Mark Charles: The next steps for a 51st Native state
“This is a good idea, but…

…it will never happen.” My article on the creation of a virtual Native American State has been out in the public realm for a few months now, and I have been doing my best to follow the conversations and dialogues that have sprouted up, not only on my blog, but on other blogs, talk shows and articles around the country. If I had to summarize the responses, I would say that the majority of voices ring with a very similar sentiment. "This is a good idea, but…” Of course, there have also been other voices. Some have decried the idea, saying they have no desire to become a larger part of this country and its oppressive government. Others have pointed at this as another way to rob our peoples of the identity and sovereignty we have been fighting for. And still others have snidely commented that this proposal would put an end to the gravy train of free handouts that our Native American tribes receive from Uncle Sam. But a vast majority of the voices I have heard have stated in one form or another that “this is a good idea, but…"

First, please allow me to address the issue of tribal sovereignty. I do not see the virtual Native American state in any way damaging the struggle for recognition or sovereignty that most of our tribes are currently engaged in. Instead, I see this state as a tool that can begin to consolidate our voices in areas where our needs, issues and struggles align. I also do not see the granting of this statehood in any way releasing the US government from the treaty obligations that currently exist, as our original lands are not being returned to us, nor are we engaging in any sort of armed conflict against the US. The creation of this state will not release the US government from the injustices of the past; instead it will give our tribes a stronger voice with which to negotiate the terms for our future.

During every election cycle we hear about presidential candidates courting the votes of various communities. There is talk about the African American vote, the Hispanic vote, and so on and so forth. But I cannot recall ever hearing a candidate setting out to win the Native American vote. Why? Because our voice has become irrelevant. Our peoples have been so marginalized and pushed to the borders of society, that we essentially no longer have a voice. If all tribes could vote together, we would create a block of voters, some 3 million strong, which could NO LONGER be ignored by presidential candidates.

On June 17, 1960, an amendment was proposed in congress to grant the District of Columbia the right to choose their own electors for the election of the office of President and Vice-President. This amendment was ratified as the 23rd Amendment on March 29, 1961. In 1964, the District of Columbia participated for the first time in the Presidential election with its own voice. I think that a similar amendment to grant Native American peoples to right to collectively choose our own electors in Presidential elections would be an incredible step to begin paving the way for the creation of a virtual Native American state. I am not naive enough to believe that this state will be created quickly, or without significant opposition. And that is actually fine with me. To tackle a change of this magnitude to our country's political landscape, structure and status quo is a huge undertaking. It is not a battle that I would shy away from, but it is a battle that I would like to engage in stages, as the issue is discussed and negotiated thoroughly. But I also do not want to wait for years or even decades for some amount of change to begin to happen. So I think that an amendment, similar to the 23rd amendment, for our Native American peoples would be a great first step.

The citizens of Washington DC fall into an ambiguous crevice when it comes to representation in this country. They are full US citizens but do not belong to a state. Instead they fall under the direct authority of the US Congress. Yet they have their own local government with a mayor and a city council. This crevice that they occupy sounds very similar to the ambiguous state of existence that most Native American tribes and peoples fall into. We are told that we are sovereign nations, yet we do not have formal embassies or relationships with the US government as other nations have. We have been 'granted' lands (reservations) throughout this country and have our own local tribal governments, but we are also citizens of the states where these lands exist.

As separate Native American peoples we probably have more interests, needs and concerns in common with one another than we do with the non-Native residents of the very states in which we all reside. But just as the citizens of the District of Columbia are ultimately governed by congressional representatives who are foreign to their city and their issues, so we must rely on senators and representatives who are not from our lands or our people and who are not first and foremost concerned with our unique indigenous issues.

The next steps will come. I am not sure how to deal with all of the complexities that arise from the creation of a new state. And I trust that the Creator will both grant and bring wisdom into the discussion as it progresses. But for the moment, I would like to focus on this first step. Let us create a voice for our Native American peoples by allowing us to choose our own electors as we vote for the office of the President and the Vice-President.

I propose that an amendment to the Unites States Constitution be formally introduced that will grant Native Americans, who are registered members of tribes, to collectively choose our own electors for the election of the United States President and Vice-President.

This will be a huge step forward as these candidates will now be forced to campaign to Native American issues and to court our votes.

Tomorrow will be another day and it will bring another step. But let us start by creating a voice.

I invite you to respond to this proposal on my blog (http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com)

Related Stories:
Mark Charles: A 51st state for Native Americans (1/6)
Mark Charles: When I grow up, I want to be ... (12/15)

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