Nations Within a Nation

Indians of North America | Etta Hulme Cartoon ArchiveHistory and civics as presented in our schools may have exposed us to some reliable material regarding the indigenous peoples living on the continent without offering a a great deal of detail or context. For the most part, it seems safe to state that the conception of Native Americans has been largely defined by Hollywood’s “cowboys and Indians” feature films, or by depictions of scantily clad folks attending a Thanksgiving celebration with colonial settlers.

Article I, Section 2, of the Constitution, defining persons to be enumerated for purposes of taxation and representation, holds that “Indians not taxed” are excluded from the census. Section 8 of the Article, in specifying congressional powers, cites the legislature’s authority:

To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states and with the Indian tribes.

Prior to and after the Constitution, formal treaties with Native American groups were the predominant basis for relationships mimicking the practices of France and England. Indeed, there were also treaties with colonial governments, some of which survive to the present time. History instructs that the treaties were not sacrosanct and often ignored as the masses of immigrants to the new nation progressed and were fueled by public policy as “manifest destiny.” Treaties with Native American nations were ceased in 1871 as the means of establishing new sovereign jurisdictions.

Native Americans recognized early in the 1800s to utilize the Supreme Court to advance and protect their interests. By 1832, SCOTUS ruled that the relationship between the federal government and the indigenous nations was that of “domestic dependent nation.” Over time, the high court applied principles of the Bill of Rights and enhanced the sovereignty of the nations. In a 1942 case (Seminole Nation v. United States), the federal obligation was refined to include that the US “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” in its relationship.

Native Americans recognized early in the 1800s to utilize the Supreme Court to advance and protect their interests. By 1832, SCOTUS ruled that the relationship between the federal government and the indigenous nations was that of “domestic dependent nation.” Over time, the high court applied principles of the Bill of Rights and enhanced the sovereignty of the nations. In a 1942 case (Seminole Nation v. United States), the federal obligation was refined to include that the US “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” in its relationship.

Despite Article VI of the Constitution stating that “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land,” the nation’s history of breaking or ignoring that supreme value has proven to be more the rule than not. The minimal political power and social status of Native Americans were steamrollered by masses of immigrants eager to partake of the unbounded resources on the continent and a public policy of manifest destiny. Over the past decade, population dynamics and economics may contribute to an enhanced status  and imprint for Native Americans.

At present, there are 574 federally recognized indigenous jurisdictions hosting 500 gaming casinos and other enterprises, generating 45% of total national gaming revenue estimated in 2017 at $32.4 billion. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, states have limited ability to forbid gambling under principles of sovereignty. At the same time, states benefit from the tourism and associated taxes on fuel, food, and other related expenses resulting from the gaming establishments.

The population and influence of Native Americans has changed and may be poised to make a difference. Americans identifying at least partially as Native American increased 85% from 5.2 million in the 2010 census to 9.7 million in the 2020 census, a gain from 1.6% to 2.9%. In four states–Alaska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota–the increase represents 10% of the state population. Twenty states experienced a doubling of indigenous identification largely as a result of improved census questions and a concentrated effort to secure such data.

On average, the Native American population is younger than the rest of America, in part due to shorter life spans. At the same time, more are likely to have served in the military than non-Native Americans. Coupled with economic energy, Native Americans are poised to exercise more significant influence on the national scene and locally, as evidenced by the voting clamor in South Dakota last year.

As nations within a nation, and whether living on reservations or dispersed throughout the populace, indigenous citizens are on a path to be achieving a lost dignity and gaining respect. The hurt and disregard evidenced by the United States in its treaty relationships can never be fully repaired. It remains to be seen how the right wing conspiracists include Native Americans within their screed on replacement of an aging and dwindling population that dominated for so long.



Categories: CIVIL RIGHTS, cultural icons, elections, Issues, National, native americans, politics, VOTING RIGHTS

Tags: , , ,

1 reply

Trackbacks

  1. Ignoring Values - VoxFairfax

Join the discussion!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: