Indigenous Socio-Political Rights

By Sira Anissa Thiam

Background Memo

With the creation of the United States, there was a thorough process of destruction and otherization of Indigenous Native populations. The United States and its fellow settler colonial states have used policy in several ways to attempt to eradicate their Indigenous populations, whether it be through the Trail of Tears and its main policy the ‘Indian Removal Act’ (Trail of Tears, 2020), or through the boarding schools instituted to ‘kill the Indian, and save the man,’ a phrase known from Captain Richard Pratt’s speech at George Mason University, which set the ideological basis for the institution of these boarding schools (“Kill the Indian, and Save the Man”: Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans, n.d.)

 The multiple genocides and continual oppression of the over 500 unique tribal bodies in the United States has had a lasting impact on the socio-political conditions under which Native people have had to live under. Questions of sovereignty and governance arose as there are people who fit under both tribal systems and the American settler colonial system. The concept of the Maze of injustice, an unclear understanding of jurisdiction lines between tribal officials and federal authorities, (Azar, 2011) has led to a lack of justice in cases and a general sense of distrust by those who are supposedly protected by the law. Those who are victimized feel as though they will never receive proper justice, and those who commit crimes feel as though they can get away with crimes on tribal lands. We have seen several instances of sexual violence on reservations, as rapists understand that the chances of prosceution are lower under this confluence of differing legal systems.

Within the American justice system, there are certain injustices that Indigneous people face at disproportionate rates. Incarceration came as a new legal structure with the colonization, as traditional Indigenous communities did not have prisons as a measure for punishment. The imposition of this system has been hard for this marginalized community. Native Americans make up 0.5% of the American population, but represent 1.5% of the federal prison population, with even higher percentage rates in states that have a high population of Indigenous people  (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 5.) Native prisoners have also had several instances of violations of religious rights, especially in terms of expressing their traditional religious beliefs while incarcerated (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 8.) Imprisonment rates are tied to larger social inequalities faced by the Native community. 

One of the main remenets from the colonization of the North American continent has been the wide social disparities between Native communities and the general American population. Poverty rates in the American population are 13%, showing us the huge disparity between this number and the 31% in Native American communities and the even higher 50.7% rate in Native populations that live on reservations (Sandefur & Liebler, 1997, pg. 98.) There are also vast health disparities, with the Indian Health Service reporting that Native Americans have a life expectancy of 5.5 less years than the general American population, and are at risk for many diseases “including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases” (Indian Health Service, 2019.)

Bibliography

Azar, B. (2011). When tribal law conflicts with federal law. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e529422011-022

Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from http://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/teach/kill-indian-and-save-man-capt-richard-h-pratt-education-native-americans

Disparities: Fact Sheets. (2019). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/factsheets/disparities/

Echo-Hawk, W. (1996). Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Native American Rights Fund. https://narf.org/nill/documents/NARF_PRISONER_ISSUES.pdf

Sandefur, G., & Liebler, C. (1996). Changing Numbers, Changing Needs: American Indian Demography and Public Health. National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/5355

Trail of Tears. (2009, November 09). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/trail-of-tears

Finding Memo

There has been much research done on the topic of Indigenous Rights in America, as Indigneous people, like other social groups, are a part of many different communities, and are impacted by a host of issues. Scholarship can be divided between legal and social perspectives. 

Research on legal pluralism and monism has helped us understand the connections between the tribal and American federal legal systems. Bens’ systematization of different approaches to indigenous rights gives the reader an understanding of how different legal systems make policy decisions surrounding this issue. Ben’s argues that legal pluralism is better fit for the encapulatization of both legal systems, and makes the distinction between rooted and de facto legal pluralism, in their legal basis (Bens, 2020, pg. 183.) His research brings us to questions of sovereignty and identity within the structure of the settler-colonial state. His concept of the Indigenous paradox supposes that “that if the indigenous community is either too similar to the rest of the nation or too different from the rest of the nation, the indigenous rights claim will fail” (Bens, 2020, pg. 185.) In certain cases, Native tribes have not received certain land rights because of definitions of indigeneity in the Constitution, while in other cases the same tribe is able to fall under the definition of a “foreign state.” This variability is a constant in the confluence of the two systems. 

On the topic of religious rights and land access, researchers like Carpenter have found that the history of Indigenous land rights in America have fluctuated depending on the period, with an undertone of conquest and colonization. Recent instances at Standing Rock and Mauna Kea have shown how historical lands have religious importance for many Indigneous communities. A focus on expansion of energy development has brought up discussions of the right to worship under the contract of the Constitution (Carpenter, 2020, pg. 58.) Carpenter calls for a human rights approach of religious rights to be applied to the case of Indigenous rights, drawing from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Rights (Carpenter, 2020, pg. 62.) This document could be used in defining and legitimizing Indigenous religious beliefs to the eyes of American judges. 

With the social conditions faced by Native populations, there are social trends that result. One of those trends is a higher prevalence of single parent homes. Research conducted by Sandefur and Liebler found that compared to the 70% of American children who live with two parents, fewer that one-half of children living on reservations lived with both parents (Sandefur & Liebler, 1996.) The authors theorize that this family structure has 3 main implications on children: fewer economic resources, lower access to parental resources, and lower access to community resources. (Sandefur & Liebler, 1996.) These implications have large connections to social issues like access to healthcare and general trends of poverty. Measuring the impact of social policy in looking at the impacts on children is very important, as it helps detail certain cycles. 

As imprisonment is higher in Native communities, it is important to track information from within the prison systems. The Native American Rights Fund conducted a research project where they collected religious rights information from all 50 states’ Department of Corrections in order to document what policies the state governments have in place regarding Indigenous religious rights. Their findings were that access is not guaranteed in all states, and some states are not clear in their policies in a “faith-neutral” policy procedure (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 33.)

Bibliography

Bens, J. (2020). Chapter 9. Sovereignty, Culture, and the Indigenous Paradox. The Indigenous Paradox, 182-191. doi:10.9783/9780812297188-011

Carpenter, K., & Centre for International Governance Innovation. (2020). UNDRIP Implementation: Comparative Approaches, Indigenous Voices from CANZUS (pp. 57-65, Rep.). Centre for International Governance Innovation. doi:10.2307/resrep24304.8

Echo-Hawk, W. (1996). Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Native American Rights Fund. https://narf.org/nill/documents/NARF_PRISONER_ISSUES.pdf

Sandefur, G., & Liebler, C. (1996). Changing Numbers, Changing Needs: American Indian Demography and Public Health. National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/5355

Options Memo

As the topic of Native rights is so vast, there are many different policy-based solutions focused on different aspects of the field. I will try to cover some solutions promoted by organizations in the social, legal, and political domains.

In their study of Indigneous religious rights, the Native American Rights Fund recommends several policy-based solutions to ensure Native people are able to fully access their religious rights. One call that they make is for there to be a federal law protecting sacred sites (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 65). This is based off of other countries’ policies, like the many holy sites throughout the Middle East. There are also local policies throughout the United States that aim to protect Indigenous rights through this mechanism. This policy initiative would touch on the issue of religious rights, but also that of land rights. In terms of cost, this policy would create lots of deliberation on what lands would be subjected to being protected, as there are many interests that would claim different swaths of land. 

On the issue of incarceration, We know that Native peoples are disproportionately affected by policing and incarceration in the Western world. Our current justice system has high rates of recidivism, and is often characterized as a revolving door for those who are under the jurisdiction of these systems. There is also a lack of understanding to why people, especially marginalized communities like the Indigneous communities, often feel the need to commit criminal acts. Calls for a rehabilitative justice have been answered by community organizations like the Navajo Nation Peacebuilding and Native Americans for Community Action (Nielson, 2020, pg. 179.) These groups are either tied to Native tribes (the Navajo Nation Peacebuilding is an initiative run by the Navajo Nation Judiciary) or come from organic community groups that see a problem in the community and come together to try to fix it. These organizations have done good work in aiming to correct social conditions and protect community members, but face limitations in their work. The community-building done by groups like the Navajo Native Peacebuilding are often tied to nation-building, which has a stronger applicable force, but is not accessible to the Indigenous people who do not live on reservations. Indigenous people that are not understood as communities by the United States government do not have the same power in community building (Nielsen, 2020, pg. 187.) There are also restrictions on the amount of how much autonomy Native tribes have in a legislative context (Nielsen, 2020, pg. 187.) This problem could be addressed through a policy that increases the autonomy of Native peoples throughout the United States, regardless of their tribal/ geographical affiliation. There is great work being done by Indingenous communities, and they just need more autonomy and sovereignty in terms of enacting community-building policies. It would also be helpful to have a federal policy, as different localities have too much difference in policy. This policy might be difficult to enact, in terms of figuring out how much autonomy Indigenous people will have in this regard, and how to impart this autonomy. 

The ‘maze of injustice,’ conceptualized by Deer, refers to “a culture of distrust, in which perpetrators believe they can commit crimes with impunity and victims don’t believe justice will be served” (Azar, 2011.) Because of the overlapping jurisdictions between tribal law and federal law, there are many miscommunications on who has jurisdiction in terms of executing laws. A policy proposed by Miller in their paper “The Shrinking Sovereign: Tribal Adjudicatory Jurisdiction Over Non Members In Civil Cases” would be to expand tribal adjudicatory to a presumptive position (pg. 1854). This would make it so in the majority of cases that fall under the jurisdiction of both legal systems would be tried under tribal law. This would, of course, be contested by the United States government, so that could be a dilemma in implementation. 

Bibliography

Azar, B. (2011). When tribal law conflicts with federal law. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e529422011-022

Echo-Hawk, W. (1996). Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Native American Rights Fund. https://narf.org/nill/documents/NARF_PRISONER_ISSUES.pdf

Miller, M. (2014). The Shrinking Sovereign: Tribal Adjudicatory Jurisdiction over Non members in Civil cases. Columbia Law Review, 114(7), 1825-1860. Retrieved October 16, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43153610

Nielsen, M. (2020). How Indigenous Justice Programs contribute to Indigenous community capacity-building and achieving human rights. In Nielsen M. & Jarratt-Snider K. (Eds.), Traditional, National, and International Law and Indigenous Communities (pp. 169-192). TUCSON: University of Arizona Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv10vkzsz.14

Decisions Memo

As the issue of Indigenous rights touches on a vast amount of topics, it requires a holistic solution base. In reading though different research proposals, I have drawn certain conclusions on solutions that would be the most effective in addressing the topic in a general sense. I believe that in order to truly address problems, you need to get to the root causes of those problems, instead of applying punishments or reforms to behaviors. The two main policy proposals that I extend to you are an increase in Indigenous social and health services funding and increased funding and wider jurisdiction for Indigenous community organizations. 

A policy based solution to the lack of rights to Indigneous people would be an increase to social services, helping tackle the insecurity that creates many problems in Native communities. We know that 40% of Native women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes (Azar, 2011), that Native Americans make up 0.5% of the American population, but represent 1.5% of the federal prison population (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 5), Poverty rates in Native communities are much higher than the national average, Native Americans have a life expectancy of 5.5 less years than the general American population (Indian Health Service, 2019), amongst a host of other social problems faced by these communities.  Services like the Indian Health Service are often cut when governments need to redo their budgets, but they provide essential services to vulnerable populations. Having a fully-funded health service is important so that Indigenous people can address their health problems. Community services are also often seen as malleable when budgetary concerns are present, but cuts to these services are dangerous. Access to services like EBT and food stamps are very important in providing poor people access to food, and Indingenous people are disproportionately affected by poverty. Funding these social programs is also important in remediating problems like crime, as lack of resources often leads to people resorting to criminal behaviors. This policy could be enacted through a federal law increasing funding to the Indian Health Service, as well as funding to social services that Indigenous people often use.

Another important aspect in bringing equity to the Indigenous communities is the support and empowering of already-present Indigenous community organizations. This could present itself policy-wise as increased funding for these groups from the United States government, as well as increasing the ability to self-govern in certain areas. These community groups already have developed connections to the community members that need certain resources, and have structured methods in which they implement certain policies. The Peacemakers of the Navajo Nation provide peacemaking for family, civil, and criminal matters and draw on Navajo spiritual narratives in order to bring peace to community members (Nielsen, 2020, pg. 7.) This not only draws on cultural connections in order to resolve problems, but also keeps problems within the community. This can help mitigate the high incarcerations seen within Indigenous communities. In order for community groups to be able to make these decisions, there needs to be a shift in sovereignty, and an increase in funding by the United States government. This could be done through a federal law increasing funding to several community organizations throughout the country, and another law increasing jurisdiction over socio-political rule to the groups listed in the first law. 

Bibliography

Azar, B. (2011). When tribal law conflicts with federal law. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e529422011-022

Disparities: Fact Sheets. (2019). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/factsheets/disparities/

Echo-Hawk, W. (1996). Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Native American Rights Fund. https://narf.org/nill/documents/NARF_PRISONER_ISSUES.pdf

Nielsen, M. (2020). How Indigenous Justice Programs contribute to Indigenous community capacity-building and achieving human rights. In Nielsen M. & Jarratt-Snider K. (Eds.), Traditional, National, and International Law and Indigenous Communities (pp. 169-192). TUCSON: University of Arizona Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv10vkzsz.14

Action Memo

In terms of policy implementation, I propose the creation of a community organization fund to be created within the American federal budget. This budgetary allowance would start through a trial basis, starting with 500 community organizations throughout the country. This would allow the federal government to observe what needs are out there and how much of the budget needs to be put aside for this project in future years. This budget could come from a tax on the top 1% tax payers in America. I believe $1 billion would be a good starting amount, as we are serving several organizations and their initiatives.

This budget would be partially used for the forming of a coalition of federal workers and Indigneous community organizers, in order to determine the application to be used by Indigneous groups who would like to receive funding, what resources need to be used and where, as well as any other implementation questions. This would also help develop the relationships between US state officials and Indigneous communities. There would also be a regulation but in place that would make it so community groups would have to report back every month, on what they used the funding for, what needs were met, and what they plan to use it for in the future.

For the project of increasing social and health services, I propose a cut to military spending, which has been increasing exponentially over the years and serves to continue American imperialism and colonialism, domestically and internationally, which also hurts Indigenous communities. The current military spending is at $1.2542 trillion a year, (Hartung and Smithberger, 2019) an astronomical number that could be cut. I propose a 0.1% cut to this budget to be drawn to the Indian Health Service, and another 0.1% cut to be drawn to several of the social service offices that are often used by Indigneous people. This is 1.2542 billion for each program, for a total of 2 billion 5 hundred eight million four hundred thousand. This amount will be easy to justify, as it is just a miniscule amount of the military budget, but can do so much to help fund the social and health services. 

This extra funding would help these organizations expand the scope of their work, as well as the clientele they can serve. The final goal for this program would be an expansion of the program in order to transform it into a public option, allowing for all who need it to use it free of charge. 

In terms of implementation, I believe it is important to create a coalition of key actors within these governmental services, as well as Indigenous people, in order to understand where funding needs to be directed. As we know, certain illnesses have a higher rate in Indigenous communities, so I think the inclusion of medical professions from the communities is also essential to the well-running of these programs. I would also require bi-monthly report backs on what communities have been served, in order to have a comprehensive understanding of how the program impacts communities.

In both of these programs, there will be an extreme importance of accountability and transparency. Through the inclusion of coalitions and reports in my proposal, I intend to bring help to communities, while showing Americans why this is valuable to them, as the progress of one community helps us all.

Bibliography

William D. Hartung, M. (2019, May 07). America’s Defense Budget Is Bigger Than You Think. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/tom-dispatch-america-defense-budget-bigger-than-you-think/

Legislative History Post

The legislative history surrounding Indigenous rights and sovereignty has been a contentious one. The United States has signed treaties with Native nations since even before its creation, in 1774. These traditional-style treaties lasted until 1832, and established borders between tribal land and US land, as well as set conditions to the relationships between tribes and the US government (American Indian Treaties, 2016.) They viewed Native groups as sovereign nations, and were done through bilateral agreements (American Indian Tribes, 2016.) From 1832 to 1871, Native nations were considered to be domestic, dependent tribes, and the treaties made between them and the US government needed to be approved by the US Congress (American Indian Tribes, 2016.) A complete shift of policy came in 1871, when the US ended its nearly 100 year pattern of recognizing individual tribes as independent nations, as well as ending treaty-making between the US and tribal nations (American Indian Tribes, 2016). The current law recognizes Native tribes as domestic dependent nations, coming from a Supreme Court decision (Broken Treaties.)

The treaties made between the United States government and the over 500 native tribes in the geographical area of the United States have often been broken, in the interests of corporate development and big agricultural interests. Many of these treaties were signed by United States officials in bad faith, as they know they would break treaty rights if it was in their interests. Once the United States government realized that the Black Hills of North Dakota had large sums of gold, they broke the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which was signed in 1868 and ensured the Black Hills and its surrounding areas were recognized as Sioux land (Treaty of Fort Laramie, 1868.) In 1874, the United States signed an illegitimate agreement to purchase the Black Hills, which was a clear violation of an 1869 Sioux treaty that required the consent ¾ of the tribe’s men in order to pass an agreement (Broken Treaties.) 

Another significant legislative issue has been the issue of tribal sovereignty and recognition. Being recognized as belonging to a tribe gives you access to certain legal rights, such as being able to have access to the Indian Health Service. It also allows recognized nations to have certain legal rights and sovereignty that other non recognized parties don’t have access to (Sorenson, 2017, pg. 78.) The modern tribal recognition system has been set in order by three Supreme Court opinions in 1978. Oliphant v. Suquamish nation, a case dealing with the right of the Squamish nation to arrest non-Natives for crimes committed on tribal lands, held that the Squamish nation did not have the right to try non-natives (Sorenson, 2017, pg. 83.) This case set the standard that tribes do not have jurisdiction over non-Natives without the approval of the Congress, as this is “inconsistent with their status” (Sorenson, 2017. pg. 83.) United States v. Wheeler determined that someone could be tried twice, under the double jurisdiction rule, by the United States government and the relevant tribal legal system. (Sorenson, 2017, pg. 85.) This upheld tribal sovereignty. The last main 1978 case, Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, found that the Indian Civil Rights Act was able to be used in a civil case against tribes because of their gendered policies, and the Court ruled in favor of the tribe, developing the sovereignty concretized in Wheeler. These three cases have had a huge impact on how tribes are able to utilize their sovereignty today. 

Bibliography

American Indian Treaties. (2016). Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans/treaties

Broken Treaties. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://aapf.org/broken-treaties

Donna L. Akers. (2014). Decolonizing the Master Narrative: Treaties and Other American Myths. Wicazo Sa Review, 29(1), 58-76. doi:10.5749/wicazosareview.29.1.0058

Sorenson, L. (2017). Tribal Sovereignty and the recognition power. American Indian Law Review, 42(1), 69-140. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26492274

Treaty of Fort Laramie. (1868). Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=42

Fact Sheet Post

Indigenous Water Rights

  • The Colorado Water Basin covers 250,000 square miles, and has 7 basin states that depend on it as a water source (US Department of the Interior: Bureau of Reclamation, 2016.)
  • Indigenous people have been living in the Colorado Plateau for thousands of years (Native American Water Rights, 2019.)
  • Over 300 actions of Solidarity were done on November 15th, 2017 in support for the NoDAPL water protectors at Standing Rock (Nov 15 #NoDAPL Day of Action at Army Corps of Engineers.)
  • Potential oil spills from the Dakota Access Water Pipeline will impact the Oceti Sakowin people, local landscapes and animals, as well as potentially contaminate the Missouri River (More than 220 Scientists Say Dakota Access Pipeline Threatens Biodiversity and Clean Water.)

Access to clean drinking water is a necessary right for all human beings. Indigenous people have often had this right violated in the interest of corporate development. In the fight for their rights, Indigenous people and their allies have been met with brutal oppression by the American state.

The Supreme Court has made 2 important decisions surrounding this topic: Winters v. United States and Arizona v. California. Winters was a case between white ranchers and the United States federal government, representing the Fort Belknap Native Reservation (Summitt, pg. 153.) In this case, native people “obtained at least verbal rights to water no matter how long white landholders had been using it” (Summitt, pg. 153.) The Court decided that the Reservation has implied water rights on water on reservation land over secondary parties. Arizona focuses on water quantification and what water can be used for (Native American Water Rights, 2019.) This case set out two main concepts: Practically Irrigable Acreage (PIA) and Beneficial usage. PIA is a standard for how the quantity of water each tribe will receive, based on irrigation of crop land (Native American Water Rights, 2019.) Under Beneficial usage, amount quantified “is tied to the primary purpose of the reservation – which is often to “serve as a homeland,” and may sometimes explicitly address fishing or agriculture” (Native American Water Rights, 2019.)

In 2017, the Dakota Access Water Pipeline was expected to be built in the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. This land that the pipeline is built on is unceded Oceti Sakowin land, commonly known by the larger marker of Sioux. 5,000 people came together to protest the building of this pipeline, (Thuermer Jr, 2016) as it represented a threat to both native sovereignty and water/ land rights, camping in freezing temperatures and facing harsh police brutality (#NoDAPL Indigenous Land Defense & Strategic Solidarity: Pressuring Power And Capital, 2016.) Over 220 scientists signed a letter claiming that the construction of the pipeline would have a grave impact on the environment and those who depend on it. Katerine Crocker said that “in this case, we know that the DAPL is a danger, not only to the health of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members, but to the millions of other people downstream who rely on the Missouri River and its associated ecosystems for their drinking water, livelihoods, and leisure” (More than 220 Scientists Say Dakota Access Pipeline Threatens Biodiversity and Clean Water.) The DAPL pipeline was completed in 2017, and exemplifies the bi-partisan, corporate interests that end up hurting Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Bibliography

More than 220 Scientists Say Dakota Access Pipeline Threatens Biodiversity and Clean Water. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://conbio.org/publications/scb-news-blog/scientists-sign-letter-against-dakota-access-pipeline

Native American Water Rights. (2019, December 18). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://waterkeeper.org/news/native-american-water-rights/

#NoDAPL Indigenous Land Defense & Strategic Solidarity: Pressuring Power and Capital. (2017, September 01). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://itsgoingdown.org/nodapl-indigenous-land-defense-strategic-solidarity-pressuring-power-capital/

Nov 15 #NoDAPL Day of Action. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://actionnetwork.org/event_campaigns/nov-15-nodapl-day-of-action-at-army-corps-of-engineers

Summitt, A. (2013). Owning the River: Indian Water Rights and Settlements. In Contested Waters: An Environmental History of the Colorado River (pp. 149-176). Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgjp3.10

Thuermer Jr., A. (2016, December 15). Oceti Sakowin Camp. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.wyofile.com/oceti-sakowin-camp/

US Department of the Interior: Bureau of Reclamation. (2016). Basin Report: Colorado River. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.usbr.gov/climate/secure/docs/2016secure/factsheet/ColoradoRiverBasinFactSheet.pdf

Policy Brief

Disparities faced by Indigenous communities

  • 40% of Native women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes (Azar, 2011)
  •  Native Americans make up 0.5% of the American population, but represent 1.5% of the federal prison population (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 5)
  • Poverty rates in the American population are 13%, showing us the huge disparity between this number and the 31% in Native American communities and the even higher 50.7% rate in Native populations that live on reservations (Sandefur & Liebler, 1997, pg. 98.)
  • Native Americans have a life expectancy of 5.5 less years than the general American population, and are at risk for many diseases “including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases” (Indian Health Service, 2019.)
  • Native Americans make up approximately 1.5 percent of the total inmate population in federal prisons although they make up less than .5 percent of the total United States population. (Echo-Hawk, 1996, pg. 5)

A holistic solution that would help address some of the disparities listed above would be the development of social services that Indigneous people depend on. I recommend increasing funding for the Indian Health Service, passing a law setting aside permanent funding for general services, increased US governmental support for Indigenous community projects and organizations, and letting tribes define who is Indigenous.

Medical Services and Preemptive care

Being able to deal with the multiple health problems that Native people are at higher risk for requires for medical services to be readily available. Although not all Indigenous people receive services from the Indian Health Service, this organization’s targeted audience is Native people, and increasing its funding is important in making sure a larger percentage of Native people have access to healthcare. Mental healthcare is as importnat as physical healthcare, especially with the fact that Native people are more at risk for self harm and suicide. 

Pre-emptive care is essentially important, as it can ensure that future risks are not compounded. Within preemptive care, there needs to be access to food and clean water, especially healthy food. Native people, especially those who live on reservations, often live in areas where there is a food desert. A food desert is an area where access to fresh food, especially healthy food, is very limited, or extremely far, or expensive. This makes people reliant on fast foods that increase risk for health problems. I propose the US federal government surveys Indigenous areas where there are food deserts, and subsidize development of healthy food grocery stores, so people have access to food and water. 

Social Services

Other essential social services that will help increase Indigenous socio-political rights are food services, education services, financial services, job services, and other services that help poor people access essentials. Native people are disproportionately affected by poverty, and having access to these kinds of services are very important in addressing and eradicating poverty. These kinds of social services are often the first to be cut when budgets need to be readjusted, but this has a very debilitating effect on those who are dependent on them. These services can also help address several issues that Indigenous people face. The high rates of alcoholism and mental health problems seen in Native communities can be connected to the struggles poverty and lack of resources have on a community. These social services are often criminally defunded, and are not seen as important. A way to address these funding problems would be to set a permanent funding block for these essential services, so they cannot be decreased at the whim of certain politicians. This could be by way of a law stating that these departments and organizations need to be funded continuously at x%. 

Community Organizing

There are already many Indigenous organizations and projects that are established and helping out community members. In addressing Indigenous socio-political rights, it is important to have community-led projects have a strong leadership role. These community groups already have developed connections to the community members that need certain resources, and have structured methods in which they implement certain policies. The Peacemakers of the Navajo Nation provide peacemaking for family, civil, and criminal matters and draw on Navajo spiritual narratives in order to bring peace to community members (Nielsen, 2020, pg. 7.) This not only draws on cultural connections in order to resolve problems, but also keeps problems within the community. This can help mitigate the high incarcerations seen within Indigenous communities. This could be implemented policy-wise by a federal and state program that helps fund some existing programs to enable them to widen their research of work. This could also help increase and maintain Native sovereignty, as community members will have the power to enact their communities, drawing from inner-communal knowledge and experience. 

Indigeneity and Identity

Giving tribes the ability to define who is and is not a member of their nation is also an important part in addressing inequalities towards Native people. With blood quantum being a defining factor of how the US government defines indigeneity, it is increasingly difficult for tribal people to get the recognition from the state that they are truly Indigenous. For example, if someone who was raised on tribal land, with all of their cultural knowledge being from that tribe, but doesn’t have “enough blood” to qualify as Native, which can have a large impact on their access to certain social services. This could also happen to someones whose parents are from two different tribes. This is a long drawn continuation of the original genocides that Americans conducted against Native people; the end goal of this process is to eradicate indigenity from America. Indigenous people should not have to justify their existence to the United States government; this should be a process led and defined by tribal institutions. This would also allow for those Native people who previously were not defined as Indigenous to have access to essential social services.

These are all very important, relevant solutions to the state of reality that Indigenous people, of all types, face in America. We need to have a radical, but tenable approach to this well-rooted problem.

Bibliography

Azar, B. (2011). When tribal law conflicts with federal law. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e529422011-022

Disparities: Fact Sheets. (2019). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/factsheets/disparities/

Echo-Hawk, W. (1996). Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Native American Rights Fund. https://narf.org/nill/documents/NARF_PRISONER_ISSUES.pdf

Nielsen, M. (2020). How Indigenous Justice Programs contribute to Indigenous community capacity-building and achieving human rights. In Nielsen M. & Jarratt-Snider K. (Eds.), Traditional, National, and International Law and Indigenous Communities (pp. 169-192). TUCSON: University of Arizona Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv10vkzsz.14

Sandefur, G., & Liebler, C. (1996). Changing Numbers, Changing Needs: American Indian Demography and Public Health. National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/5355

White Paper Post- From a Student Activist Perspective

Native American communities have faced many struggles since the creation of the United States, whether it be through genocides, or cultural erasure through programs like the boarding schools. Many Native communities have turned towards building movements and organizations of their own, in order to reclaim their sovereignty and space within society. 

The American Indian Movement highlighted the struggles felt by Native communities in both the United States and Canada. The new struggles of urban Indians highlighted the poverty and police brutality faced by these communities (Waterman Wittstock and Salinas). The movement was formed in order to organize Native people against the oppression that they face by settler-colonial governments. The movement has a 20 point plan that they used as a directive force for their work. I will be focusing on 4 of these points, and analyzing how we can use these points in our current day activism.

Point 18 of the Plan calls for “Indian religious freedom and cultural integrity [to be] protected” (Trail Of Broken Treaties 20-point Position Paper 1972). Through colonization, Native religions and cultures were systematically destroyed and Native people were punished for practicing their traditions. In our current day, Native religions are often judged by Western standards, as seen with the example of  traditional medical practices. Ayahuasca, a psychedelic often used in certain Native practices, has been criminalized, as it is seen as a narcotic in American culture. 

A very important cultural factor for many Indigenous people is the length of their hair. Through the boarding school system and other government run programs, Native children were stripped from their cultural backgrounds, and a large part of this process was to cut their hair. This is a violation of their religious freedom and cultural integrity. The process of “killing the Indian to save the man” was focused on children, who were seen as more malleable. Christianity was seen as dominant, and boarding schools aimed to turn Native children into “good Christian citizens” (Montgomery and Colwell 2020). This gives us insight on how American (or Canadian) citizenship was predicated on a specific faith, and institutions like the boarding schools saw Christian education as intrinsically tied to ideas of citizenship. 

In looking at the intersection between the prison industrial complex and Native religious oppression, we can examine the unique position of Native prisoners. Native Americans make up 1.5% of American prisoners, while they are only 0.5 of the general population, so incarceration impacts their community intimately (Echo Hawk 1996, pg. 5). A study by the Native American Rights Fund found that Native American prisoners are often not fully granted their Free Exercise rights, as compared to other religious groups (Echo Hawk 1996, pg. 8). This is an example of how Native religions are not taken seriously, and are seen as more superficial than Abrahamic faiths. Native people should be able to practice their spiritual and cultural practices without any barriers from the United States government.

In Cole v. Flick, the courts ruled that cutting a Cherokee prisoner’s hair, in accordance with prison hair regulations, did not violate that prisoner’s First Amendment rights (Echo Hawk 1996, pg. 13). This is a violation of Free Exercise, as a secondary policy is able to override prisoner’s essential human rights. Native spirituality is just as important as other spiritualites, and court cases like Cole v. Flick serve to curtail Native free exercise rights. 

The 20th point of the American Indian Movement’s 20 Point plan calls for “Health, Housing, Employment, Economic Development, And Education”  (Trail Of Broken Treaties 20-point Position Paper 1972). Native people are disproportionately touched by these issues. These problems are all tied to our larger economic system, capitalism, which is defined by its separation of the means of production and the social context of the workforce. The class of the bourgeoisie holds the means of production, whereas the proletariat has to sell their labor in order to survive. This Western model was implemented in  the Americas, and differed from the traditional societies Native people lived under. Capitalism creates large inequality, as it prioritizes efficiency, and does not care about ensuring workers have access to health care, housing, employment, economic resources, or education, as long as they are able to work. 

The general poverty rate in the American population is 13%, showing us the huge disparity between this number and the 31% in Native American communities and the even higher 50.7% rate in Native populations that live on reservations (Sandefur & Liebler, 1997, pg. 98.) Poverty leaves communities vulnerable, and higher at risk for other problems. For example, it is known that poverty leads to feelings of destitution and despair, and Indigenous people are higher at risk for alcohol addiction. The Indian Health Services reported that Native people “die at higher rates than other Americans in many categories, including chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, intentional self-harm/suicide, and chronic lower respiratory diseases” (Disparities: Fact Sheets 2019). Native people also have a life expectancy of 5.5 less years than the general American population (Indian Health Service, 2019). These problems can be confronted by policy solutions. 

Addressing all of these problems faced by Native communities calls for a comprehensive set of solutions. The two main policy proposals that I propose are an increase in Indigneous social and health services funding and increased funding and wider jurisdiction for Indigneous community organizations. These policy proposals will help alleviate some of the problems that Native people face in America. 

The American Indian Movement called for an increase in funding to the Indian Community Reconstruction Office in 1972 (Trail Of Broken Treaties 20-point Position Paper). This call is still very relevant. They specified this funding increase would help increase available housing units, create new jobs on reservations, and make health and education essential rights (Trail Of Broken Treaties 20-point Position Paper 1972). This understanding of problems as rooted in economic resources is important, as it shows us priorities that the United States government and its allies might have. We have an extremely well funded military, but there is not enough funding for social services that Native people depend on. 

The Indian Health Service provides health care services for a larger amount of Indigenous people in America, and is heavily underfunded. Health service and social service funding is often seen as malleable when governments make their budgets, but cuts to these already underfunded key areas can have deadly effects. Many people depend on these services, and Native people . I propose a funding minimum written into the US constitution, so that these essential services cannot be cut. It is also important to increase funding to the Indian Health Service, as well as social programs like EBT and food stamps, so economic restraints do not lead to dire connections for Indigenous people. 

Number 19 of AIM’s 20 Point Plan calls for the “Establishment of national Indian voting with local options; [and to] free national Indian organizations from governmental controls” (Waterman Wittstock and Salinas). This was in 1970, and since then, we have seen the proliferation of Native activism and community organizations. Organizations like the Peacemakers of the Navajo Nation provide peacemaking for family, civil, and criminal matters and draw on Navajo spiritual narratives in order to bring peace to community members (Nielsen, 2020, pg. 7.) They are able to draw on cultural and communal knowledge and tradition in order to deal with the issue of high incarceration in Native communities. These groups already have these internal connections, but often do not have the resources or the jurisdiction to implement far reaching policies to help their communities.

Federal and local governments should implement a policy where they increase funding for Native community groups that already have been doing work in their communities. These programs would start with small groups of certain community groups, to see what says the government can help these organizations further their scope and reach of work. I propose the creation of a community organization fund to be created within the American federal budget. This budgetary allowance would start through a trial basis, starting with 500 community organizations throughout the country.This budget would be partially used for the forming of a coalition of federal workers and Indigneous community organizers, in order to determine the application to be used by Indigneous groups who would like to receive funding, what resources need to be used and where, as well as any other implementation questions. This will help increase community trust in their governments, and develop relationships with local community members.

Giving Native community members the ability to dictate how their communities are led increases their jurisdiction and sovereignty. If communities feel more comfortable dealing with crime through their spiritual practices, they should have the space to develop those methods. These community organizations also work on a host of different issues, which shows the importance of specialized work. They also often fill gaps in their communities that exist because of lack of funding. For example, the Native Americans for Community Action of Flagstaff Arizona has a team of lawyers that respond to the “lack of access to Indian health clinics and police treatment of Native Americans” (Nielson 2020, pg. 173). The work they do is directly based on the problems faced by their community. 

Sub Point A of Point 10 of AIM’s 20 Point Plan calls for the Indigenous “ Jurisdiction over Non-Indians Within Indian Reservations” (Trail Of Broken Treaties 20-point Position Paper 1972). 40% of Native women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes (Azar, 2011), and if those instances of domestic abuse are done by a non-native person, they will have immunity from their crimes. This is an unfair standard, and if someone commits a crime on Native land, they should be punished by Native law. This leads to a ‘Maze of Injustice,’  an unclear understanding of jurisdiction lines between tribal officials and federal authorities (Azar, 2011), which leaves those who are victimized feeling as though they will never receive proper justice, and those who commit crimes feeling as though they can get away with crimes on tribal lands. 

Oliphant v. Suquamish nation, a case dealing with the right of the Squamish nation to arrest non-Natives for crimes committed on tribal lands, held that the Squamish nation did not have the right to try non-natives (Sorenson, 2017, pg. 83.) This case set the standard that tribes do not have jurisdiction over non-Natives without the approval of the Congress, as this is “inconsistent with their status” (Sorenson, 2017. pg. 83.) This topic needs to be retried, as increasing Native sovereignty and jurisdiction in regards to criminal cases is important. Native people should have jurisdiction over issues that happen on their land, as they are sovereign nations. Addressing this through the legal system will help dismantle the Maze of Injustice, and ensure that Native communities are receiving proper justice. 

Having an understanding of the problems that are impacting oppressed communities is important to making action. As activists, we should develop the public knowledge surrounding Native rights, as we are often taught misinformation about these communities. Having regular educational events around the different points that I addressed would be important, as well as creating social media graphics to inform the public. We should also connect with the Native organizers that are already doing/ and have done important work, and highlight their work. Reading documents like the American Indian Movement’s 20 Point Plan is important in understanding the unique struggles of Indigenous communities. 

Putting pressure on our government is very important, especially in instances of continued oppression, like the case of Indigenous people in the United States. Indigenous people live in precarious situations, and policy has often dictated their living situations. In order to change these realities, we should listen to Native people and their movements, like the American Indian Movement. We also need to include these concerns at the center of our modern social movements. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but there are many organizations that have been doing good work in Native communities, and making sure they have funding and resources is essential for Indigenous socio-political work. 

Bibliography

Azar, B. (2011). When tribal law conflicts with federal law. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e529422011-022

Echo-Hawk, W. (1996). Study of Native American Prisoner Issues. Native American Rights Fund. https://narf.org/nill/documents/NARF_PRISONER_ISSUES.pdf

Disparities: Fact Sheets. (2019). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/factsheets/disparities/

Montgomery, L., & Colwell, C. (2020, March 5). Photo Essay: Native American Children’s Historic Forced Assimilation. SAPIENS. https://www.sapiens.org/culture/native-american-boarding-schools-photos/

Nielsen, M. (2020). How Indigenous Justice Programs contribute to Indigenous community capacity-building and achieving human rights. In Nielsen M. & Jarratt-Snider K. (Eds.), Traditional, National, and International Law and Indigenous Communities (pp. 169-192). TUCSON: University of Arizona Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv10vkzsz.14

Sandefur, G., & Liebler, C. (1996). Changing Numbers, Changing Needs: American Indian Demography and Public Health. National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/5355Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper – An Indian Manifesto. (2020). Aimovement.org. http://www.aimovement.org/ggc/trailofbrokentreaties.html

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