Peter d'Errico: Voting debate raises questions of self-governance

Leaders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana in Washington, D.C., in 1935. The tribal constitution was the first approved under the provisions of the the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Photo from History.Com

Retired professor Peter d'Errico looks at some of the issues that arise when citizens of Native nations engage in the U.S. political process:
Voting in a U.S. election typically means voting for a "representative." The American and French revolutions popularized the notion of representative democracy, but various forms of representation existed in earlier periods. Ongoing—and continuing—battles about voting rights mark U.S. history in court decisions, legislative acts, and Constitutional amendments.

Political philosophers ponder whether "representatives" may act according to their own judgment or only in accord with the majority of voters. "Direct democracy," or any other system whereby people participate in actual decision-making, obviates that question.

Traditional Indigenous governments often consist of direct participation in social decision-making, not necessarily by any 'voting,' but by engagement on a day-to-day basis with group actions. Herein lies the greatest contrast with "federally recognized Tribal Councils": the latter are premised on a representative voting system enunciated in the 1934 U.S. Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).

While the Act formally revoked the prior Dawes Allotment process, whereby Indian lands were taken, the IRA—as its name signifies—also set out a framework to "reorganize" Native government. It accomplished this by shunting traditional practices aside and instituting corporate forms akin to those used by businesses. Interestingly, the Act provided that such incorporation would only take place upon ratification "at a special election by majority vote of the adult Indians living on the reservation."

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Indian Votes and Indian Self-Government (Indian Country Today 6/9)

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