Impact on the U.S. Constitution

Benjamin Franklin's Albany plan to create an alliance of 13 colonies stemmed from recommendations from the Iroquois Confederacy.
Benjamin Franklin’s Albany plan to create an alliance of colonies stemmed from recommendations from the Iroquois Confederacy.

A little know piece of American history is something called the “Albany Plan,” a Benjamin Franklin-led proposal in 1754 to put the disparate colonies under a central government. It didn’t fly at the time, but it was an initial effort to create some form of union.

Even less well known than the Albany Plan is the fact that it was a leader from the Iroquois Confederacy (which had its own alliance) who recommended such a colonial collaboration to Franklin and others a decade earlier.

This is one example historians point to showing the impact Native American tribal governance had on the Founding Fathers and the framing of the U.S. Constitution. The good news is that the conversation is ongoing. For too long, the Native American contributions to American political thought have been largely hidden or ignored. For many of us, our formal education didn’t even hint at such things.

The latest contribution to this debate comes from Robert Miller (Eastern Shawnee), a Law Professor at at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He published a paper March 1 titled: American Indian Constitutions and Their Influence on the United States Constitution. It appeared in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. This very accessible paper looks at the impact of the Iroquois Confederacy on the Founding Fathers, then explores the impact the U.S. Constitution had on tribal efforts to create written constitutions.

Here are a few takeaways. Continue reading