The Trump Administration and American Indian Policy: A Post-Mortem

Barack Obama’s presidency had been one of great consequence to the nation’s five and a half million Native Americans, and he left large shoes for the angry ogre with little hands to fill. Trump’s presidency, I wrote a couple of days after his inauguration, left me feeling depressed “because I am not sure what will happen next.” I said at the time that I was not optimistic, “and that I am not optimistic really bums me out, because there are a hell of a lot of problems out there that sane political leaders from our two major parties might be able to solve.”

Impeached twice, the considerable damage he has done limited by incompetence, laziness, and Covid 19, it is time to assess the consequences of the Trump Administration for Indigenous/Native American peoples.

After four demoralizing years, it appears that the Trump Administration will slink off into history as it began, with an assault on lands deemed sacred to Indigenous peoples. A couple of days ago, Apache Stronghold filed suit against the Trump Administration to stop the transfer of Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel, to a multinational mining operation. This transfer of lands sacred to the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache tribes, and many others, is being rushed through before the Trump Presidency comes to a close. The mine will create a crater two miles across and one thousand feet deep. And it is certainly not the only instance of the Trump Administration threatening lands sacred to Native American peoples. When Tohono O’Odham people peacefully protested last fall “the ongoing desecration of sacred and burial sites by the U. S. Customs and Border Protection’s construction of a border wall in their homelands,” federal agents attacked them with tear gas and violent removal.

None of this is surprising. One of Donald Trump’s first acts as President, after all, was to sign an executive order authorizing the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, cutting underneath burial grounds and lands sacred to the Oceti Sakowim at the Standing Rock Reservation . President Trump ignored the legitimate arguments raised in the stunning protest movement mounted by Water Protectors against DAPL, and did nothing to stop corporate thugs and state and local law enforcement officials from targeting them with extraordinary violence. (In all fairness, the Obama Administration did too little, too late, to stop DAPL, and Hillary Clinton was hardly an outspoken opponent).

Trump also showed at the outset of his administration that he had no interest in consultation with Native American communities as required under the entirely uncontroversial Executive Order 13175 issued by President Bill Clinton in early 2000. You can complain all you want, Trump suggested, because he was not listening.

Trump’s interest in Indian Affairs picked up when it intersected with the concerns of his corporate allies. But there was as well the President’s strange fetish for Andrew Jackson, in whom some of Trump’s most servile advisers suggested he might see parallels. Trump’s affection for Jackson is clear–a portrait of Jackson hung in his Oval Office and, in a tweet, he thanked #POTUS7 for his service to the country.

What service was that? The Battle of New Orleans? The slaughter of Creeks at Horseshoe Bend? Perhaps. Or was it Jackson’s distaste for the 1st Amendment in the form of his support for the congressional “Gag Rule,” or restricting abolitionist materials from the US Mail? Did Trump like Jackson’s desire to go medieval on the Nullifiers in South Carolina?

Native Americans Outraged Over Trump 'Pocahontas' Comments | Voice of  America - English

Maybe it was because Trump embraced the myth that Jackson was an outsider, the people’s candidate, a kindred spirit of sorts, even if based on a flawed historical analogy. Perhaps the ruinous Bank War inspired him, where Jackson’s personal spite and lack of knowledge about how banking worked led him to destroy the economy. Or Jackson’s brutal embrace of majority rule whatever the consequences?

The sheer number of biographies he has inspired is evidence enough that for many people Jackson is a compelling figure, but Trump took his Hickory Crush a couple of steps farther. On the Ides of March, 2017, Trump visited Jackson’s plantation and stood silently in salute at Jackson’s grave. That same day, a federal court in Hawaii struck down the president’s second attempt to ban Muslim immigrants from a handful of countries. Mike Huckabee, the dad joke-telling Wormtongue of GOP politics, said that like Jackson when confronted by a Court that challenged a fundamental assumption of his Indian policy, Trump should resist the judicial branch of the federal government. Huckabee became, in effect, the first person in the 21st century to see Jackson’s dismissal of the Court’s authority as admirable, and created the impression that this is a presidency run by men who have little knowledge of this nation’s past and less regard for the historic sufferings of its people of color. Trump embraced the image of a president inextricably tied to the suffering he caused Native Americans.

Obviously, President Obama’s decision to replace Andrew Jackson on the Twenty-Dollar Bill with Harriet Tubman could not be allowed to stand. One obvious reason was that for Trump, anything favored by Obama was automatically worth opposing. Second, Jackson was white, and Tubman black. Trump opposed Obama’s decision, and Jackson will stay on the bill until after Trump leaves office. A more astute politician, not to mention a more sensitive human being, might have acknowledged the costs of Jackson’s policies–policies that were popular at the time, and from which millions of non-Indian Americans continue to reap the benefits. A more historically aware President might have talked about the complexities of the past. But that was not Donald Trump’s style. He showed over this term that he was not a deep thinker. Shortly before visiting Jackson’s “Hermitage,” after all, Trump had congratulated the long-dead Frederick Douglass for the good work he is doing, Trump showed no signs that he has any interest in or knowledge of America’s troubled past. And that was especially the case when it comes to the victims of American history.

Indeed, in his annual Columbus Day proclamations, Trump went out of his way to ignore the suffering caused by the arrival of Europeans in America. Columbus was a hero to Trump, and any criticism was to the President the despicable ranting of elites who hated America. In his final proclamation this past October, Trump broadened his defense of Columbus to embrace all historical figures subjected to the “Cancel culture” of people who “hate America.” The President said that

These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions. Rather than learn from our history, this radical ideology and its adherents seek to revise it, deprive it of any splendor, and mark it as inherently sinister. They seek to squash any dissent from their orthodoxy. We must not give in to these tactics or consent to such a bleak view of our history.

Therefore, the President said, we will squash the activists. We will punish you if you suggest that our history is something other than goodness and light. And Donald Trump emphasized that he will save the western heritage from the scholarly barbarians at the gates. He mentioned that earlier in 2020, for example, he signed Executive Orders punishing acts of vandalism against monuments on federal property, calling for the creation of a “National Garden of American Heroes,” and establishing the “1776 Commission,” which, he wrote, “will encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and honor the founding.” What’s more, President Trump pointed out that in September of that year he signed an Executive Order intended “to root out the teaching of racially divisive concepts from the Federal workplace, many of which are grounded in the same type of revisionist history that is trying to erase Christopher Columbus from our national heritage.” Much was at stake, the President said. “Together, we must safeguard our history and stop this new wave of iconoclasm by standing against those who spread hate and division.” While states and municipalities around the country began taking steps to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day, the President said that “as long as I’m president,” the United States will never honor the heritage and contributions of Indigenous peoples.

Trump himself did all he could to stoke hatred and division through his treatment of one of his most articulate and powerful critics, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Warren played right into Trump’s hands by claiming to possess a small fraction of Native American DNA, but she was right to call out the President for his racism. Trump, undeterred, mockingly called Warren “Pocahontas.” So what? I put it this way in February of 2017, when the slur first arose:

For President Trump, it seems, Native American identity can be determined by a quick glance.  He looked for certain characteristics and did not see them in the Pequots, or in Senator Warren. Centuries of intermarriage, enslavement, and the complex, messy, and tangled history of native peoples mattered in his determination not a bit.  For him, native peoples were individuals with certain easily distinguished racial features, and not members of political entities that possessed an inherent but limited sovereignty that predated the creation of the United States.

            But here’s the thing. Too many Americans share Trump’s views about who Indians are and what they ought to be.  Too many Americans view Indians as part of the past.  Think about the most commonly held stereotypes about Native Americans:  What images enter your mind? Ask your friends what they think. Chances are a lot of those images come from the past.

            And when we speak of Native Americans as being part of the past, we are aiding in an ongoing colonial project which erases native peoples in the present.  And if they are viewed as part of the past, or inauthentic, it becomes easier to dismiss the legitimacy of Native Americans, as individuals and as members of semi-sovereign nations, as being out of time and place and, as a consequence, irrelevant.  It becomes easier to ignore the very real problems of inequality and injustice in Indian Country; it becomes permissible to cheer for a football team with a racist name; or to silently assent to a President’s decision to authorize a pipeline through lands that a Native American community deems sacred. It also makes it possible to call into question the sovereign right of native nations to develop their economies, protect their lands, and against immense odds preserve their cultures.   When the President casts Indians as part of the past, he makes it more difficult for many Americans to recognize the importance of native peoples’ calls for justice today.

The Pocahontas name-calling, in this sense, was inherently destructive, and not just to Senator Warren.


Trump did have some legislative accomplishments. In January of 2018, he signed into law the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017. The legislation granted federal recognition to six Virginia Indigenous nations: The Monacan, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Nansemond, Upper Mattaponi, and the Rappahannock. This bill had widespread bipartisan support and would have become law no matter who was president. This was a long time coming. He also signed Savana’s Act and the Not Invisible Act in October 2020. This legislation was designed to counter violence against Native American women. It followed from the formation in November of 2019 by Executive Order the “Operation Lady Justice Task Force.” Trump declared that May 5th is “Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Awareness Day.“ During Trump’s years in office, Americans finally began to follow this issue, memorialized with the Twitter hashtags “#MMIW” and “#MMIWG.”

Little came of the effort. At a listening session last June, the Trump Administration unsurprisingly demonstrated that its real commitment to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is shallow and so limited as to be effectively meaningless. As Native Americans who attended the session pointed out, the President’s approval of pipe lines and other projects brings large numbers of non-native “man camps” into areas close to Native American communities. Many observers have asserted that a relationship exists between such projects and reports of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. Indeed, Kristin Welch, a community organizer for Menikanaehkem, a Wisconsin group, asserted that cases of violence against Native American women are increased 70% by the presence of these man camps.

Task Force members repeatedly ignored these questions. When asked about the 1978 Oliphant decision, which held that non-Indians can not be held criminally liable for their actions on Indian land by tribal authorities, Task Force Member Marcia Good said that “Oliphant is currently beyond the scope of [Operation Lady Justice] at this time.” Indeed, the Trump Administration called for cuts in funding that have adversely affected policing on reservations, and limited the ability of tribal governments to combat domestic violence and substance abuse. He did nothing to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which permitted tribes a sliver of protection by allowing them to prosecute non-Indians for intimate partner violence committed on reservations.

Without restoring power to Native nations to allow them to prosecute the crimes non-Indians commit against Native American women on reservation land, the Trump Administration has removed from the table what all experts assert is a vital part of any solution to this heart-wrenching problem. President Trump, in other words, supports policies that threaten to exacerbate the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women while permitting no discussion of a critical part of the solution. The Trump Administration seemed interested only in the appearance of action, except when it chose to behave in a destructive manner.


Trump administration officials early in his term reawakened fears that he would bring back the long-discredited federal policy called “Termination” by working to privatize Indian land holding on reservations. He informed the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe that its reservation will be disestablished. Federally-protected lands would be removed from trust status. He stated his opposition to federal programs for Native Americans on the grounds that they were “race-based,” rather than a recognition of Native American tribal sovereignty. Trump disestablished the White House Council on Native American Affairs created by President Obama, and never held a White House Conference for Native American leaders, as his predecessor had done.

In the Courts, the news was mostly bad. Lower court justices delivered an ominous blow to the Indian Child Welfare Act. In Brackeen v. Zinke, a federal district court in Texas found the ICWA unconstitutional.  Texas Attorney General and staunch Trump loyalist Ken Paxton intervened in the case, and hoped that the Fifth Circuit would uphold the district court’s ruling. So far Paxton has been disappointed, but the case could eventually arrive at the Supreme Court, where the fortified conservative majority there may find Paxton’s arguments persuasive.  They have shown themselves, after all, ready to toss federal laws because the legislation discriminates on the basis of race when white people feel themselves to be the victims.

            Congress enacted the ICWA in 1978, an important piece of legislation designed to halt the traumatic removal of native children from their homes through fostering and adoption.  The problem was severe.  Dakota Sioux at Spirit Lake, about whom I write in Native America, asked the Association of American Indian Affairs to conduct an investigation, and the AAIA reported that of the 1100 Dakotas under the age of 21 who lived at Spirit Lake in 1968, 275 had been removed from their families.  In states with large Native American populations, the AAIA found that “child welfare” agencies had removed between 25 and 35 percent of children from their homes. Native peoples organized to halt this highly destructive practice, and the battle for the passage of the ICWA, according to its best historian, “represented one of the most fierce and successful battles for Indian self-determination of the 1970s.” The legislation committed the United States “to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture.”  Native American children, under the legislation, must be placed with family members, with members of their tribe, or with members of another native nation, before they are placed in the care of non-Native American foster parents.           

Paxton, and a growing number of conservatives, argue that the law has gone too far. “In practice, the ICWA compels states to disregard the ordinary approach of determining a child’s best interest and to treat Native American foster children differently based on nothing more than their race,” Paxton wrote. “The law gives Indian tribes a trump card to play in any state child-welfare proceeding, allowing them to dictate outcomes whenever a child is or even could be a member of a tribe.” For Paxton, it’s a states rights issue. “If no biological family members can be found, the law requires state courts and agencies to make a priority of adoption by other ethnically Native American families.”

Native American children, strictly because of their race, thus can be kept apart from foster families eager to adopt them. If federal law treated any other class of people this way, it would be roundly condemned, and rightly so. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 10,529 American Indian/Alaska Native children were in foster care in fiscal 2017.

Some claim that the ICWA relies on a political designation, rather than a racial one, because a tribe is a political entity. But no political or cultural link to a tribe must exist for the Indian Child Welfare Act to apply to a given child. Tribal eligibility — determined in virtually every case by genetic ancestry — is sufficient. The idea that the ICWA relies on a political designation rather than a racial one is further undermined by the fact that if no family from the child’s tribe volunteers to adopt, any Native American from any tribe, anywhere, takes automatic precedence over a non-Native American couple. This requirement relies on racist and reductionist assumptions about the supposed interchangeability of drastically different tribal cultures.

You would not know it from Paxton’s piece, but his opinions are those of a distinct minority. Twenty-one state attorneys-general, along with thirty child welfare organizations, 325 tribal governments and fifty-seven tribal organizations have expressed their support for the Indian Child Welfare Act. The law, they write, “was designed to reverse decades of cultural insensitivity and political bias that had resulted in one-third of all Indian children being forcibly removed by the government from their families, their tribes and their cultural heritage.” The law was a signal achievement, and it has done its job. The ICWA ensures the “stability and cohesion of Tribal families, Tribal communities and Tribal cultures,” in the face or organizations and entities that have sought their destruction.

Still, this is exactly the sort of case I fear the Supremes have been waiting for. Paxton’s arguments, though they rely more on the 10th Amendment to the Constitution than a strict construction of Article I’s “Indian Commerce” clause, dovetail nicely with the reasoning deployed by Justice Thomas, about which I have written here. And that is what makes this case so ominous for native peoples, who throughout much of their history have seen their children targeted in government efforts to extinguish their identities as members of native nations.


The solid conservative majority Trump placed on the Supreme Court will affect Native nations for decades to come. I fully expect in the coming months that court will blast tribal sovereignty in a case involving tribal police powers.

Early in 2016, tribal police officer James Saylor pulled up behind a pick-up truck parked along the side of a road on the Crow Reservation in Montana. It was 1:00AM, and Saylor stopped to see if anyone in the vehicle needed assistance. Inside the truck Saylor found Joshua James Cooley and his small child. Saylor could see that Cooley’s eyes were bloodshot and watery. He could see two weapons in the truck’s front seat. Saylor concluded that Cooley was non-Indian on the basis of his appearance but also that he could not be allowed to drive in his current condition. Saylor took Cooley into custody, placed him and his child in the backseat of his patrol car, and called in for the county sheriff to take the non-Indian suspect into custody. When Saylor went back to the truck to retrieve the keys, he saw in plain sight clear evidence of methamphetamine use and possession.

Cooley was indicted on federal drug charges, but the criminal court threw out all the evidence acquired through Officer Saylor’s search of the vehicle. The district court and the Ninth Circuit agreed that all evidence obtained by Officer Saylor when he entered the vehicle to get the keys was an illegal search and seizure and violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Now the case is on its way to the Supreme Court, where Cooley’s attorney has argued that “the authority of a tribal officer on a state highway that passed through a reservation is limited.” A tribal officer may “initiate a traffic stop, but when doing so,” his authority is limited “to determining whether the violator is native or non-native. If the violator is native, the officer may proceed with his investigation. If the violator is non-native, the tribal officer’s authority is limited to detaining the violator for delivery to state or federal authorities.”

Think about this. You are a Native American police officer, patrolling your reservation in the middle of the night. You see a vehicle pulled off to the side. Though the driver is cooperative, and opens the window, you see cause for alarm. He seems impaired, to begin with, and then there are the guns. And the one-year-old child. It is not hard to imagine that Saylor felt it necessary to investigate further.

Yet every court has agreed thus far with Cooley. United States v. Cooley will provide new justice Amy Coney Barrett her first chance to rule on a Native American case.

The United States argued in its petition for a writ of certiorari that the Ninth Circuit decision to throw out all the evidence obtained by Saylor is an “unprecedented, unwarranted, and unworkable curtailment of the sovereignty of Indian tribes,” that “precludes tribal officers from routine law-enforcement activities necessary to protect both the public and the public at large from dangerous and criminal activity within the boundaries of the tribe’s reservation.”

What do you think? Do you agree with the US Solicitor General, or with Mr. Cooley? Both sides agree that Indian tribes have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives, but is it possible to distinguish the ability to arrest and prosecute from the need to uphold public safety on already under-policed Indian reservations? The Court’s precedents show clearly that tribal law enforcement possesses the authority to detain suspects and hand them over to state or federal authorities, which Officer Saylor did. But what about the evidence uncovered in the interim before those state or federal authorities arrive? The exercise of police authority in this case, the United States argued, “does not subject non-Indians to tribal laws and regulations,” but, rather, “it simply facilitates the exercise of sovereign authority by state and federal governments which plainly do enjoy jurisdiction over non-Indians.” The evidence Officer Saylor uncovered helped United States authorities enforce the laws of the United States.

The United States argues that it is dangerous to permit a tribal officer “to ask only one question to determine whether a suspect is an Indian” and then require that officer to accept that answer. This would allow “serious criminals to escape law-enforcement through the expediency of a simple lie that officers will be powerless to expose through follow-up questioning or investigation.”

So there is a lot at stake in this case, much more than the fate of a suspected drug dealer who pulled his truck over along the side of a road late one night on the Crow Reservation. Think of the recent Violence Against Women Act, which gave to Native nations a limited right to arrest and prosecute non-natives for intimate partner violence committed in “Indian Country.” In an amicus brief written by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and joined in by all the Indian Nations whose lands lie in the Ninth Circuit, Sarah Deer pointed out under VAWA, “many tribes across the United States now detain, arrest, investigate, and prosecute anyone who committed certain domestic violence crimes arising in Indian Country–regardless of whether the perpetrator is Indian or not.” The Circuit Court’s ruling, if allowed to stand, “will merely encourage criminals to lie about their identity, as a simple statement that an individual is non-Indian, regardless of whether it is the truth, will now strip law enforcement of any authority to detain them for suspected illegal conduct.”

If, for example, a “Pascua Yaqui law officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver of a vehicle on the reservation is committing a crime of domestic violence, must the officer ascertain the citizenship of the suspect before effectuating a . . . stop, despite the fact that Congress has passed a law restoring that officer’s full authority to arrest non-Indians who commit domestic violence crimes on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation?”

Native American women face the highest rates of violence in the country, and the majority of those committing these crimes are non-Indian. Across the United States, many non-Indians live and own lands on Indian Reservations. With almost half of all Native American women experiencing intimate partner violence, and with Native American women more than two and a half times more likely than non-Native women to be victims of rape or sexual assault, the stakes in this case are enormous.

Gorsuch's Supreme Court LGBTQ opinion shakes conservatives - Los Angeles  Times
Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in McGirt

Earlier this year the Court issued what I considered a surprising decision in the McGirt case. McGirt involved treaty rights at congressional “plenary authority” over Indian affairs. Land which the State of Oklahoma thought was under its criminal jurisdiction was still legally “Indian Country” because no federal act had changed the status of the land. Cooley touches on what happens when white people living on or passing through Indian Country commit crimes. Originally, Indian tribes were thought to be able to do whatever they wanted, unless they were specifically prohibited from doing so by a treaty or an act of congress. In 1978, the Court modified that, ruling that tribes could do whatever they wanted, unless prohibited by treaty or act of congress, or if the practice in question was somehow inconsistent with their status as domestic dependent nations, like prosecuting non-Indians for crimes committed on reservations. The Supreme Court’s history toward Indian tribes can be understood in terms of the significant erosion of tribes’ ability to exercise sovereign authority. And these rulings, in terms of crimes uninvestigated, unprosecuted, and unpunished, have literally ruined the lives of too many Native peoples. The Cooley case could make it even more difficult for tribes to protect themselves from criminals who pass through their lands. I have no idea how the Court will rule, but I worry very much about its consequences.


The President’s mishandling of the COVID 19 pandemic–his denial of its seriousness; his refusal to encourage basic public health measures; his denigration of health experts who called upon him for action, his inattention and cruel incompetence–all intensified the suffering of millions of Americans who fell ill or who were left grieving, and nowhere was that more clear than in Native American communities. According to a CDC report released in December of last year, “American Indian and Alaskan Native people were nearly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to non-Hispanic whites.” The age-adjusted mortality rate for Native peoples was 1.8 times higher than it was for whites, a measure that translates “to 55.8 deaths per 100,000 compared to 30.3 deaths per 100,000 in AI/ANs and whites, respectively.

Why was this so? The CDC Report said that “Long-standing inequities in public funding; infrastructure; and access to healthcare, education, stable housing, healthy foods and insurance coverage have contributed to health disparities that put indigenous peoples at higher risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness.”

The Trump Administration excluded small businesses on Indian reservations from the first round of applications from the Paycheck Protection Program, the first effort to address the economic devastation that followed the outbreak of the pandemic. His administration, even during the Covid-19 outbreak, repeatedly threatened the Affordable Care Act, jeopardizing health care on Indian Reservations and initially excluded tribes from the CARES Act before Senate and House leaders secured ten billion dollars in funding.

It turns out that if you elect an insensitive fool as President of the United States, that president will do insensitive and foolish things. And that foolishness, buttressed by racism and spite, is nothing to laugh about. IT is lethal. The Trump Administration, because of COVID-19, and its own incompetence, corruption, and cruelty, has ruined peoples’ lives. If you have grieved in the past year, or fell ill yourself, or felt the economic pains this administration has refused to meaningfully address, of course you know that. For Native peoples, everything you have felt has been many times worse. The Trump Administration caused massive and unnecessary suffering during an already difficult period. It has coarsened racial discourse in a country with deep and obvious problems with structural racism and inequality. It has led by encouraging the fear and anger and hatred of white people who feel any gain by people of color is a loss for them. And it has acted consistently as if any legitimate grievance by Indigenous peoples is unworthy of attention. It has been a brutal four years, and those who have supported this president have done enormous damage to the fabric of this tattered republic.

Save Oak Flat from Destruction

The Trump Administration is going out like it came in, eager to help its corporate allies dig up every bit of wealth they can find on land sacred to Indigenous peoples.

I wanted to share this just-released news release.

TUCSON, Ariz.— Apache Stronghold, on behalf of traditional Apache religious and cultural leaders, sued the Trump administration today in U.S. District Court in Phoenix to stop the transfer of Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel, to British-Australian corporate mining giant Rio Tinto and its subsidiary, Resolution Copper.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s publication on January 15, 2021, of a final environmental impact statement that will trigger the transfer of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper.

The Forest Service is rushing publication to help Rio Tinto take possession of Oak Flat before the end of the Trump administration, despite opposition by Apache Stronghold, San Carlos Apache Tribe, White Mountain Apache Tribe and hundreds of other Native American tribes.

Today’s lawsuit against the U.S. government says the giveaway and destruction of Oak Flat violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Apaches’ constitutional rights to religious freedom, due process, and petition and remedy. The giveaway also constitutes a breach of trust and fiduciary duties.

“Oak Flat is holy and sacred. Chi’chil Bildagoteel is central to our traditional religion and identity as Apache people,” said former San Carlos Apache tribal chairman and Apache Stronghold leader Dr. Wendsler Nosie, Sr. “Giving away our sacred land by the U.S. Government for destruction by a foreign mining company destroys our ability to practice our religion. It violates our First Amendment right to the free exercise of our religion protected by the Constitution.”

In December 2014, after being thwarted for nearly a decade, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, along with U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), attached a legislative rider to the 2015 Defense Department funding bill giving away Oak Flat to Resolution Copper.

Oak Flat is located about 70 miles east of Phoenix on the Tonto National Forest on lands historically shared by multiple tribes including the Apache, the Yavapai, the Pee-Posh and the O’odham. Prior to the rider, Oak Flat has been protected from mining since 1955, when President Eisenhower protected the area for its cultural and environmental value. Rio Tinto admits that their Oak Flat mining will create a crater almost two miles across and more than 1,000 feet deep. Oak Flat will be destroyed.

“Mining corporations from other countries want to destroy our holy land, destroy our religious beliefs and destroy our religious freedom,” says Apache Stronghold member Naelyn Pike. “Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel, is a God-given gift that our creator has given to us for sacred purposes and it must be protected for that reason.”

In November 2013 current San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler told Congress, “…mining on the Oak Flat area will adversely impact the integrity of the area as a holy and religious place. There is no possible mitigation for destroying Apache cultural resources… There are no human actions or steps that could make this place whole again or restore it once lost.”

This summer Rio Tinto destroyed the Juukan Gorge sacred site in Australia. Last month Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson promised, “As a business, we are committed to learning from this event to ensure the destruction of heritage sites of such exceptional archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again.”

Despite Thompson’s promise, Rio Tinto seeks to repeat their Juukan Gorge travesty at Oak Flat.

“Oak Flat is sacred. Its where the Apache peoples’ religion began. Where the covenant between the divine and the human was established. It’s like Mount Sinai, where Christians and Jews believe Moses received a covenant,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in December. “[T]his government in no way should be taking these lands and giving them to this multi-national Resolution Copper just for greed and power.”

“As a Christian minister who is committed to the freedom of religion for all people, I am appealing to all people of faith and urging them to stand with Wendsler Nosie and the Apache Stronghold before it is too late,” Rev. Dr. John Mendez of Emmanuel Baptist Church said at a Repairers of the Breach gathering in November 2019.

More info at: Instagram: @protectoakflat Twitter: @ProtectOakFlat

I Want Off The Grid Of The Trajectory of American History

In the wake of the deadly attack on the Capitol building by a right-wing mob last week, I have found some of the rhetoric used by those who have condemned the attack as troubling as that used by those who provoked and encouraged it in the first place.

I was not surprised by what I witnessed last Wednesday. Many of our leaders, however, seemed absolutely shocked that a large group of violent imbeciles and cosplaying Punishers could assault this “beacon of liberty.”

Does anyone believe this anymore? While the Capitol dome certainly stands as a symbol of American power, that power has been deployed in the name of democracy far less often than many of our leaders seem to believe. The right-wing, racist violence we witnessed on Wednesday is as American as apple pie. Using violence to protect white power and white privilege is one of the things in which American lead the world, along side women’s basketball and incarcerating people of color.

The historian-turned-pundit Jill Lepore said in an interview on WBUR

On Point Presents: A Conversation with Jill Lepore
Time to Go Off The Grid.

that the events in Washington that left her feeling “speechless” were the sorts of things that occurred in other countries, not the United States. It was unfamiliar. “We are,” she said, “off the grid of the trajectory of American history.”

That is a mess of a sentence, but if it means what I think it means, I have to most adamantly disagree. No, Professor Lepore. What we saw on Wednesday was entirely consistent with American history. And from that trajectory and that grid, I swear to God I want off. That the United States is a nation committed to liberty and equality is the biggest lie in American history. Until we face that fact and address it in a meaningful way there is little hope for change.

This country was founded by treasure-seeking storm-troopers who carried with them across the Atlantic guns, avarice, steel and European religious bigotry. They enslaved and subjugated Indigenous peoples. The settlers who followed them came not for freedom but to extract a living from the soil. Whatever wealth they acquired was almost always built

Or Not: Ostriches Bury Their Heads in Sand
Americans Preparing for a Frank Discussion of Their History

upon the backs of millions of enslaved peoples who worked lands stripped away from their Indigenous occupiers at the point of a gun. There are many stories one might tell about Early America. Most of them are filled with exploitation, intolerance, violence, and greed.

It took a Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people to eradicate slavery, but in its aftermath Southerners and their conciliatory enablers rushed to reconstruct institutions that replicated the restrictions on African-Americans that stood before the war. Meanwhile, the armed forces of the United States continued to march against native peoples who refused to surrender their lives, liberties, and property to the United States.

Look around you. The United States, with less than five percent of the world’s population, is home to a quarter of its people who live their lives behind bars. When most Americans think about Indigenous peoples at all, they conjure images from the past. Few are willing to consider or are aware of the challenges these communities face today, and fewer still are willing to do anything to help.

On the same day that we learned that a stunning, multicultural coalition had elected the first Jew and the first African American to represent Georgia in the Senate, an armed white mob cried foul and stormed the United States Capitol, because they lost what all the evidence shows was a fair and free election. Those who stormed the capitol did not need to fear the inadequate police forces garrisoning the building. They knew, in their lizard brains, that law enforcement in this country too often and in too many ways acts to uphold white supremacy. They feared nothing. For that reason, among others, Wednesday’s violence was so depressing. Not because it was surprising or a new low, but because it was so familiar and so entirely predictable.

This Is Us

When I began my teaching career in Montana in 1994 I found myself often feeling homesick. I had left all of my graduate school friends behind in New York, and my family remained in California. I did not know anyone in Montana yet, and I could already tell that my department was a colossal dumpster fire. I was lonely. Sometimes, at night, I drove my car up on to the Rimrocks that loomed above the city of Billings. There I could tune in to KNX News Radio, a powerful AM station from Los Angeles. It came in pretty clearly. I could hear about what the Dodgers were up to, the frequent traffic reports, and the weather back home. Connections, you know? We find them where we can.

Montana seemed like a foreign country to me. No metropolitan area (if you can call Billings “metropolitan”) is as far from another metropolitan area as Billings. I felt isolated. The music, the food, and the people I cared about–it all seemed very far away.

So I threw myself into my teaching. I had a heavy load, including one section each of the early and recent US History surveys every single semester. I had a lot to do. I felt more tired than I did when I was preparing for my comprehensive exams. What’s more, there was the surprise of teaching a methodology course my first semester. Underprepared, I asked the students to write about a historical event that they remembered with particular vividness. I wanted to talk about matters of memory, and how we measure the historical “significance” of this or that event.

There was one student sitting in the front row. A bit older than his peers. Shocking, white supremacist tattoos appeared on his arms. This was the 90s. Tattoos were still relatively rare. And I had never seen someone with swastikas on their arms before in real life, sitting right in front of me. This student would, by the end of the semester, write a paper about Jacob Thorkelson, a one-term Congressman from Montana who was elected in 1938. Thorkelson was a rabid anti-Semite, and avowedly pro-Nazi. This student clearly looked up to Thorkelson.

All that was to come. In his first essay, this student described hearing of the death of the “Freedom Fighters” in Waco while sitting in a federal penitentiary in Minnesota. It was an effective opening. I’ll give him that. I was hooked. I wanted to read more.

What Happened to the Branch Davidians After Waco? - HISTORY

Waco, of course, was the site of the raid by federal authorities on the Branch Davidian compound commanded by a messianic and well-armed rapist and lunatic named David Koresh. Koresh and his followers set fire to the compound rather than surrender, and 76 of his followers died.

My student wrote this seven months before the Oklahoma City Bombing, and I was entirely unfamiliar with this sort heavily-armed, High Plains, Right-wing nuttiness. It was a fringe view even in Montana. But it did not take long to stumble across this frightened, angry, and racist rhetoric–on weak AM radio stations, especially, broadcast over the sparse landscape of Eastern Montana. I was surprised by the number of my students who believed some truly vile things. But it was the fringe.

Montana is beautiful. There are things about it that I miss. I would love to visit it again. I met some fascinating people. I never expected that the sort of conspiratorial insanity I heard on the High Plains of eastern Montana would move to the mainstream of the Republican Party under Donald Trump. And though this dim-witted tyrant and bully will soon lope off the national stage, I have no doubt that the sort of violent, racist, civic illiteracy that has fueled Trumpism is alive and well. Feed Trump a diet rich in fresh greens instead of Big Macs, and slap an Ivy League law degree on him and a larger vocabulary, and you get something looking and sounding a lot like Josh Hawley.

In the morning before the assault on the nation’s Capitol building, I taught my students about the Paxton Boys. It is a story that really pulls at me. A group of racist thugs, in defiance of authorities who had no interest in standing in their way, murdered peaceful Christian Indians. They killed small children with hatchets, and they mutilated the bodies afterwards. Later that day, while listening in on an AHA Panel featuring the great Tisa Wenger, I received a text from a friend telling me to drop what I was doing and turn on the TV. Another mob, this time determined to disfranchise millions of American peoples of color by throwing out their votes, while carrying symbols of white supremacy, stormed the Senate and house chambers. Two mobs, both racist and violent, both utterly and undeniably American.

We are not special. Our body politic is badly diseased. See how we are.

Something in the Soil

In January of 1846 Lewis Henry Morgan, soon to become the well-known ethnographer and a founding father of the field of anthropology, began a journey from his Rochester home south along the Genesee River. He visited friends along the way, collecting from them Indian “relicts” they had dug up to add to his already-considerable collection.

Morgan, White, and Boas | National Vanguard

In the Genesee Valley town of Lima (pronounced like the bean, and not the Peruvian capital), Morgan stayed with William Brown, who told him about the three skeletons he recently had found on his farm, buried in a sitting posture, facing each other as if seated at the three corners of a triangle.

This bothered Morgan, for he had been told just eleven months before by the Onondaga sachem Captain Frost that Iroquois peoples never buried their dead in a seated posture. A contemporary of Morgan’s described Captain Frost as a man “of noble character, fervid eloquence, and unimpeachable integrity.” There was no one “as well-versed as he in the genius and policy of the ancient government and the conducting of good councils and in the practice and celebration of Indian rites.” Forced to choose between believing Captain Frost or William Brown, however, Morgan concluded that in this instance the Onondaga sachem must have been mistaken.

Morgan’s short travel account is fascinating. It shows us a man, interested in Indian “antiquities,” scooping up arrowheads, spear points, mortars, pipes, and human remains nearly everywhere he went in the aboriginal homeland of the Senecas. One could not disturb the soil, it seemed, without finding evidence that should have led to one obvious conclusion: that the part of New York where I live and work, the Genesee Valley, developed and grew into the Empire State only because of a systematic program of Haudenosaunee dispossession. White New Yorkers could not move a stone without uncovering reminders of the people from whom their own ancestors had taken the land.

IF YOU LIKE HORROR MOVIES, you are probably familiar with the old trope of the “Indian Burial Ground.” White people move into an area, treat the land and the human remains buried beneath it with disrespect, and bad things start to happen. In the movies there are frightening consequences. In real life, white Americans have built their towns, cities, and states on Indigenous homelands with nary a thought. They are interested in the Native American past only to the point where that history begins to cost them something. Americans have prospered precisely because they dispossessed Indigenous Americans. We think little of the soil beneath our feet. The sins we forget and the sins we ignore will never be forgiven.

I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THE BURDENS AND OBLIGATIONS of the past quite a bit during this horrifying year. For all sorts of bad reasons, it has been a “historic” year, of course. Developments in my own work, however, have forced me to think more than I have previously about how the past can impose upon us a responsibility to set things right. Early in this pandemic season I became aware of a planned solar development for the site of Canawaugus, the Seneca town where important leaders like Red Jacket, Cornplanter, and Handsome Lake were born. Canawaugus avoided destruction by the Continental soldiers George Washington sent on a scorched earth campaign against the Iroquois in 1779, and it remained in Seneca hands as a reservation after the disastrous Big Tree treaty of 1797. White farmers worked the lands surrounding Canawaugus. Nearby towns, like Avon, grew up along the Genesee. Canawaugus slipped from the Senecas’ hands finally in 1826 in a corrupt bargain that violated the laws of the United States and that never received the required Senate ratification.

Then came this past summer the Supreme Court’s surprising decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma. There is a lot going on in the Court’s decision. The key point, included in Justice Neal Gorsuch’s majority opinion, is that reservations remain Indian land until Congress acts explicitly to declare that they are not. The passage of time could not eliminate a reservation, nor could illegal seizures of reservation land. This seemed to offer a means to challenge the 1826 transaction that took from the Senecas Canawaugus, their other lands scattered about the Genesee Valley, and big chunks of their reservations at Tonawanda, Buffalo Creek, Allegany, and Cattaraugus. The McGirt decision could lead one to believe that that vast amounts of land in western New York remain Seneca reservation land.

When the legitimacy of the title to lands that non-Indigenous New Yorkers claim is called into question, what must non-native people do? When history shows that what white New Yorkers have gained has come at the considerable expense of the Senecas and their longhouse kin, and when it is obvious that white Americans did not bother to follow the rules they established to facilitate that dispossession and grant to it a veneer of legitimacy, is there an obligation to set things right? Morally? Ethically? Historically?

Maybe you are familiar with Ibram Kendi’s recent book, How To Be An Antiracist. Kendi points out that to claim that you are not a racist, that you “don’t have a racist bone in your body,” is simply not enough. Racism is structural and systemic. Defeating it requires action, engagement, and commitment. If you lament racism, but do nothing, you help the racists. Kendi’s book speaks clearly and undeniably to those who recoiled from the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in cities and towns across the country earlier this year as too disruptive. It addressed realities made plain after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But it speaks as well to the legacy of dispossession. You cannot claim your hands are clean when you live on stolen land.

My college has committed itself to becoming an antiracist institution. Discussions have begun on how to make that happen. The campus community has focused thus far on Black Lives Matter and police brutality. These are current events and our focus here is understandable, especially after the police killing of Daniel Prude in March in nearby Rochester. I am glad we are doing this. But what about the Senecas, and the peoples of the Longhouse generally? What are we called upon to do to set matters right?

I teach at a college, after all, that stands on Native American land, the site of the largest Indigenous town in all of what ultimately became New York State. The college itself is located in a town founded by a man heavily invested in the notorious Ogden Land Company, for whom no practice was too foul to effect the goal of acquiring the Seneca reservations that remained after Big Tree. The illegal transaction of 1826 was the handiwork of the Ogden Company, as was the disgraceful Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1838, arguably the most crooked treaty in the history of the United States. The town of Geneseo, meanwhile, is the seat of Livingston County, named after the patriot leader who signed the Declaration of Independence. Follow the Livingston family tree up its branches and down to its roots and you will find Iroquois dispossession. My point here is clear. Our college could not exist were it not for Iroquois dispossession. If we truly want to commit ourselves to anti-racism, what are we going to do in the face of that extraordinarily well-documented history?

I am skeptical that we are ready and willing to carry the burden of anti-racism when it comes to Indigenous peoples. We fly a Haudenosaunee flag in the Student Union in a hallway where the flags of all our foreign students fly. I pushed for this for two years, and was pleased when the flag finally went up. Most Haudenosaunee people see themselves as members of polities apart and separate from the United States, and they deserved a place here, I felt . Still, as time has passed it increasingly bothers me as an

Department of Student Life | SUNY Geneseo
I know. I don’t see it either.

entirely inadequate gesture, for Haudenosaunee peoples are hardly “foreign” to New York State. They were here from the very beginning. The Haudenosaunee flag also stands on the stage during commencement and at other campus events. The campus community voted to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day, but we’ve done it so very quietly it’s as if we do not want anyone to notice. We do a territorial acknowledgment, but we do so in rooms where almost no native peoples are present.

I have raised these issues in the past. I get sympathetic nods. People tell me they are thankful that I raised these important issues. Little action has taken place.

So what do we do? We could fly the Haudenosaunee flag on the college flagpole, at the college’s main entrance, announcing publicly that we recognize our college stands on Indigenous soil. Improvement in curricula of K-12 social studies is badly needed. We could push for these essential reforms. We could do more to make sure our own students learn about the Indigenous history of the region in which they live. These gestures would cost us little. We could build this into the campus orientation. We could do more to remind students of the events that happened around them, and how it is that we came to name buildings on our campus after Red Jacket and Mary Jemison, and the Wadsworth family as well. Maybe it is time to consider renaming Wadsworth Auditorium.

We need to do more. We could make tuition, room and board free for Haudenosaunee students. We could do that for the cost of some of the SUNY system’s Division I sports programs. To the folks who say Division I sports is a primary vehicle for recruiting students of color to SUNY, I say that our problems then are deeper than you think, our commitment to diversity and equity more ineffective than even I had supposed. We could hire faculty from Haudenosaunee communities. We are in the midst of a terrible economic crisis–on our campus and in terms of our state funding–but if it is important we could make it happen. At the end of the day it is a choice.

We are not alone in wrestling with these questions of enormous consequence. Numerous stories about the complicated connection between Indigenous dispossession across North America and the creation of the nation’s land-grant universities have provoked important and painful discussions. My friend Jon Parmenter at Cornell is doing important research on the Morrill Act and his university’s connection to nineteenth-century dispossession. On some campuses, like Cornell, the awareness of this past has led to concrete steps to set things right.

SUNY and the State of New York should join in these discussions. The state and the university system owns a lot of land. Perhaps we the people could take steps to return some of that land to those from whom it was taken. We should, at least, invite the members of Haudenosaunee communities to come to our campus, to engage in a dialogue, where we listen and learn from them what in their view it will take to set things right.

Slow Learner

Or unmotivated, or an under-achiever, or “not interested in school.” I was all those things. I am pretty certain I did not know what the SAT was until I became a college professor and that I did not understand its gate-keeping and corporate-enriching function until I became the parent of a high school student. I certainly never took it. I did not even realize until later that I barely graduated from high school. Some of my family insisted I go to my high school graduation because they expected it would be my last.

I showed them.


You can call me Doctor.

And here’s the thing: I was precisely the sort of student who Dr. Jill Biden would have helped. People like Dr. Jill Biden motivated me to make my way through school, to find my calling, to succeed. And I needed that. I needed it when at Ventura College. At Cal State. Even at Syracuse, where I earned my Ph. D. It was not a solo effort. I needed a lot of help.

Because it turns out that when you do not do well in high school, don’t take the SAT, and don’t build relationships with the people who might write for you letters of recommendation, lots of doors close. You will have to work harder than your peers who were either more privileged or more adept at making important life decisions while teenagers. And sometimes you can with remarkable ease dig yourself a hole from which it is very difficult to escape.

One door that remained open for me was the junior college less than a mile from my folks’ house. I am pretty sure the school took anyone who applied, and I could walk there. It was cheaper than the four year college. I could have learned a trade there, had I wished. I could knock off some of the required courses needed should I choose to transfer to the Cal State system. Most importantly, I could learn what it meant to be student, to take learning seriously, and how to succeed. That did not happen by itself. It was because of the people I encountered at that school

I can name more of the teachers from whom I took courses at Ventura College than I can for my undergraduate years at Cal State Long Beach, where I ultimately transferred. I can remember more distinct moments in the classroom from VC than I can from CSULB. None of the teachers I had at the junior college had Ph.D. degrees. None of them had the Ed.D degree that so many of Dr. Biden’s creepy and sexist critics have maligned. As far as I can tell, they all had Master’s degrees and none of them every wrote a book or published any path-breaking research. And while I was there as a student? I can guarantee you that I never thought for one second, “I wonder what degree my teacher has and from where they got it.” Never dawned on me at that time that this was something that mattered.

Those teachers, by helping me learn how to think, and teaching me that learning was, among many things a discipline, changed my life.

In my reasonably affluent neighborhood, I see so many cars with college stickers on the back window. Parents take pride in their kids attending Yale, Duke, Northwestern, or Cornell. I often see stickers for my own college, which for years has been thought of as something akin to the poor man’s Swarthmore. I do not see stickers for the “less prestigious'” universities and for community colleges. That is unfortunate.

One quick glance at the leadership of the Republican Party, for instance, will teach you that legions of idiots and jackasses have flourished in and graduated from Ivy League colleges. While some will tell you that the United States has the best system of higher education in the world, it would be foolish to deny that it is expensive, elitist, and frequently out of reach for too many people. The cost of college continues to sky rocket. Even at the public schools I attended as an undergraduate and beginning graduate student, dwindling state support for higher education has caused the cost of attendance to soar.

My first teaching job was at Montana State University-Billings. When I was there in the mid-1990s, the average age of the students was slightly above 27 years. I was teaching my peers. The school served many “non-traditional” students who in Montana and many parts of the country are hardly non-traditional at all. My students commuted from the Crow Reservation, or they were coming back to school after raising a family or a divorce or after a business failure or an at-work injury. Some had done their time in the armed forces and were looking for what came next. Some had careened from one misfortune to another but finally seemed ready to make a move. Some had not cared about school but now, finally, had decided to go. I miss teaching older students.

Many of these students, according to the logic upon which we still too often rely, were not “well-prepared” for college. They had “deficiencies” that needed “remediation” and sometimes support services. Many of these students flunked courses, or they came for a semester before taking the next semester off. Almost none of them graduated in four years. I am embarrassed to say that, starting out, fresh out of Syracuse, I sometimes lamented that these students did not seem to have any background knowledge. I was wrong to think that way. You see in higher education we too often blame the victims: we are college professors, after all, and we have no obligation to teach those who cannot be taught. If the student, for whatever reason, does not have the skills to succeed in college, they are out of luck. Some college students just are not good enough and they will flunk out. It is almost seen as inevitable. My wife and her friends, inner-city elementary school teachers all, laugh at what they see as our snobbishness. If only we had the option of choosing our students, they say, and viewing the difficult ones as unfortunate and expendable. They have to teach everyone who walks or crawls in the door.

What, like, it's hard?” | Legally Blonde (2001) – FictionMachine
The guy on the right writes for THE NATIONAL REVIEW

The attacks on Dr. Biden are so distasteful. They are sexist and elitist, of course. They are the sort of thing the dude who Elle dumped in “Legally Blonde” would say. But more than that, in their sneering contempt for public higher education and, most of all, community colleges, they cast the teachers who teach there and the students who study there as unworthy, as people whose educations count for less than theirs. No empathy. No sense that different people follow different paths, and that not everyone has it so easy. If only they could spend some time on these campuses. If they were honest they would see that the work of thousands of educators like Dr. Biden is so much more valuable and important than their stupid, key-jangling opinion pieces.

Blue Lake

Fifty years ago today President Richard M. Nixon returned the sacred Blue Lake to the people of Taos Pueblo. It was a significant act by a deeply flawed and criminal president that represented significant change in the conduct of the nation’s Indian policy.

Nixon joined a growing list of American leaders who opposed the post-World War II set of Indian policies known as “termination.”

Termination consisted of several parts, all directed towards ending the formal relationship between the United States and Indigenous nations. Immediately after the war, Congress established the Indian Claims Commission, a tribunal before which native peoples could bring their claims against the United States. With damages paid and remaining obligations quieted, the United State could say, “we are done. We have paid you. Get lost.” There was the relocation program, designed to encourage native peoples to leave their reservation homes for America’s urban centers where, presumably, they would assimilate into the American working class. And finally the Termination Acts themselves: specific pieces of legislation that formally terminated the relationship between a specific Native American tribe or group of tribes and the United States. The United States would interact with Indians thereafter as individuals, not members of Indigenous Nations. As the policy’s strongest proponent, Senator Arthur Watkins, wrote in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, “Firm and constant consideration for those of Indian ancestry should lead us all to work diligently and carefully for the full realization of their national citizenship with all other Americans.” The abolition and erasure of Native American nationhood Watkins likened to the Emancipation Proclamation, a perverse misreading of reality.

Most historians would consider as part of termination the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Project. Dams built on the Missouri and its tributaries harnessed the hydroelectric power of the American West, but flooded millions of acres of Native American land.

Echoes of Oak Flat: 4 Pick Sloan Dams That Submerged Native Lands
George Gillette of the Fort Berthold Indian Tribal Council reacts to to the deal flooding tribal lands

Ensuring that the American economy had the juice it needed to keep humming along at a high enough rate to ensure full employment and avoid a slide back into depression came at Indians’ expense. And the Indian Adoption Project, a horrifying initiative described by the historian Margaret Jacobs, encouraged the adoption of Native American children by white families.

Native peoples opposed termination. That opposition, described in Native America, led President Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton to declare in 1958 that “no Indian tribe or group should end its relationship with the Federal Government unless such tribe or group has clearly demonstrated–first, that it understands the plan under which such a program would go forward; and second, that the tribe or group affected concurs in and supports the plan proposed.”

That slowed termination, but did not stop it. The policies remained on the books. Then, in March of 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson proposed “a new goal for our Indian programs . . . that ends the old debate about ‘termination’ . . . and stresses ‘self-determination; a goal that erases old attitudes of paternalism and promotes partnership self-help.”

Johnson became the lamest of lame ducks three weeks later when he announced he would not seek reelection. The turmoil of 1968, and the disaster of the Vietnam War, kept Johnson from acting to effect his goals. Richard Nixon, who won the election in 1968, largely followed in Johnson’s footsteps. He appointed the Mohawk Louis Bruce to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold that office since the Tonawanda Seneca Ely Parker had one so briefly a century before.

In May of 1970, Nixon delivered a special message to Congress on Indian Affairs. “The first Americans,” he said, “are the most deprived and most isolated minority group in our Nation.” This was the

heritage of centuries of injustice. from the time of their first contact with European settlers, the American Indians have been oppressed and brutalized, deprived of their ancestral lands and denied the opportunity to control their own destiny.

He continued:

But the story of the Indian in America is something more than the record of the white man’s frequent aggression, broken agreements, intermittent remorse and prolonged failure. It is a record also of endurance, of survival, of adaptation and creativity in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It is a record of enormous contributions to this country–to its art and culture, to its strength and spirit, to its sense of history and its sense of purpose.

The policy of termination was wrong, Nixon said. The government had treaty obligations it could not ignore. “Our government,” he continued, “has made significant commitments to the Indian people.” Native peoples, “for their part…have often surrendered claims to vast tracts of land and have accepted life on government reservations.”

Anyone who has studied Nixon in any detail notices the complexity of his character. It is unlikely that he embarked upon this significant policy shift out of the goodness of his heart. He faced a growing “Red Power” movement. Native peoples occupied Alcatraz Island, in one of the most dramatic protests of the era, while Nixon delivered his message to Congress. While his FBI investigated, infiltrated, and disrupted groups like American Indian Movement, resulting in death and ruined lives, the pressure did force him to move to accept that degree of self-determination that would “create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.”

Taos Pueblo, Airport Agreement | Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

By the time Nixon made this statement, the return of Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo had moved to the top of his agenda for American Indian affairs. A sacred site and the center of Taos religious life, Blue Lake became part of the Carson National Forest in 1906. The Forest Service opened the area to the American public soon after but also to timber interests. As early as 1350 AD, Pueblos from Taos had farmed lands watered by rivers flowing from Blue Lake. They depended upon Blue Lake, and did not feel that this precious resource could be shared. Taos Pueblo brought a suit before the Indian Claims Commission. New Mexico’s congressional delegation and representatives of the United States Forest Service challenged Taos Pueblo every step of the way.

            In September of 1965 the Indian Claims Commission found that the United States had taken Blue Lake and the surrounding lands without just compensation. The Commissioners ordered that researchers determine the value of the lands Taos Pueblo had lost. The ruling pleased the Pueblos, but they did not want monetary damages. They sought the return of the land. Editorials appeared in newspapers around the United States supporting Taos Pueblo, and New Mexico Senator Clinton Anderson reluctantly introduced legislation in 1966 to arrange for the return of Blue Lake.

Taos Pueblo to honor Nixon for return of sacred lands | |

          Other native nations sought the return of their lands. Some won their cases before the Indian Claims Commission and, like Taos Pueblo,  refused to accept the monetary award because they wanted the land. Acceptance of the award would, under the law establishing the Indian Claims Commission, have quieted all their claims. Unlike other native peoples who continue to see their sacred sites destroyed and despoiled however, Taos Pueblo succeeded. The Taos and their numerous supporters argued on religious and moral grounds; the significance of the lands they had lost lay in their religious and spiritual importance. Their leaders pursued a vigorous campaign to inform the public about the importance of Blue Lake in their religious life and made their struggle a symbol of the historic mistreatment of native peoples.

In this sense, President Nixon was only too happy to sign the legislation returning Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo when it finally reached his desk late in 1970. It cost him nothing to do so. The president said at the signing ceremony that “this is a bill that represents justice, because in 1906 an injustice was done in which land involved in this bill, 48,000 acres, was taken from the Indians involved.” Nixon argued that by signing the legislation, his administration had broken with a troubling past. The United States, he said, had embarked “in a new direction in which we will have the cooperation of both Democrats and Republicans, one in which there will be more of an attitude of cooperation than paternalism, one of self-determination rather than termination, one of mutual respect.” The bill returned Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo, a significant act by the man who presided over a government that had done so much historically to dispossess native peoples.

I ask my students to read Nixon’s statement on Blue Lake. Look at the words on the page. They know that Nixon was a bad president, and they know that he was forced to resign in disgrace, facing certain impeachment and conviction if he remained in office. But look at the words, I tell them. We get to Nixon at the end of the semester, sometimes close to the anniversary of the signing ceremony. Have you, I ask them, over the course of this long semester, seen another American president say anything like this? Nixon’s presidency, in this respect, represented a significant break from the past.

Between 1970 and 1980 the percentage of Native American Bureau of Indian Affairs employees increased from 53% to 78% of the agency’s work force. The Supreme Court, in the 1974 Morton v. Mancari decision, upheld the constitutionality of the preferential hiring of native peoples in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Nixon, meanwhile, signed legislation establishing an Office of Indian Education, job training programs for native peoples, and rules that guaranteed “freedom of religion and culture” for Native American students in schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Indian Financing Act of 1974 provided “capital on a reimbursable basis to help develop and utilize Indian resources” so that native peoples “will enjoy a standard of living from their own productive efforts comparable to that enjoyed by non-Indians in neighboring communities.” Presidents Ford and Carter signed legislation that followed in this vein, making the decade that followed the return of Blue Lake a significant period in the history of American Indian policy.

I was a kid during Watergate. I vaguely remember my folks watching some of the hearings during one of our family vacations, I think. Despising Nixon is something that comes easily and naturally to people who grew up like me. But sometimes badly flawed politicians do good things. Sometimes they do those good things for cynical or opportunistic reasons. Sometimes a jacked-up legislative body will enact laws that improve the quality of life or deliver justice to a community that has suffered injustice for far too long. So often, as a historian, cynicism is warranted. Maybe we shouldn’t let that keep us from seeing changes, however small, that are for the good. While the current administration blasts, drills, digs, auctions off, and despoils sites sacred to Indigenous peoples, even in its final days, Nixon deserves some credit for breaking with the men who led his party a decade before his election, and turning his back on policies aimed at the complete destruction and erasure of Indigenous peoples.

Maybe, Just Maybe

I am hearing it again and it really bothers me. It is the end of the semester. I am tired, and so are my students. Yet I listen too often to laments from faculty members talking about how the quality of our students has declined. They are not doing the reading. They have no work ethic. They are just not prepared for college work. And they could not write their way out of a paper bag.

But maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the global pandemic we are struggling through. I have been hearing the same laments from the same instructors for a long time, so it has to be more than that. Maybe, just maybe, as students worry about the dicked-up world our generation has bequeathed to them, we have failed to inspire them to do the work. Maybe they do not do the work because they really cannot get to it right now. Maybe they can’t get to that work because you and I have failed to convince them that this work is important and that it matters more than all the other stuff they are dealing with. Maybe, just maybe, they do not care about the work because, frankly, we have not given them reason to care about what we do and why we think it is important.

Maybe, just maybe, some of us college professors ought to look at what high school and elementary school teachers go through. Their students, they say, are often not prepared for classwork. They have lots of things going on in their young lives that cause them to view school as less important than other things on their list of concerns. And you know what? Those teachers still have to teach. Their jobs depend on it. They do not get to blame the students. They have to meet certain standards, whatever we might think about those standards, or they can face penalties. The good teachers find ways to inspire their students to work and to learn.

When I look at my Zoom screen, I see a small number of black boxes. Because the students are at home, I do not feel comfortable asking them to turn on their cameras if they do not want to–I have no idea what might be going on in their homes, and if they feel a need for privacy, I feel bound to respect it. I wish their cameras were on, but I am not willing to make an issue out of this. Some of my students, I know, are not doing all the reading. I tell them to do their best. I firmly believe that if they are interested, at some point they will come back to this subject if they miss it now. I suspect that one of the reasons why their journals (300 words a week) are coming in late is because some of them, rather than writing each week, waited until the last possible second to do the work. I know that two of my students have buried a parent, and that a half dozen or so have either been sick themselves or in quarantine for Covid exposure. I do not blame the students for any of this. If the students in your classes are not reading, if they are not participating in your class discussions as much as you would like, if they seem uninterested, it might be more productive to look in the mirror before you start beating down students.

Maybe, just maybe, you will have to adjust your standards, or make fundamental changes to the way you teach. I think here of people like Kevin Gannon, Cate Denial, and Thomas LeCaque, who have helped to inspire me to rethink how I approach my classes. If the students truly “are not as strong as they used to be,” then you may need to change your approach. You may have to reconsider how you teach. I firmly believe this, and it is a hill I will die on: if our students are failing to learn what we are trying to teach them, then you and I are failing as teachers. And if this is something you would rather whine about than fix, perhaps you can find something else to do with your life. Maybe, just maybe.

As this semester approaches its end, I can admit to my students that I am exhausted. We are approaching Christmas, with all the busy-ness that entails. I had Covid in early November and, three weeks after being cleared by the County Health Department, I still do not feel like I have fully recovered. My tank is nearly empty. But I have no papers to write, no final exams to study for, no all-nighters that I need to pull. All that is left for me this semester as a (virtual) classroom teacher is to read what my beleaguered, stressed-out, sometimes careless and sloppy, but always interesting students have to say. And I feel fortunate to be here for that. Maybe, just maybe, we can make a resolution for the New Year: No more bitching and moaning about students.

Stay safe out there.

Indigenous Law and Public Policy

Because I do not know what will happen between now and the beginning of next semester, I decided to get a jump on my syllabi for the Spring semester. This is the first time I will teach Indigenous Law and Public Policy as a synchronous online course, and it is the first time I will offer it as a 4, rather than three, credit course. The extra time that gives me each class meeting deprives me of any excuse not to do more to internationalize the course, to expose my students to Indigenous communities in other parts of the world. I have been reading about Australia and Canada, and hope to add more new material in the future. Teaching requires reading, and reading leads to learning, and learning leads to continuously revised syllabi. It is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of the job.

What follows is the syllabus for next semester. The formatting is funky, but I have not had the time to learn how to eliminate that problem. If any of you have suggestions or comments, I would love to hear them. Though it may not look like it, this syllabus is the result of conversations and exchanges I have had with so many scholars in so many fields. You know where to reach me.

History 262    Indigenous Law and Public Policy              Spring 2021  

Professor: Michael Oberg

Meetings:   MW, 10:30-12:10 ZOOM

                  Chat Time on Canvas: Wednesdays, 2:30-3:30

Office Hours:  Wednesday, 12:30-2:00 on Zoom and by appointment.



Twitter: @NativeAmText 

(I will occasionally tweet out news stories or other items related to our class discussions under the hashtag #HIST262MLO)  You need not follow me on Twitter, but you should activate an account if you do not have one and begin following the hashtag listed above.


Roughly every week or so I post to my blog on matters related to the teaching and writing of Native American history.  You are welcome to follow along.

Required Readings:

Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier, (2005)

Daniel Cobb, Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America since 1887, (2015).

Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America,  (2015)

Luke Lassiter, Clyde Ellis, and Ralph Kotay, The Jesus Road: Kiowas, Christianity, and Indian Hymns, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002)

Steven Pevar, The Rights of Indians and Tribes, 4th edition, (2012).

Briana Theobald, Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism In the Long Twentieth Century, 2019.

Readings online.

News Articles on

Court cases and documents as per syllabus.

Course Description:   This course will provide you with an overview of the concept of American Indian tribal sovereignty, nationhood, and the many ways in which discussions of sovereignty and right influence the status of American Indian nations.  We will look at the historical development and evolution of the concept of sovereignty, the understandings of sovereignty held by native peoples, and how non-Indians have confronted assertions of sovereignty from native peoples.  We will also examine current conditions in Native America, and look at the historical development of the challenges facing native peoples and native nations in the 21st century.  This course is required for the Native American Studies Minor, and counts for both the S/core and M/core general education headings.  As a result, it is intended to meet the following Geneseo learning outcomes, which I am required to place on the syllabus: 

       Students Will Demonstrate:

  • an understanding of knowledge held outside the Western tradition;
  • an understanding of history, ideas, and critical issues pertaining to Non-western societies;
  • an understanding of significant social and economic issues pertaining to Non-western societies;
  • an understanding of the symbolic world coded by and manifest in Non-western societies;
  • an understanding of traditional and/or contemporary cultures of Latin America, Africa, and/or Asia and the relationship of these to the modern world system;
  • an ability to think globally.


  • understanding of social scientific methods of hypothesis development;
  • understanding of social scientific methods of document analysis, observation, or experiment;
  • understanding of social scientific methods of measurement and data collection;
  • understanding of social scientific methods of statistical or interpretive analysis;
  • knowledge of some major social science concepts;
  • knowledge of some major social science models;
  • knowledge of some major social science concerns;
  • knowledge of some social issues of concern to social scientists;
  • knowledge of some political issues of concern to social scientists;
  • knowledge of some economic issues of concern to social scientists;
  • knowledge of some moral issues of concern to social scientists.

A Note on Grading:  Your work this semester will consist of Participation, Journals, and a Final Paper.

Participation is much more than attendance. I view my courses fundamentally as conversations and these conversations can only succeed when each person pulls his or her share of the load.  You should plan to show up for class with the reading not just “done” but understood; you should plan not just to “talk” but to engage critically and constructively with your classmates.  Our conversations will depend on your thoughtful inquiry and respectful exchange.  We are all here to learn, and I encourage you to join in the discussion with this in mind.  Obviously, you must be present to participate. Please have all assigned readings available when we meet. The reading load in this course is quite heavy. It will challenge you to keep up. If you have trouble with the reading, please let me know.  You obviously will be able to participate in classes with the most success when you complete the reading. Always ask for help if you feel yourself overwhelmed.

On two occasions during the semester I will read your journals.  I want you to think about what you are reading and I want you to write about that experience. Twice during the semester, you will submit your journals on Canvas. You should plan on writing 300 words a week. DO NOT SUMMARIZE OUR CLASS DISCUSSIONS.  DO NOT SUMMARIZE THE READINGS. I hope you will take this assignment as an opportunity to reflect upon what you are reading in class and in terms of current events, to discuss the things you wish that we had a chance to discuss in class, or to say what you wanted to say during one of our class meetings.  Show me that you are thinking about the material we cover in our readings and in the classroom.  Show me that you are keeping up with current events in Indian Country. Use the journals as an opportunity to educate yourself on issues in Native America that matter to you. Read the news on INDIANZ.COM and CBC Indigenous. I will also tweet out stories that I find of interest under the hashtag #HIST262MLO. 

Final Paper: Your paper should be approximately 15 pages in length.  You will take the role of an adviser to a new President.  Your assignment is to advise this President on Indian policy.  In your paper you will do the following:

1). Identify what you see as a major problem or problems in Native America today.

2). Explain briefly the historical origins of this problem and how and why previous solutions have either failed to address it or ignored it entirely.

3. Offer a thoughtful, plausible, and realistic path towards solving this problem, and   justify it legally and constitutionally.

4. Have at least 30 sources in a thorough bibliography that includes the following: news articles, government documents, reports from agencies working with indigenous peoples, and works by scholars who study these issues published in academic journals and books.

5. Format the paper according to the guidelines spelled out in the Turabian Manual.      

With any of these assignments, I encourage you to visit with me during office hours if you have any questions.  You should be clear on what I expect from you before you complete an assignment.  The (virtual) door is open.  If you cannot make it to my office hours, please feel free to contact me by email and we will find another time.

I will write extensive comments on your papers.  I will ask you challenging questions, offer what I hope you will view as constructive criticism, and encourage you to push yourself as a writer and a thinker. But I will not give you grades, in the traditional sense, on this work.

I want you to benefit from this course. On the date of our first class meeting, we will discuss the standards for the class.  You and I will work together to arrive at a set of expectations for the sort of work that will earn a specific grade.   In your final journal, and in individual meetings scheduled during Finals Week, we will discuss how well you think you did in meeting the agreed upon standards, and what your grade for the course ought to be. 

A Note on COVID-19: We will be working together during a continuing global pandemic that, at the time I wrote this, has shown no signs of slowing down.  That you may feel stressed and anxious over the course of the semester is not surprising at all.  Your health is important.  The health of the people who matter to you is important. If the coronavirus pandemic is posing a challenge to you doing the assigned work, please feel free to let me know.  I encourage you to ask for help if you need it. Stay in touch.

Discussion and Reading Schedule

1 February       Introduction to the Course

                        The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Pevar, Rights, Ch. 1-2; Banner, How, Introduction, Chapter 1; The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).    

3 February       Native Nations in the United States

                        How to Read a Supreme Court Case

                        Reading: Articles of Confederation, Article IX; United States Constitution; Northwest Ordinance 1787); Federal Trade and Intercourse Act (1790); Treaty of Canandaigua (1794); Banner, How, Chapters 1-3

8 February       The Marshall Court and the Definition of Native Nations

                        Reading: Johnson v. McIntosh (1823); Banner, How, Chapters 4 and 5

10 February     The Expulsion Era

Reading: Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831); Samuel A. Worcester v. State of Georgia, (1832); Banner, How, Chapter 6.

 15 February    The Reservation System

Reading: Ex Parte Crow Dog; Major Crimes Act (1885) and US v. Kagama  (1886); Banner, How, Chapter 7.

17 February     The Policy of Allotment

Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 19-49; Banner, How, Chapter 8;Talton v. Mayes (1896); Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903); United States v. Celestine (1909)

22 February     The Indian New Deal

Reading: Reading: Pevar, Rights, Chapter 12; Cobb, Nations, pp. 54-93; Banner,  How, (finish book) and the Indian Reorganization Act,  1934.

24 February     The Termination Era

Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 97-106, 115-123; HCR 108; Pevar, Rights, 333-337; Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States (1955).

1 March          Williams v. Lee and the Modern Era of American Indian Tribal Sovereignty

                        Reading: Williams v. Lee (1959); Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal Council (1959); Pevar, Rights, Chapter 14 and pp. 329-332

                        First Journal Due.      

3 March          The Era of Self-Determination

                        Reading: McClanahan v. Arizona Tax Commission, (1973); Morton v. Mancari (1974).

 8 March         Red Power

                        Reading: Cobb, Nations, 124-188

 10 March       The Supreme Court’s 1978 Term, Congress and Tribal Sovereignty

                        Reading: US. v. Wheeler (1978); Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (1978);   Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978).

                        At 2:30 PM, during the College Hour, we will meet with Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, the Executive Director of the Association on American Indian Affairs.  According to her official biography, she “is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Shannon is a former Chief of Staff to the National Indian Gaming Commission, where she assisted in the development and implementation of  national policy throughout the agency, and oversaw the agency’s public affairs, technology, compliance and finance divisions.  Shannon has also served Indian  Country in the private sector​ as an attorney​, leading a large national firm’s Indian            law practice group ​and ​bringing more than 18 years of Indian Country legal and policy work to strengthen, maintain and protect Indian nation sovereignty, self-determination and culture. Shannon was appointed by Secretary​ of the Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Review Committee in 2013, and was appointed by President Barack Obama as the first Native American to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee within the State Department in 2015; she was fired by President Trump in 2019. ​Shannon received a B.A.​ in American Indian Studies​ from California State University, Long Beach and joint M.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Arizona​ in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy​.” I hope you all will make every effort to attend this Zoom Meeting with a leading figure in American Indian Policy  today.

15 March        The Power of Tribal Governments

                        Reading: Pevar, Rights, Chapters 3-10; Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe (1982); Duro v. Reina, (1990); Atkinson Trading Company v. Shirley (2001); US v. Lara (2004)

17 March        Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism

                        Reading: Theobald, Reproduction on the Reservation (entire book).

22 March        The War on Native American Children and Families

Reading:  Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl (2013) (this was a messy case, with two concurring and two dissenting opinions); this news story on the 2018 case, Brackeen v. Zinke;  and Margaret Jacobs, “Remembering the ‘Forgotten Child’: The American Indian Child Welfare Crisis of the 1960s and 1970s,” American Indian Quarterly 37 (Winter/Spring 2013), 136-159 (Canvas). Please take a look as well at Gabby Deutsch, “A Court Battle over a Texas Toddler Could Decide the Future of a Native American Law,” The Atlantic, 21 February 2019.  This is the most recent update on the case, provided by the Native American Rights Fund.

24 March        Rejuvenation Day: No Class Meeting

29 March        Sexual Violence in Indian Country

Reading: Deer, Rape.  We will discuss the book in its entirety.  You will want to begin reading this book in advance, so that you will have it finished for our class discussion.

31 March        #MMIW #MMIWG

Reading:  Read as much of the following as you can: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls, (Seattle: Urban Indian Health Institute, 2017); Royal Canadian Mounted Police site devoted to issue of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women (Read the Executive Summary and Conclusion in this Report) National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  (Explore the website, read the summary of the 2019 Final Report. Search on Twitter using the hashtags #MMIW and #MMIWG

5 April             Issues in American Indian Religion 

Reading: Pevar, Rights, Chapters 11, 13; Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990); Lyng v. Northwest Cemetery Protective Association (1988).  If you have half an hour, I would encourage you to watch “The Silence,” a PBS documentary on one small Catholic Church in Alaska.

7 April             Issues in American Indian Religion: Christianity in Indian Country

                        Reading: Lassiter, Ellis and Kotay, The Jesus Road, (entire book).

12 April           Issues in American Indian Education: Boarding Schools and their Legacy

Reading:  Gord Downie, “The Secret Path.”  Watch the video, and watch the panel discussion in its entirety. I would also like you to go to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School online project, and spend at least one hour reading material on the website, including a sampling of student files.  You can find the website here.

14 April           Mascots and Other Forms of Appropriation

                        Reading: Materials on the Andrea Smith case; Russell Cobb, “Why Do So Many People Pretend to be Native American,” This Land Press, (August 2014), available here.

19 April           Economic Development and Poverty in Indian Country

                        Reading: California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987);    Pevar, Rights, Ch. 16.

21 April           The Land and its Loss: The Consequences of Dispossession

Reading: City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005)

26 April           Resistance: IDLA to Red Lives Matter, Idle No More

Reading: Watch Film: “You Are On Indian Land;” Cobb, Nations, 203-250; Lakota Law Project, Native Lives Matter.

28 April           Health and Well-Being in Native America

Reading: Indian Health Service, “Disparities,” Updated October 2019; Linda Poon, “How ‘Indian Relocation’ Created a Public Health Crisis,” Citylab, 2 December 2019; Mohan B. Kumar and Michael Tjepkema, “Suicide Among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, 2011-2016),” Statistics Canada, 28 June 2019.

3 May              What Is To Be Done?

Reading: Read the Preface, Introduction, and Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report from Canada, 2015, entitled Honouring the Past, Reconciling for the Future and “Calls to Action and Accountability: A Status Update on Reconciliation” by Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby of the Yellowhead Institute, (2019). 

Final Paper Due

5 May           What is to be Done? (Continued)

                        Reading: Harold Napoleon, Yuuyarq: The Way of the Human Being, (Fairbanks: Alaska Native Knowledge Network, 1996).

                    Final Journal Due

11 May            Final Class Meeting

Grading Agreement.  We will discuss the following during our first class meeting.  If you think this document is fair, no changes need be made.  If you have suggestions, please feel free to share them with the class.  We will discuss them as a group.  (This document is adapted from the work of historian Cate Denial, whose writings on teaching are worth your time if you want to work someday in an education-related field.

Grading Standards, Spring Semester 2021

Grade of C:  You can earn a grade of C in this class by doing the following:

  • You complete your assignments on time
  • You prepare for and participate in all class discussions
  • You take critical responses to your work seriously, and use this information to improve your subsequent assignments.
  • You attend our online meetings diligently

Grade of B: You can earn a grade of B in this class by doing the following:

  • You put forth sufficient effort to significantly exceed the standards for a C grade.
  • You contribute to a challenging and stimulating online class environment through your thoughts and questions.
  • You develop listening as a distinct skill and demonstrate this through your careful attention to the words of others.  A careful listener will offer specific, focused response to the ideas presented by others. (Remember: When your camera is not on, I have no idea how actively engaged you are in our class discussions).
  • Your written work demonstrates a willingness to explore beneath the surface of an idea and makes connections between the readings and the world around you.

Grade of A: You can earn a grade of A in this class by doing the following:

  • You significantly exceed the standards described above for a grade of B.
  • You demonstrate a willingness and an ability to consistently probe beneath obvious levels of analysis, to question assumptions and perceptions, to explore new intellectual territory, and to make discoveries about yourself and the world in which you live.
  • You demonstrate curiosity about new subjects and perspectives, and are willing to exert time and energy to learn more about them.
  • You are willing and able to reflect upon your own work and thinking with an eye to the consistent and substantial improvement of the same.
  • You demonstrate leadership abilities in class discussions but balance that with an awareness that the quality (rather than quantity) of speaking in a semester is the true hallmark of excellence.

Grade of D: You can earn a D in this class by doing the following:

  • Your performance fails to meet the requirements listed for a C in one or more significant areas.
  • You were often late for class or absent, or fail to submit the required work on time.
  • Your analysis of topics was superficial, resting on unsupported claims, weak organization, and description and summary rather than argument.
  • You were not prepared for class
  • You did not ask for help when faced with difficulties.
  • You made little effort to improve your written work.

Grade of E: You can earn an E in this class by doing the following:

  • You performed significantly below the D level.
  • You failed to attend class regularly.
  • You rarely spoke in class and made no effort to compensate for silence by devoting additional time to written work or by visiting office hours.
  • You appear to have waited until the last moment to begin your writing assignments.
  • You showed no progress throughout the term, and demonstrated no concern or interest as a writer, a reader, a listener, and a speaker.
  • Your arguments were confusing, unclear, and unsupported by credible evidence and sound reasoning.

A Letter to a Very Good Student Contemplating Graduate School

Every semester I find it more difficult to enthusiastically encourage students to pursue their dream of a Ph.D in history. You hope to become a professor some day, but the odds are long. I need to you to know that. This is no reflection on your talents, which I respect enormously. The job market is terrible, and I do not expect it to ever get better. Our work is neither valued nor understood by too many of our legislative leaders, which is a big deal for those of us who work in public higher education. Some of us work at institutions , like one I visited a while back in Missouri, where even the administrative leadership is entirely clueless about history and the liberal arts, and they luxuriate in their ignorance. Graduate school will consume some important years of your life when you might easily be doing something else that is more financially remunerative. Graduate school can be stressful. At its worst it can be demoralizing, depressing, and humiliating. It can beat you up.

It did all those things to me.

Yet, I loved my time in graduate school. I know it sounds crazy to say that. I feel immense gratitude to so many people who helped me along the way. I had a free ride with generous financial support, so I graduated without loans. I was very lucky. I had a fantastic cohort of fellow students, and I found in them incredibly important friendships and a mass of support. I look forward to seeing them when our travels put us in roughly the same location, whether that is a conference or merely passing through on an interstate highway. The professors with whom I worked, meanwhile, were fantastic, and I stay in touch with them to this day. I still draw upon them for advice. I know that I was one of the lucky ones. I found a tenure-track job right out of grad school. I have never worked as an adjunct. Admittedly my first job was at Hellhole State, but I was lucky again to find another tenure track job and escape. Things were so miserable at Hellhole State that I find it difficult to complain about things at my current college–I know how bad it can be elsewhere. I have been able to do my research, and teach basically whatever I want when I want. My teaching load is relatively light. I learned so much in graduate school.

And even with all this good luck, and how much I love what I do, I cannot be certain that I would be willing to pay the costs again. I want you to know that.

So when a bright and talented student like you asks me about graduate school, I am conflicted. Let’s say you have a kid someday and he tells you he wants to be a major league baseball player when he grows up. And he is pretty good. Great in little league, star of his high school team. You take him to private hitting lessons and travel ball tournaments. You encourage him, knowing full well that the odds of him making it to the majors are remote at best. If he loves baseball, and that is really what he wants to with his life, how can you not encourage him?

Sometimes I feel the chances of landing a tenure track job at a college or university where you will be happy are only slightly less daunting than making it to the Major Leagues and, unlike baseball, sometimes it has nothing to do with how good you are at your chosen profession. Academia is not a meritocracy. If your professors are honest with themselves, they will admit that this is true: there are many people out there with Ph.D. degrees in history who could do our jobs just as well as we do, but owing to the unfairness or bad luck, or macroeconomics, or a multitude of other forces, they never got the chance.

So I make sure a prospective graduate student like you understands the realities of the job market. Not just that “it’s bad,” but why it is bad, and why it is unlikely to improve.

I want you to understand that you should not take out loans if possible: if a graduate school is not willing to support you financially, it is not worthy of your talents. This is, of course, easier said than done, but given the state of the academic job market, I have to warn students about going into debt for a graduate degree that will tax them physically, financially, and perhaps emotionally.

There are some people you will meet who will tell you that your work is not good enough: one important way to avoid this trap is to never underestimate your self-worth and your value to an institution.

For me, there was enormous exhilaration that came with doing research, but not all graduate students feel like that at the end of their programs. Burn-out is real.

And consider this: the job does not always go to the hardest working or the most creative or innovative graduate student. Sometimes it goes to the person from an elite institution, or the person with an extraordinarily well-connected advisor at a college with a prestigious name, no matter how much that college seems in reality to be resting on its past laurels. Never, ever underestimate how elitist academia can be.

I hope you will think about these questions:

What is it about history that you love and how do you see pursuit of a Ph.D helping you with that?

How disappointed would you be if you did not find a job as a college professor? What else do you love doing, and might having a Ph.D help you achieve those alternative goals? (These cannot be considered “Plan B” options. I want you to think more broadly than the academy. When you finish you will have skills in research and writing, and a lot of knowledge. You will want to think creatively about how these skills can help you put food on the table and a roof over your head).

What do you think it is that professors do for a living? When you watch us, you may see the joy we take in teaching, and you may read about our scholarship and exciting research, but you may know nothing of committee meetings, scrounging for dollars to support research and travel, and the endless administrivia.

How important is it that you get to choose where you live? How important is it to be close to where you grew up, your friends, your family, and, perhaps, a significant other who may end up living someplace else? How adaptable do you see yourself: If you have lived your whole life in, say, western New York like my students, or in Southern California

In the Service of Clio: Blog CCXIII (213): Life in Hell Again
Though it need not be this bad an experience, it can actually take much more than four years.

like me, would you find it difficult to live in Texas or Billings, Montana, or some place that is so cold and snowy that you feel like you landed on the Ice Planet Hoth, or so hot and humid it makes your ears ring?

How do you envision your life five or ten years down the road? Do you want to have a family? Is it important to you to have the means to buy a house? Mind you, you can do all these things in graduate school if you have support and good luck, but I can tell you it is difficult. Do you have hobbies or other activities in which you engage which are so meaningful to you that it would be hurtful if you had to give them up? Do you like to surf? Or go see punk bands? Because that job in South Dakota may demand of you some important sacrifices. If you are in a relationship, and you want to keep that relationship going, your answers to these questions will inevitably affect your partner, too. Graduate school can be hard on relationships. You will be reading a lot. You will be writing a lot. Chances are you will need to be by yourself more than you ever have before. Are you comfortable being alone? You will have friends in graduate school, I hope, and they will nurture and nourish you, but it can be hard.

If you want to do this, I am happy to support you. I am honored to write a letter of recommendation in your behalf. If I have friends in the department to which you are applying, I will reach out to them and share my high regard for your talents. Do your research. Who are the best historians in the field that interests you, and do they work at a Ph.D granting institution? Write to that person, share your interests, and see if they are interested in working with you. Do they encourage you to apply or is their response lukewarm or uninterested. If it is possible to visit, or Zoom, or get to know them better, it might be worth an effort. That advisor will brag about your work if it is good, and the university to which you apply will benefit from your labor if you end up working for them as a teaching assistant. Do not be shy about investigating and interviewing your prospective teachers. Your advisor will be an important person in your life for the next few years. At the same time, remember, despite our howls of protest, that we to tend easily towards elitism. Remember that. I do not want you applying for a Ph.D at Slackjaw State University. People will judge you for it. I was once on a search committee with a Harvard Ph.D, who would not consider anyone from the South. It is wrong, totally, but you need to be aware of all that is wrong with this profession.

You were an immensely talented student. It was a joy to have you in my classes. I learned from teaching you. You have all the talent to succeed in graduate school. We would not be having this exchange if I did not feel that way. Knowing what I know of you, and what I have seen over the past four years at my college, you would make a fantastic college professor. I will do all I can to help you, and I encourage you to reach out to all of us who taught you here if you need help or encouragement. We will celebrate your successes and we are willing to buoy you up when you confront obstacles. You have a lot to think about. Eyes wide open, you know? I want you have a good understanding of what you are getting into. Remember always that you are always so more than what people think of your work, but that those of us here who knew you as an undergraduate are looking forward to celebrating each and every success you enjoy. It is a big decision. It cannot hurt to apply and see what opportunities present themselves to you. We got your back.

A Discussion Forum for Teaching and Writing Native American History