Steven Newcomb: Domestic dependent nations
"In a recent interview, Indian Country Today reporter Gale Courey Toensing asked John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, about inherent sovereignty and plenary power. “How does it relate to inherent sovereignty to have another sovereign come and say, ‘We now have this jurisdiction over you? Is anyone challenging Congress’ claim to plenary power over the [Indian] nations?” she asked.

Echohawk began his response with the word “Yes,” indicating that there are indeed some people who challenge the idea that the U.S. Congress has any rightful plenary power over Indian nations. He then continued by saying: “… but of course under the law of this country, the way that’s all been interpreted and the way it’s been litigated is the tribes are domestic dependent nations, and that’s just the way things are. …”

When I read and pondered this response, it dawned on me that, at a minimum, American Indian advocates ought to be as determined in their advocacy for Indian nations as those non-Indians in history who advocated powerfully for Indian peoples. Imagine, for example, that after having witnessed the brutality of the Spanish encomienda system, Bartolomé de Las Casas had simply said, “that’s just the way things are” because the king of Spain fully supported that system. If Las Casas had that attitude, the encomienda system that destroyed so many Indian lives would not have been ended when it was.

If Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP had said “that’s just the way things are” regarding the racist U.S. Supreme Court ruling Plessy v. Ferguson, the United States would still be segregated because there would be no Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning Plessy."

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: ‘That’s just the way things are. …’ (Indian Country Today 5/29)

Related Stories:
Steven Newcomb: PBS fails on Tecumseh's story (5/13)
Steven Newcomb: Non-Indian, anti-Indian law (5/1)
Steven Newcomb: Brutality at boarding 'schools' (4/7)
Newcomb: Dehumanization in Indian law and policy (3/13)
Steven Newcomb: How not to fix U.S. Indian policy (12/30)
Steven Newcomb: Free and independent 'savages' (12/15)