Posted by on Mar 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

The Quandary of American Indian Quasi-Dual Citizenship

By  :  Ruth Hopkins

In March, I attended the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Convention.  The main reason I went was to listen to former U.S. President Bill Clinton give the keynote address, but I also thought the convention presented itself as an opportunity for an experiential lesson in Party Politics 101. Now, I’m hardly a ‘Yellow Dog’ Democrat.  I’ve always been an Independent- not because I’m indecisive, but because I don’t like to be told who to vote for, and as a Native person I believe I owe allegiance to my Tribal nation first.  As a result, I tend to vote for whomever seems to be working most collaboratively with Tribes.  Of course I’m also partial to the candidate that best represents my values, and whomever I think would be a good leader.

There is another Presidential Election this year.  If you’ve watched any news at all in 2012, you’ve seen the disaster that was the Republican Primary.  I can’t believe we’re having a public discussion on whether adult women should be allowed access to contraceptives, or that Republicans have managed to turn the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act into a political football.  I also don’t understand the reasoning behind giving tax breaks to the wealthy 1% while scores of children in U.S. go hungry every day, or why we’re even considering building a tar sands pipeline (with a known history of leaking) across one of the largest freshwater aquifers in North America.  The Ogallala Aquifer of which I speak supplies clean drinking water for millions of Americans.   Regardless of skin color or political affiliation, we all need water to live.  Apparently common sense isn’t so common anymore. Needless to say, in 2012, the Democrats have my ear.  I hope they don’t mess it up.

President William Jefferson Clinton gave a terrific speech.  He’s truly a gifted public speaker who oozes charisma and intelligence.  He was downright captivating.  Clinton schooled me in the Art of Persuasion.  By the end of the speech, I wished I could take him out to dinner.  However, any acknowledgment of American Indian Tribes in the state of North Dakota was noticeably absent from his keynote address.  This disappointed me.  I know American Indians as a whole don’t represent a large percentage of the population in the United States, but here in North Dakota, we’re the largest minority group.  Not to mention, we are the First Americans, indigenous to this land. Part of me would like to wash my hands of the whole American political process, not necessarily because of our notable absence in Clinton’s speech, but because of the entire twisted, ruinous history of U.S. and Tribal relations.  The founding of the United States is built with the bloody mortar of greed and avarice, under the lies of Manifest Destiny and the so-called Doctrine of Discovery, on the backs of African slaves, over the graves of millions of our murdered Native ancestors.

The Federal government has broken one treaty after another, and this shameful legacy continues.  Why continue this strange ‘quasi-dual citizenship’ role we as Indians have, as American citizens and also Tribal members?  Shouldn’t we rail against tyranny by declaring our sovereignty as Tribal Nations on a global scale? Yes- but I’m also sure that it’s a mistake for us as Natives to cross our arms and refuse to participate in the American political process.  Here’s why: today’s reality.  My grandmother once said that as long as we continue to follow the ancient ways, we as Native Nations will outlast any outside ‘civilization,’ including the current one that surrounds us.  I believe her.  Yet, whether we like it or not, as Natives in America today, our Tribes and our people are enmeshed with the Federal government.  The U.S. government put forth blood quantum guidelines that tell us who is Indian enough to belong to our own Tribes, and most of us still follow that system.  There’s an entire branch of law (Federal Indian Law) dedicated to court decisions they’ve made determining whether or not they choose to acknowledge our existence, if they agree that they’ve wronged us, or if Tribes have the right to protect their own natural resources, or even their own people.  They hold much of our land in ‘trust.’  Tribal programs are dependent on Federal grants for assistance.  The list goes on and on. My point is, if we wish to assert our sovereignty as Native Nations, we have to start acting like it.  We should start being proactive, and stop suckling from the government teet.  As long as we are financially entangled with the U.S. government as subordinates, we cannot truly claim to be absolute sovereigns with more than the few inherent rights they’ve opted to ‘grant’ us.  Don’t get me wrong- I think we should continue to demand that our treaties be honored, but not as ‘domestic dependent nations.’  Congress has plenary power over Tribes because we allow it.

We should fortify ourselves as ancient sovereigns that pre-date Columbus, on equal footing with the United States, like our Tribal nations were when those treaties were first contemplated by our ancestors. Until that day, refuting the American political process is foolish, because everything that happens in Washington D.C. and in state legislatures and courthouses across the country effects us and our children.  We also have a largely untapped resource- a growing population of young people who will become a substantial voting block in several states in the near future.  Vote to protect your rights, and to ensure that funding and support for Tribes continue until we see the day when we are self-sufficient.  Vote against those people and laws who discriminate against women, minorities, and the poor.  Vote to support causes and organizations you want to succeed.  If we don’t, those decisions will be made for us, and against us; and I for one know that my ancestors didn’t fight for my freedom just so I could close my eyes to it.  In this case, silence could spell our doom.  Stand up and be counted.