Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations
Articles,  Blog

Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations

>>David Ferriero: Good afternoon. I’m David
Ferriero, the archivist of the National Archives. And it is a pleasure to welcome you to the
William G. McGowan Theater here at the National Archives and Records Administration this afternoon.
Welcome to joining of us who are joining us on our YouTube channel.
Today we take a look at the treaties between the United States and the American Indian
nations, treaties that contain promises but in many cases brought betrayals. Our speakers
this afternoon will discuss these treaties which are in the National Archives holdings.
We are loaning them to the National Museum of the American Indian not far from here.
The overall exhibit, “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian
Nations runs through the fall of 2018. The Archives and the American Indian Museum
have some permanent ties. Each of our New York City outposts share the same building
in lower Manhattan, the Alexander Hamilton U.s. Custom house at One Bowling Green.
I would like to tell you about two other programs coming of interest soon to this theater. Two
weeks from today on December 4th at noon we will welcome Stanley Weintraub who will discuss
his latest book, “Christmas, Far from Home.” The book tells the dramatic story of the Christmas
1950 escape of thousands of American troops who have been surrounded by the enemy in Korea
harsh terrain. A book signing will follow the program.
On Friday, December 5th, we will present a Nixon legacy forum on Vietnam and the Paris
Peace Accords. The panel will include former members of the National Security staff who
will example the chronology, key players and impact of the Paris Peace Accords. The program
is presented in partnership with the Richard Nixon Foundation.
If you want to know more about these and all of our upcoming programs and exhibits, consult
our monthly calendar of events. There are copies in the lobby as well as signup sheets
where you can receive them by regular mail or email. And another way to get more involved
in the National Archives is to become a member of the Foundation for the National Archives.
The foundation supports all of our education and outreach activities. And there are applications
for membership in the lobby also. Our guests today are Kevin Gover, director
of the National Museum of the American Indian, and Suzan Shown Harjo, guest curator of the
exhibit now at the museum. They will discuss the issues related by the exhibit and the
book related to the exhibit and the book for the exhibit, a wonderful book which is available
in our shop. And they will be available to sign at the end of the program.
Kevin a citizen of a tribe of Oklahoma is a Princeton graduate who earned his law degree
at the University of New Mexico. Although he was once an attorney in of Washington’s
power law firms, he returned to New Mexico and established a small Native American-owned
law firm which grew into the largest law firm of its type in the country. In 1997, he was
named assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs and served in 2001. He
orchestrated the apology to American Indians. He is faculty at Arizona State University.
Suzan Shown Harjo is president of the Morning Star Institute, a national Indian rights organization.
She’s a writer, curator, and policy advocacy who has helped Native American nations secure
sacred lands. She is a poet and awardwinning columnist whose work appears in many publications.
She received the Institute of American Indian Arts first honorary doctorate humanities awarded
to a woman. She helped develop important Indian law including those dealing with protection
and preservation of Indian culture. These a trustee of the National Museum of American
Indian where she has been a guest curator of a number of projects.
Her work will be recognized Monday at the White House when President Obama honors her
as one of only 19 recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s
highest civilian honor. Please welcome Kevin Gover and Suzan Shown
Harjo. (applause).
>> Kevin Gover: Good afternoon, everyone. And thanks for coming here this afternoon.
I’m Kevin Gover. I’m the director at the National Museum of the American Indian. We recently
on September 21st of this year opened an exhibition called “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between
the United States and American Indian Nations.” And this exhibition was marked something of
a new direction for our museum. We have long been a true center, an international center,
for living indigenous cultures, cultures from throughout the western hemisphere and Hawaii.
And we’re very focused on a couple of things, primarily the return of authority to Native
communities for the presentation and interpretation of their histories and cultures.
I have been at the museum for about seven years. It was a thriving enterprise when I
arrived. So naturally I thought, well, we’ve just got to do something about this. And almost
immediately we began thinking about turning toward more — a greater emphasis on history
in our presentations. Now, the treaty’s exhibition was something
that was already actually underway prior to my arrival, and Suzan had been working on
it with our prior director Rick West. And it took us quite a while to sort out how
to tell a very complicated, long story in a few thousand words in a museum gallery.
But finally we were able to do so through Suzan’s good scholarship and good humor.
And so we did open the — open the exhibition. And we’re very pleased with it. And it really
feels like a very solid first step for us into a greater emphasis on history. And so
you’ll be seeing more of this kind of thing from us going forward. But I think for today’s
purposes, we should really focus on the Nation to Nation exhibition and, of course, the book
that accompanies that. So I’m going to ask Suzan to sort of say how this all came about
and what it was we were trying to make sure people knew about this subject. Thank you.
>>Suzan Shown Harjo: Hello, everyone. In 2003, I proposed — well, actually first I
asked Rick West who was the director if this was the time to propose the treaties exhibit.
And he said, well, yes, only if we go very slowly because the opening of the museum on
the mall was 2003 — 2004, so this is the time to plan and research but, remember, go
slow. The other night I saw him at the museum and
he said, I had no idea then that I was a prophet. (laughter).
And that it would take so long and take so long it did. We did go slowly. We worked with,
well, myself and Vine Delores Jr. who was the greatest intellectual and scholar of treaties
was co-curating this with me. And he and I pulled together the leading experts that we
knew on these treaties. And we talked about how we can present them, what was important
to know, what would be the treaties that we had to have or if we didn’t know the exact
treaty, that we needed what was the group that we needed a treaty for. So we worked
very — in an improvisational way. We would talk about the treaties, what was important
about them, what was important and what we wanted visitors to take away and what we wanted
leaders to take away from the book. And that came down to this, that these just aren’t
the Indian treaties that a lot of people think. These are treaties between the United States
and Native American nations, Indian nations and that the nonNative people have a stake
in this, have a responsibility to these treaties, to uphold them in the same way that we do
and it take them seriously, to understand them.
And we wanted to return to America the gift of history, the gift of American history because
if you don’t know the history of Native people, you don’t know American history. If you don’t
know the history of treaties, if you don’t know the treaties, you don’t know American
history. You don’t know how and why the states were shaped the way they are. You don’t know
why the United States is shaped the way it is, how some laws came about, why they came
about, if they’re still good and valid laws. A lot of people are surprised that treaties
stand up. They stand up in court. They’re litigated. In one case, in the Pacific Northwest,
they’re the reason that the salmon are returning. It’s because of the treaties and that the
United States and the Native nations in the northwest and in the Great Lakes area as well
through follow-on litigation about their treaty, that these resources, the beings themselves,
the salmon and sturgeon and so forth are coming back, and there is a salmon industry around
them. And it has led to a lot of things: Rehabilitation of the habitat, rehabilitation of wetlands,
for the spawning areas. It’s led to some dam removal, things that were thought to be wonders
in the ’50s and ’60s are now coming down along these streams because the fish can’t get through.
And by golly, when the dams come down and when you have the wetlands, you have the estuaries
restored, here come the fish. They have that kind of cellular memory. They know where they
came from and they go back there. So this is the treaties themselves that are
the nexus, and without the treaties, the federal program wouldn’t work. The state program wouldn’t
work because where are the Native people? They are right there in the spawning area.
So an entire industry, the salmon industry in America, depends on treaties. And that’s
today. The court decisions were in the ’70s and ’80s but that’s today. And some of these
court cases are still going on today, especially on the environmental impact.
So we wanted people to own the treaties. We wanted to restore history to people in the
classroom, to people who are visiting on tours, to people who come in and say: What are these
about? Why are they doing something about something that’s dead, gone, forgotten? Well,
they aren’t. And that’s why we’re doing it because they’re alive, they’re vibrant. They
are legally binding, and they’re fascinating with how they came about and what they can
do today and what they are doing today. So that’s our goal. It really never changed.
When Kevin came in to run the museum, he devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the treaties’
exhibit and really hands-on time and we are used to working. We worked together a while
back at the Frank Harish Schreiber Law Firm, and we worked on so many projects over the
years that we know, we know how to work together. And Kevin — unfortunately we lost our dear
friend Vine Deloria, Jr., in 2005. And when Kevin came in, he restored our position in
a way without ever saying anything. And there wasn’t a co-curator, but Kevin really
was that. He was an excellent curator and director and editor looking at the whole and
lacking at very particular areas. So this has my stamp on it. It has Vine Deloria and
Rick West and certainly Kevin Gover’s as well as, oh, I would say about a thousand other
people. (chuckles).
So this has really been a project where the collective wisdom has dominated. And lots
of people have come together and really goodwill and good spirit to create what we lovingly
present to the world in this exhibit and the book. We hope you like all of it.
>>Kevin Gover: Thanks, Suzan. Let me just mention that the National Archives were very
generous with us and is providing a series of eight different original treaties that
will be located in the gallery one at a time. And I know when we received the first of them,
the Treaty of Canandaigua from 1794, it was really a very moving experience. We invited
the leadership of the six nations to come to the museum to be there when the treaty
was received and when it was installed in the gallery. We knew all this from typewritten
versions of the treaty. But as you looked at it, it was really an important experience
to see that, for example, both Corn Planter and Hanthem Lake were especially noted among
the signatories from the six nations. And below that is the signature of George Washington.
And just to ponder for a moment that those three people had laid hands on this document
was really a very moving thing, and it was certainly very moving for the Haudenosaunee
leadership that were there. I usually don’t get deeply involved in the
curation of exhibits at the museum. But I am a lawyer by treat. So treaties are something
I have worked with throughout my career, litigating them, understanding their meaning, using them
for advantage for my Indian tribal clients. In this unique circumstance I was actually
qualified to add content to the exhibition and did so.
But it was quite a fulsome exhibition without my input. And I really felt I was nibbling
at the edges and sort of expanding upon ideas that were already there.
We wanted to create a narrative arc that accomplished certain things. The first was there’s no such
thing as an American Indian treaty. It is not as though the treaty is made with the
Indian nations are different than the treaties made with any other nation. And so the first
section of the exhibition is really devoted to that proposition, to show that when the
United States asked to enter into a treaty with certain Indian tribes, it was because
they needed that treaty. They had their own diplomatic objectives that they sought to
achieve, and, of course, the Indian nations came to the negotiation with objectives as
well. And what we see is both sides acquitting themselves
quite well and, in fact, achieving most, if not all of their objectives. Right there in
the opening sequence, we have a quote from Chief Justice John Marshall saying the words
“nations” and “treaties” are words of our own choosing. We have applied them to the
Indians as we have to the other nations of the earth. They are to be applied in the same
sense. It couldn’t be more clear that a treaty is a treaty is a treaty. In fact, that a particular
treaty was made with an American Indian nation did not distinguish it from the treaties that
the United States was making with the other nations of the earth.
The second major gallery is devoted to what happened when the United States departed from
that principle and was no longer engaged in a bilateral negotiated relationship but instead
was essentially dictating the terms of that relationship. It will come as no surprise
that is what led to the massive dispossession of the nations and the consequences that are
difficult to ponder because they were so broad and so tragic.
And so we described only a few of the things that happened during that period but we think
enough that the visitor really gets a sense because we all know even from a very limited
understanding of American history that something happened there. The Indians were dispossessed.
There is this broad sense that Indians were treated unfairly. And so we try to give, as
I say, just a few examples to validate that point of view.
But we didn’t want to end there because that is not the end of the story. And the next
part of the story is that against all odds, Indian nations continued to insist on the
rights that were acknowledged in the treaties. Remember, the treaties were not a grant of
rights to the Indians. They were in most respects an acknowledgment of rights that preexisted
by virtue of the national sovereignty that Indians possessed in the first instance.
Even when nobody else believed in that, even when the very point and the very objective
of American policy was the deculturation of Indian people, their assimilation into the
larger socioeconomic society of the United States, the United States set out really quite
systematically to take away from them everything that made them Indian. And we see that with
the land policies where Indian reservations were open up, open to non-Indian settlement
and individual parcels were handed out to the Indians.
We see it in the so-called civilization regulations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries
where superintendents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs were permitted to suppress the cultural
and political institutions that the tribes had developed. It was really quite an extraordinary
thing. As a lawyer, I really did get curious, where
did this authority come from? And what we find is it came from nowhere. The Secretary
of the Interior was passing — was making criminal laws and then establishing courts
to — establishing police forces to enforce those criminal laws, establishing courts to
adjudicate violations of these criminal laws, establishing jails to punish offenders against
these criminal laws. And there was no law passed by Congress that authorized any of
that. Both the Congress and the courts were made
aware of this and both just sat back and said: We’re going to let this happen.
You know, I ran the bureau of Indian affairs for a few years. I didn’t so much as run it
but watch it go by. One of the things I didn’t realize was that the Bureau of Indian Affairs
police force was only formalized by Congress in 1990 and yet it had been acting as a police
force on the reservation for over a century. There is no other place in the United States
where that sort of thing could have happened except on Indian reservations. All of it,
of course, in violation of the treaties that the United States had made.
So from this very dark period, even after all of that, the Indians kept saying: We have
treaties. We are nations. We demand that you acknowledge these rights and respect them.
And they just kept doing it. They just kept doing it. No matter what the government did
to them: They said we are still Indians. We still have treaties, and we expect you to
honor them. And then a breakthrough took place in the
1960s and ’70s. Largely in response to sort of the latest outrage or indignity against
tribal sovereignty which was a 1950s policy called “termination” where the United States
would basically say: Indian tribe, you no longer exist. You individual Indians that
used to an Indian tribe, you’re now free to go be American but your tribe no longer exists.
Isn’t that an extraordinary thing to put forward? But it was policy.
And fortunately it was at that moment that the tribes began to really coalesce politically
in a way they never had before and resisted the policy, ultimately defeated the policy,
and finally completely revolutionized Indian policy in the 1960s and ’70s. And the policy
that took hold at that time, I think the phrase “self-determination” was first coined by President
Johnson but it was President Nixon who basically announced that we’re going to do things very
differently from now on. We’re not going to terminate tribes. Federal assistance to tribes
doesn’t come with a price tag of the oppressive regulations that had been imposed on Indians
for nearly an century. Sore this new policy of self-determination giving the tribes — not
giving them the authority but acknowledging the authority of the tribe and providing the
resources for them to effectively exercise authority has been the policy for the last
40 years and hopefully for a long time in the future.
So this — the third major gallery is about that, saying the Indians simply never gave
up. They kept making that same argument. There was litigation around the treaty that Suzan
described in the northwest. Very brave judge in the State of Washington state the Indians
are right, they can fish from state regulation and they have the right to half the catch
each season. And, lo and behold, the Supreme Court affirmed the judge later. There was
litigation around the Great Lakes fishing treaties with the same result.
And suddenly these old treaty rights that no one really had given a lot of thought for
the first half of the 20th century became decisive in some of the major conflicts taking
place in the west. Water rights litigation is — was and is happening
all over the West and the treaties are at the center of that. There have been any number
of cases both litigated and then later settled. And our final point in the exhibition is we’re
beginning to make treaties again because, for example, when tribes in Arizona were litigating
their water rights, they entered into extensive negotiations with federal agencies and with
the State of Arizona. Finally reached an agreement that settled the litigation and was presented
to Congress. And Congress ratified the settlement. So it is not designated a treaty, and the
Senate didn’t ratify it but the entire Congress did. It was negotiated. And so it sure looks
like a treaty to us. And so as policy returns to this negotiated
bilateral relationship, we’re seeing the American Indian nations begin to prosper again. And
so there’s little question in our minds at least that policy is headed in the right direction.
There will be ongoing conflict about this because there is only so much land and so
much water. What once seemed an endless supply is turning out to be not endless at all. And
so competition for resources will be ongoing. And as our visitors leave the gallery, we
leave them with that idea, that now we are the inheritors of this relationship that is
as old as the nation itself. And we bear the responsibility for what this looks like going
forward. And so that is the final idea we want to leave with the visitor, that we’re
now responsible. And so I as a citizen of the Pawnee Nation demanded that the United
States honor its commitment to the Pawnee Nation but also as a citizen of the United
States insist that it honor its commitments to the other Indian nations with whom it is
engaged by treaties. We wanted to leave the visitor with the impression
that things are on the upswing but because of the vagary of American politics, there
is no certain end to all of this. There is no happy ending. We continue to write this
story, all of us, day by day, week by week, year by year, election by election. And so
hopefully the visitors come away with those ideas.
Questions? We’d be happy to take any questions you might have.
>>Suzan Shown Harjo: And, yes, go to the microphone so that you will be heard by the
viewing audience outside the room.>>I visited the exhibit. I applaud you for
doing something that chose a cohesive story. I realize as a white person, I typically see
Indians and Indians and Indians see themselves as 6,000 individual tribes each with their
own histories. But I personally appreciate having this type of thing.
Typically as I understood it with a treaty, there would be two copies of a treaty. Each
group would get one. What happened to the Indian copy of the treaty?
>>Suzan Shown Harjo: Well, with the Canandaigua treaty, for example, there are three originals
that we know of. One with the Archives, that’s the only one with the ratification strip sewn
on. And another at Tonowanda, Seneca, one of the signatories to the treaty itself. And
another one with Ontario Historical Society at Canandaigua, New York. And that’s brought
out every year, that one, for the November 11 commemoration. That’s the treaty signing
date of treaty itself. And there’s a belt that George Washington
presented after the treaty was made to the Haudenosaunee people and a wampum belt. And
non-indians made wampum belts. There are very good minutes, and they will say speaker presented
a string of wampum or speaker presented a belt. And there was wampum being traded all
the time as emphasis, as a way of remembering a particular section of the meeting as a way
of understanding condolence, as a way of expressing concern for the things that the people had
gone through. So the wampum was commissioned by George Washington, made by two Haudenosaunee
people, women, and presented. And so we have a replica of that in the exhibit.
And that’s very exciting. We didn’t have room for this, but we also have a newspaper of
1785, front page news: George Washington has signed the Treaty of Canandaigua of November
11, 1794. And then it carries the entire text. So as people were in their homes, this is
how they were getting the news of the treaty. And to me that’s really exciting — well,
it is wonderful to feel that old paper, the old rag paper, beautiful cloth that newspaper,
the print was printed on. And it is just a wonderful presence. It is another wonderful
presence that I wish we had room for. There were so many things that just broke our hearts
to not be able to include this or that. But there are lots of ways of presenting the
originals of treaties. And we’re so grateful that the Archives refurbished and dressed
up and made sure everything was perfect with the original — in the Archives with the ratification
strip and with the added header at the top of the treaties. So they’re very clear, here’s
the original, here’s this, here’s this. Very clear when you see it, what it is and what
was done in time. So this is an original. That’s an original.
What all of these things are, evidence. They’re the evidence of our ancient cultural continuum
and that we just keep on going, that this is what we did then and this is what we’re
continuing to honor. So all of that to me is very exciting to see it come together and
to think about it as coming together and these are as original as you can get. They’re that
moment in time or that moment — we don’t know who touched that newspaper or who all
touched the treaty belt. We know people who touched this original in
the Archives noun on loan at National Museum of the American Indian, their DNA is on it.
They touched it. They put their name to it. They looked at it. They breathed on it. So
all of this is very present. When you think of it that way, then it is
not just an old dusty paper. It is immediate.>>What sort of continuities and discontinuities
are there between treaties between the United States and Native nations and agreements made
by the colonial authorities, the British and the French, maybe the Spanish for that matter?
And when the United States was formed, did they make any statements about whether they
recognized these prior agreements or did they say, well, that was then, this is now, we’re
starting all over from scratch?>>Kevin Gover: That’s a good question. The
treaties that had been entered into by the colonial powers were generally honored for
the simple reason that that’s how the colonial powers acquired lands from the tribes. They
didn’t just come in and say: It is ours now. Far from it. They negotiated piece by piece
and said we’d like to purchase this. The Indians were absolutely the acknowledged owners of
the land. And so the British, the Dutch, not so much the Spanish, they were more aggressive.
But in North America for the most part, there was a well-established procedure for acquiring
land from the tribes. So the United States obviously was in favor
of honoring those old agreements and wasn’t about to undo them.
The United States then continued this practice of dealing with the Indian nations by treaty.
So they were really following an embedded process for working with the Indian tribes.
So far from for swearing the colonial treaty, the United States continued to abide by them
and began to make treaties of their own.>>I recently read that President Obama is
being credited for having to do more Indian rights than any other President in recent
memory. Sorry. I hope you all got it.>>Kevin Gover: Please say it again.
>>Sorry. I read recently that President Obama is being credited with having done more for
Indian rights than almost any other President in recent memory. I want to know if that is
correct. And if it is correct, could you say in what sense? If it is not correct, please
correct it.>>Kevin Gover: You just poked a stick in
our cage.>>Suzan Shown Harjo: It’s correct. I think
it’s correct, although every President in the recent times, that is, from, oh, I would
say, Franklin Roosevelt forward has done something major and important or many major and important
things for the relationship of Native nations to the United States or for Native peoples
in the Nations and its individuals. You could throw out the name of a President
and we could make a case that that President had done this and this and this and made important
contributions. This President has done extraordinary things,
including the first return of jurisdiction to Native nations since the 1970s when a court
case we think misguided removed jurisdiction. And this was returned in the area of domestic
violence against women and children. So now the tribes and courts and tribal jails and
uniforms have the jurisdiction, whereas their hands were tied for a while. And it created
a situation where perpetrators were committing offenses, violent offenses, horrible offenses,
in Indian country and no one could touch them if they were nonNative.
So that’s a huge thing that has been done. And lots of water rights settlements and land
settlements. As I said, you could make a good case for every President having done just
amazing and remarkable things. Kevin could extol the virtues of President
Clinton and other people he has known close up. And I could do the same with President
Carter. But we could go beyond that and say, Nixon did this and it was righteous what he
did and Johnson and President Reagan. And President Bush, the first President Bush,
was the one who signed into law the legislation creating the National Museum of the American
Indian and providing the repatriation laws returning our facility. We had a process for
the return of our relatives and sacred objects and cultural patrimony from museums and other
holding repositories. So every President has done something that we look to with great
respect.>>Kevin Gover: Yeah, that’s right. Going
back as far back as President Kennedy, Kennedy and Johnson empowered tribal governments in
a way that had not been done before. Nixon as we talked about did the self-determination
policy. Ford wasn’t in office long, but he did nothing to undo what had happened. President
Carter was particularly happen in the area of religious freedom under Suzan’s guidance,
actually. But religious and cultural values, Indians welfare were major breakthrough in
the Carter administration. President Reagan coined the phrase “government-to-government”
as a description of the relationship between the tribes and the United States. He also
signed into law the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and a number of major land and water settlements.
President George H.W. Bush we just heard about. President Clinton really expanded an awareness
in the federal government of its responsibilities, the responsibilities of each agency, to engage
Indian tribes as constituent governments, not as individuals. And every President since
has built upon that. Right up to President Obama.
President Obama has done something very important that no one had done before, and that is he
meets annually with the tribes. Now, you know, a meeting with the President isn’t exactly
like you sit around chatting. But every November or December the President has met with the
tribes during the administration and will do so again on December 3rd, I believe. It
will be his fifth meeting with the leadership of the Indian tribes. And that really is an
extraordinary commitment that he made during his campaign and he has fulfilled it.
I think there are probably a record number of Native American people working in political
positions in the Obama administration. President Obama appointed and saw confirmed the first
Native American judge — found out he wasn’t the first, Mike Birge was the first. The first
women Native American judge, from Hopi, the first citizen of a federally recognized tribe
to be appointed to a position of the State Department of ambassadorial rank, Keith Harper.
There have been a number of breakthroughs in this administration as well.
But what we see is each President building on what the previous one did. And with occasional
slow-downs or even backsteps, but for the most part just continuing progress on this
idea of self-determination. Yes, sir?
>>Thank you. Suzan mentioned the wampum that was being produced by non-Natives. I would
like to know who they were. And the second was, Mr. Gover, you mentioned there were six
nations. I often hear people talk about the five civilized tribes. I would like to know
what is the distinction between the tribes that have not been mentioned and not included
in these treaties.>>Suzan Shown Harjo: Well, wampum was made
by Native and non-Native people for the treaty negotiations and for meetings that were of
a kind that Kevin just mentioned that President Obama has with the leaders every year. Why
that’s important is because of something that’s back in Haudenosaunee and founding fathers
oratory, and that’s about the covenant chain and how important it is for the covenant chain
that binds the Native people and the American people, that that is symbolically made of
three links: Peace, friendship, forever. And that those three links of the covenant
chain get tarnished and discolor and dull after a period of time. And they need to be
shined. They need to be brightened up. They need to be polished every so often. And it
is a renewal of friendship. It is a renewal of commitment. It is an acknowledgment that
maybe we haven’t seen each other for many seasons but here we are, again, seeing each
other and renewing our relationship because these treaties really mark — are marking
points in that long relationship that we have. And it is the relationship that’s important
as well as the treaties themselves and the laws that we all develop ourselves with each
other. But it is that polishing of the covenant chain
that’s so important.>>Kevin Gover: And the six nations I referred
to are also the Haudenosaunee, but they’re the — it is the Iroquois confederacy that
made the Treaty of Canandaigua. The five civilized tribes were, of course, in the southeastern
of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokees, Muscogees and Seminoles. Most of them were removed to
Oklahoma in the 1830s and 1840s, so it is two separate groups.
>>Could you comment on the proliferation of gaming casinos and Indian lands?
>>Kevin Gover: Well, it is relevant, of course, because a key function of the treaties was
the acknowledgment of American Indian nations as sovereign governments with the right to
determine what would take place on their lands. Now, that had been a much abused proposition
over the course of more than a century. But the basic proposition remained even in the
1970s and 1980s when gambling first emerged as a means of revenue, not just for tribal
governments, the state lotteries played as much of a role as any with Indian gaming because
they opened the door to gambling as a source of governmental revenue.
The tribes began to offer first only high-stakes bingo and it was incredibly successful. States
challenged tribal authority to do that. The Supreme Court ruled that the tribes did, in
fact, have the authority to do that free from state law.
The Congress then intervened and said, well, wait a minute, notwithstanding tribal sovereignty,
the states do have an interest in this because it is taking place within their borders and
impacts the state citizens, not just tribal citizens. And so they created an arrangement
where tribes and states would negotiate the conditions under which tribes could offer
casino gambling. And another form of treaty, by the way, between
the states and tribes that is then reviewed and approved by the Interior Department. I
signed well over 200 tribal state gaming contracts between 1997 and 2001, all negotiated between
the states and tribes. I’m sorry.
>>Yeah. I’m from the Caribbean. And, you know, one of the issues that you started to
talk about is the issue of the deculturation of the Native Americans. And when I was in
California, I had a chance once to go to some reservations and Arizona and New Mexico. And
I was absolutely shocked about what I saw there, the ongoing effects of this deculturation
process. So I was wondering — I haven’t been there
lately. But I was wondering how — you know, what has happened since then to try to do
something against this ongoing Americanization of the group and to try to refine some type
of original kind of cultural foundation within the organization. That’s the first question.
The second question is would these treaties now Native Americans are being afforded the
ability to run the territories. But I have heard problems with negotiating deals with
companies regarding resources and stuff like that, that this has become quite controversial
within the organization. So I was wondering what was going on there.
And the third question would be the issue of, you know, aboriginals also face this massive
deculturation process, this civilization process in Australia. I wonder if you have reached
out to talk with them about a comparison and contrast between the two indigenous groups
and various societies. Thank you.>>Suzan Shown Harjo: Kevin and I both worked
a couple of centuries back to clean up things that were made a mess a long time ago. And
we tried to work to craft or suggest or support solutions that provide some sort of measure
of justice in the modern era. And that’s the reason that we’ve worked on all of the cultural
rights laws that we have and the economic laws, you have to have money to do certain
things. And you have to have your cultural foundation in order to do certain things.
So because the American government chose to try to wipe out every aspect of cultural existence
in Indian country, to try to break the spirit of the people by saying you can’t practice
your religion, you can’t wear long hair, you can’t do this, everything was no, no, no,
everything that made the person a Native person was outlawed, was criminalized.
So you had to have something like the American Indian Religious Freedom Act which said counter
to the civilization regulation, it is the policy of the United States to preserve and
protect the traditional religions of the Native peoples. That’s a huge thing, that policy
statement alone. And then you have lots of follow-on legislation
like the repatriation legislation, like the legislation creating the Indian museum, like
the American Indian Languages Act and their amendment, those things are necessary because
the civilization regulations drove all of the Native religions underground and drove
eventually through the boarding school process and themselves by drawing the religions underground.
It throws the languages underground. And a lot of them never reemerged. They’re gone.
Many of them have reemerged and need bolstering laws and legislation, and that’s the kind
of thing that you find in the American Indian Languages Act and the other act that I mentioned.
So we’re talking about a pretty recent process in the overall scheme of things, that the
civilization regulations were in force and effect from the 1880s to the 1930s.
1930s, imagine. So over 50 years there was this religious suppression, cultural oppression,
all of that, and the effort to obliterate the cultures of the Native people. Just systematically
to do it and through starvation, through locking people up, through eventually just killing
people. And we lost many of our finest, wisest, most knowledgeable people through that process
and over that period of time. So it is only since the Roosevelt New Deal administration
where there was a New Deal for Indians, too, and part of that was to remove the civilization
regulation. So it has only been since the mid ’30s that
that burden has been lifted. But the behaviors stayed the same for a long time because no
one trusted that you could now go out and do what you used be killed for doing or you
could — something as simple as having a funeral and having a give-away at the funeral to honor
the deceased, there was part of the civilization regulation that says the excuse that a person
was a mourner is no defense under the law. As Kevin pointed out, what law? But the regulations
themselves became the law and the heavy hand of the law. So the fact that there was no
originating law and that everything was done illegally didn’t matter to people who were
being affected in that way. So part of what I’ve devoted my life to is
that area where we’re doing cultural reclamation and trying to bolster our rights with enough
evidence of law, of support, statements, by Presidents and other people in high places,
that the people feel comfortable doing things that they have a right to do and should have
a right to do. So I’ll let Kevin answer the other parts of
the question. I won’t elaborate on that.>>Kevin Gover: Concerning the question about
the indigenous people in Australia, I’ve not personally reached out to them. But there
was a lot of engagement at the international level among indigenous people. And it has
been going on I would say 40, 50 years, that indigenous people from around the world saw
they had some common experiences that brought them together. But it really bore fruit just
a few years ago when the United Nations adopted a declaration of the rights of indigenous
peoples. Interestingly enough the only poor countries that did not sign on to the declaration
were the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which were where the indigenous
people are in many respects the most visible. Throughout Central and South America, there
are probably about 40 million indigenous people living in those countries. All those countries
signed onto the declaration. There is not a lot of evidence that their policy toward
Native Americans is any more enlightened than the others. So to a certain extent who signed
and who didn’t is not particularly meaningful. President Obama did later, although not actually
signing the declaration or doing whatever you do to join in a declaration endorsed it
and said, you know, to the extent that particular provisions do not conflict directly with American
law, we will abide by the United Nations declaration. So we’re not particularly discouraged by that.
That is very much a work in progress and the fact that at the international level, indigenous
people are being seen as a particular kind of constituency that presents unique problems
and opportunities for the nation-states of the world is progress. And there is a growing
awareness of indigenous rights. And as it — one of the things we should acknowledge
is that in no small part because of the treaty, the United States has one of the more enlightened
policies toward its indigenous people. That’s not to say it’s always been a smooth ride,
far from it. But certainly in this day and age, how the United States chooses to engage
the Native nations puts it far, far ahead of almost every country in the world. And
we’re grateful for that even as we say we have a long way to go.
(applause).>>Suzan Shown Harjo:I should say, too, that
there is a treaty that Native nations of Canada and the United States have made with the Native
peoples with the Maori of New Zealand and with the aboriginal people of Australia. And
that was first signed in 2007. And it is an ongoing treaty and indigenous people continue
to add their names to. That’s promising economic cooperation, trade, promising cultural exchange
and reinforcement of each other’s cultural rights and social rights and obligation to
each other. So who knows where that will go. Just yesterday
at the national museum of the American Indian, the repatriation symposium on return of ancestors
and things to Native peoples, the Ambassador Beasley of Australia was there and reporting
on what his government was doing in this area and the cooperative agreements that had been
reached with France and other countries to return the Native people and Australia’s people.
>>Kevin Gover: Yes, sir?>>Hi. I’m from Russia. And, first of all,
I would like to thank you for the presentation and for the exhibition at the museum you organized.
I really enjoyed it. In Russia, we have a big interest to these issues. And I have three
questions to you. So do all federal recognized tribes have such treaties with the U.S. government?
The second question, do you consider these treaties as international treaties? And if
yes so, can you use them in the U.N. system, judicial system mechanisms? And the last question
is about the status of American Indians. So as you said, it used to be — American Indians
used to a subject of international law. So they could declare war. They could sign peace
treaties Until 1871. And I know in 1924, they became citizens of the United States. So the
status changed. And the question is: How the provisions of
these treaties meet the contemporary status of American Indians? Thank you.
>>Kevin Gover: Well, those are very complicated questions. First, not every tribe, not every
federally recognized tribe as a treaty. Almost all of them have some sort of organic document
or legislation, for example, a number of reservations were established by executive order from the
President pursuant to authority granted by Congress. But even those executive orders
most often involve some sort of negotiation and tribal involvement in the creation of
the reservations. Others were established by legislation. And
so it took a number of different forms but strictly speaking, no, not all 566 tribes
have treaty. The status of treaties under international
law, I think it’s very difficult to give you a direct answer. They are treaties.
When the United States makes a treaty, whether it is then subject to, for example, U.N. processes
is not at all clear, nor are the consequences for a breach. What can the U.N. really do
if United States decided it wanted to breach a treaty with the Pawnee nation? There are
consequences to be sure. But I’m not sure they’re actually legal consequences in the
sense of being subject to some international forum.
And now I can’t remember the third part of the question.
>>(speaker off microphone.)>>Kevin Gover: Well, first of all, let’s
talk about citizenship. Citizenship was extended to all Native Americans in 1924. Other Indians
had become citizens by other means prior to that. But interestingly enough, citizenship
was involuntary. So a good many Indians at the time said we don’t really care to be citizens
of the United States. We are citizens of our Indian nation. It didn’t matter, they were
still citizens. And if they chose to exercise the rights of citizens, they could.
I think it is fair to characterize the contemporary situation as us being dual citizens. We are
citizens both of our tribal nations and citizens of the United States. And we don’t find that
to be particularly ambiguous or troubling. We have the civil rights that every citizen
of the United States does. We also have these group rights, the rights that are — that
belong to us by virtue of our citizenship in an Indian nation.
Most of those are not things that are visible. The Pawnee Nation negotiated for an annuity
of $30,000 a year. This was 160 years ago and $30,000 was a lot of money. Now it comes
to about $12 per Pawnee per year but we still get that check every year. And so its value
is more symbolic than real. But it is there. The treaties are still constantly being litigated.
Treaty provisions are in the courts and quite often in the news. So they remain in effect
to the extent they have not been very explicitly overwritten by Congress. And so you will continue
to see this, any time you read about a jurisdictional dispute, a dispute over the status of a particular
area of a reservation land or not, even matters of criminal jurisdiction where an individual
should be tried, in state court, federal court, tribal court, all of these matters are quite
often governed by treaty. And so even though they were made a very long time ago, they
remain law in the federal system and not just in the federal system, in the United States.
So we will — we will continue as Suzan suggested polishing the covenant chain indefinitely.
>>Suzan Shown Harjo: One other point, the treaties themselves — well, I do want to
say that we had hoped at one point to bring in more of the colonial treaties, including
a treaty that Russia had with Native peoples on the West Coast. And that whole area is
fascinating, and I hope that one day we can shine a lot or that others will shine a light
on that particular history because it is fascinating and kind of bringing that relationship up
to date. The other point I wanted to make about something
you said was that the late 1800s laws stopped Indian treaties from being signed. It only
stopped the Senate making treaties. Treaties were continued to be made in the 1900s but
they were made with both houses, the House and the Senate, approving rather than just
the Senate ratifying. And sometimes they were called treaties and sometimes not.
As Kevin has described, we really have looked at this as treaty-making in the modern time
and what that means it has all of the elements of the treaty, then we’re calling it a treaty,
a modern treaty. Even though it may be made in a slightly different way.
If it is a negotiated agreement, if it is done with the informed consent of both parties,
then we feel that says a treaty. So with that caveat, I really appreciate your question.
(applause).>>Kevin Gover: Thank you all.

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