HISTORY 262: Indigenous Law and Public Policy, Spring 2020 Syllabus

The spring semester begins in just under a month, but the syllabus is ready and the book orders are in. I find this an immensely challenging course to teach. Because it focuses so heavily on current events, I find myself constantly changing the course readings. To keep up with the scholarship emerging across several academic disciplines, as well as reports from organizations and institutions, and some excellent journalism in far-flung publications, is difficult. But I find the course a rewarding one to teach. I would love to hear your thoughts. (Copying my Word Document onto the WordPress platform made for some gloppy formatting in places. Apologies in advance). Happy New Year!

History 262    American Indian Law and Public Policy                 Spring 2020  

Professor: Michael Oberg

Meetings:   TTh, 1:00-2:15, Sturges 223

Office Hours:  TTh, 12:15-12:55 and by appointment, Sturges 15A

Contact:           oberg@geneseo.edu


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.

Website: MichaelLeroyOberg.com

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:

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).

Brianna Theobald, Reproduction on the Reservation: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism in the Long Twentieth Century, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2019).

Readings online.

News Articles on www.indianz.com

Court cases.

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

       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, a Current Events Project, and a Final Paper.

Participation is much more than attendance. I view my courses fundamentally as extended 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. Phones should be stored before you enter the classroom with the ringer off. Laptops should be used for accessing readings and taking notes.  Please bring all assigned readings with you to class. 

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. 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 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. 

Current Events Project: You will write a paper of approximately 10 pages in length, on any current events topic in Native American Studies. You must research the topic by reading at least 20 primary sources—newspaper articles, government documents, reports from agencies involved in working with native peoples, and other first-hand accounts.  You should demonstrate that you have an awareness of the importance of the issue, a detailed understanding of the issue, and some idea for its solution or why a solution has been so difficult to find.  You should check with me before you begin your research, so that we can agree on a topic that is important and interesting. Your paper should be formatted according to the Guidelines in the Turabian Manual.

Final Paper: Your paper should be between 10-15 pages in length.  You will take the role of an adviser to a new President.  You can imagine this President as a Democrat or a Republican.  Your assignment is to advise this President on Native American policy.  In your paper you will do the following:

1). Identify what you see as the 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.

4. Have at least 30 sources—articles, government documents, reports from agencies working with indigenous peoples, and works by scholars who study these issues.

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 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, and offer what I hope you will view as constructive criticism. I will 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. 

Discussion and Reading Schedule

23  January      Introduction to the Course.

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Reading: Pevar, Rights, Ch. 1-2; Treuer, Wounded Knee, Prologue and Part 7; The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).    

28 January       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); Treuer, Wounded Knee, skim Introduction and Part 1 which you should complete by 6 February.

30 January       The Marshall Court and the Definition of Native Nations

                        Reading: Johnson v. McIntosh (1823).

4 February       The “Removal” Era

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

 6 February      The Reservation System

Reading: Ex Parte Crow Dog; Major Crimes Act (1885) and US v. Kagama  (1886); Nikhil Pal Singh, “The Pervasive Power of the Settler Mindset,” Boston Review, 26 November 2019; Ruth Hopkins, “Mass Shootings are Connected to America’s Legacy of Anti-Indigenous Violence,” Teen Vogue,  29 November 2019.

11 February     The Policy of Allotment

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

13 February     The Indian New Deal

Reading: Reading: Pevar, Rights, Chapter 12; Cobb, Nations, pp. 54-93; Treuer, Wounded Knee, Part 2;and the Indian Reorganization Act,  1934.

18 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); Treuer, Wounded Knee, Part 3.

20 February     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; Treuer, Wounded Knee, Part 4

                        First Journal Due.      

25 February     The Era of Self-Determination

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

 27 February    Red Power

                        Reading: Cobb, Nations, 124-188; Treuer, Wounded Knee, Part 5

 3 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).

5 March          The Power of Tribal Governments

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

10 March        Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Colonialism

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

12 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.


24 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.

26 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

31 March         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.

Current Events Project Due

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

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

7 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.

9 April             Mascots and Other Forms of Appropriation

                        Reading: Jamil Smith, “Why Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Fiasco Matters,” Rolling Stone, 7 December 2018; Rebecca Nagle, “Elizabeth Warren Has Spent Her Entire Adult Life Repeating a Lie. I Want Her to Tell the Truth.” HuffPost, 23 August 2019.   

14 April           Economic Development and Poverty in Indian Country

                        Reading: California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987);  Pevar, Rights, Ch. 16; Treuer, Wounded Knee, Part 6.

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

Reading: City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005); Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court to Rule on Whether Much of Oklahoma Is An Indian Reservation,” New York Times, 13 December 2019.

21 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.

23 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.

28 April           Indigenous America and the Presidency: What’s At Stake?

Reading: Donald J. Trump, Columbus Day Proclamation, 2019; Elizabeth Warren, Policy Statement on Native Americans; Julian Castro, Policy Statement on Native Americans; Bernie Sanders, Policy on Native Americans; Michael Leroy Oberg, “Ten Little Democrats,” MichaelLeroyOberg.com, 11 September 2019.

30 April           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           Catch Up Day.

                    Final Journal Due

11 May            12:00-2:30

                        Final Exam Period

2 thoughts on “HISTORY 262: Indigenous Law and Public Policy, Spring 2020 Syllabus”

  1. I love the final paper assignment.

    Last semester was your first “experiment” in “negotiating” grades. Since youre repeating the approach, it must have worked? Id love to read about your reflections.

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