Steven Newcomb: NMAI should help expose bigotry in Indian law

From left: Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Oren Lyons; Tadodaho of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chief Sidney Hill; Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee), guest curator of Nation to Nation; Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the National Museum of the American Indian; and Jim Gardner, executive for Legislative Archives, Presidential Programs, and Museum Programs at the National Archives, unveil the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794, on loan to the museum. Photo from NMAI

Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute sees one aspect missing from Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, a new exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.:
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has developed an important and visually striking exhibit titled “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations.” It opened on September 21, 2014 and will run until fall 2018. A summary on NMAI’s website states, in part: “Treaties lie at the heart of the relationship between Indian Nations and the United States,” and that the treaty exhibit tells “the story of that relationship, including the history and legacy of the U.S.—American Indian diplomacy from the colonial period to the present.”

There is, however, an important question evidently not being addressed by the NMAI exhibit: Why are treaties with Indian nations not classified in the same manner as U.S. treaties with countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Spain? An explanation of the framework that the United States has used, and continues to use, for interpreting treaties with our original “Indian” nations was published in 1848. It was published “Under Authority of Congress” in Volume VII of “The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America,” which was edited by attorney Richard Peters.

Volume VII is titled “Treaties Between the United States and the Indian Tribes,” thereby characterizing Indian treaties as not having been made with Indian nations. To their credit, the NMAI curators of the treaty exhibit are contradicting this attitude with the terms “Nation-to-Nation” and “American Indian Nations.”

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: The Context of Indian Nation Treaties (Indian Country Today 2/27)

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