Time for Alaska Native and Native Americans to Speak
By Terrance H. Booth, Sr. Tsimshian
President Obama nominated another candidate Justice to US Supreme Court. This nomination is U.S. Solicitor General and former Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan for the U.S. Supreme Court
All the Alaska Native and Native American Tribal Governments and tribal leadership and Native people need to voice their Native Perspective on the Candidate Justice to the US Supreme Court for this court over several decades has weaken tribal sovereignty.
The Trend of the U.S. Supreme Court….. “A roll of the United States Supreme Court throughout history is the protection of the rights of minorities. From the 1960s, throughout the 70s, and throughout most of the 80s the Supreme Court, in a really inspiring way, recognized Indian rights, recognized tribal sovereignty, fishing rights, the trust relationship and tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Those decades were times when tribes brought their grievances to the Court and by and large they were honored. But starting in the late 1980s there has been a change. Instead of the Supreme Court advancing Indian law in favor of tribal sovereignty, the Court has gone in a different direction, making a series of decisions which undermined tribal sovereignty. In the 1990s, tribes lost 23 out of 28 cases in which they appeared before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has moved away from guiding principles called ‘canons of construction.’ Under those guidelines, the Court would interpret treaties and Indian statutes in favor of the tribes when they were unclear or uncertain. It is one area of law that has always been useful to the tribes. The Supreme Court ever since Worcester, and all the way through the 19th and 20th centuries has recognized that Indian treaties and statutes should be construed in favor of the tribes. If there is unclear language, the Court interpreted those ambiguities in favor of the tribes.
For example, a treaty might say that the tribe has the right to hunt, and at treaty time the Indians were speaking their language and they didn’t have separate words for hunt and fish, they just had a word for gathering wild animals. Then the Court is going to say that ‘hunt’ means ‘hunt and fish.’ If there are unclear words they are read in favor of tribal rights. That rule is still alive in the Supreme Court, but the Court doesn’t use it with as much vigor as it did during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. The rule is important to tribes because many pieces of federal Indian law are ambiguous.” From: Tribal Nations The Story of Federal Indian Law, by Lisa Jaeger Tanana Chiefs Conference
“In Alaska US Supreme Court Ruled no tribal governing power over tribal lands “The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that, because of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the 1.8 million acres of land owned by the Venetie Tribe is no longer “Indian country,” as is reservation land in the Lower 48. Thus, the tribe, which includes the villages of Venetie and Arctic Village, has no governing power over the land.” Alaska Culture & History, Juneau Empire by L. Thompson
“Many Indians are intensely caught in the current debate of issues. Individual Indians and groups in the Indian communities, while they may disagree on current tribal priorities and methods, must look beyond current disputes and support the concept of tribal sovereignty. Without sovereignty, there would be nothing to disagree upon. Without sovereign status, what would become of American Indian tribes?” American Indian Policy Center, Considerations for Tribes.
With each generation, there are new challenges about how we survive as American Indian people. The long history of assimilation, termination, and genocide policies is not over for Indian people. While the current threats to Indian tribal sovereignty outlined in this report have long-standing historical roots, U.S. Indian policy is now more elusive in the implementation of anti-Indian sentiment or assimilation efforts. The latest threat to Indian people is a national trend by states, the U.S. Congress, and the courts to undermine the legal foundations of tribal sovereignty. American Indian Policy Center
“The legal relationship between the United States and the respective Indian tribes is unique. Unlike all other political entities within the borders of the United States, Indian tribes derive their powers not solely through delegation, but also through their sovereign existence, past and present.” American Indian Policy Center
Tribal Sovereignty Defined “However, over the history of the Tribes’ relations with the United States, Tribes have been economically devastated. Most have not had the financial means to effectively exercise their governmental powers. For some Tribes, Gaming has provided the only successful means to raise funds to be able to exercise their inherent powers of self-government.
Without Tribal sovereignty, and the financial means to exercise powers of self-government, Tribes would not survive as Indian Nations.” Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Council, Tribal Sovereignty Defined
To All Alaska Native and Native American Tribal Governments it is time again to voice our concerns and issues as the US Senate embarks upon making their appointment to the US Supreme Court. As we already know the Court has been diminishing and weakening our tribal sovereignty. And I know we will make our Native Perspectives to the US Senate who will have Confirmation hearings with Elena Kagan. Let our Voices be heard.
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