Lela on Indian Nations and States Rights   4 comments

Thom, this is why I like our conversations. You force me to dig back into my memory and, when it fails, research. Last week you said I was off base on the Civil War and you ended up defending Indian sovereignty against someone who is a member of a tribal nation. That’s kind of ironic, I think.


DSC01494First, I don’t agree with you about the payback thing. We need to stop the back-and-forth retribution attitude and move forward. I’m pretty sure if I dig deeply enough I would find a white ancestor who killed Indians in retribution for my ancestor Barasallai killing white settlers in the Michigan wilderness circa 1810-ish. To be angry at one and not the other would be inconsistent and to be angry at both would be schizophrenic. There are parts of both sides of my heritage that I love and parts of both sides that I find regrettable. “Move on and let the dead bury the dead” is my motto. I don’t see a racist behind every bush trying to bring back Indian transportation. I see people who look a lot like my dad who are mostly trying to be my friends, who may not understand my family history … as I may not understand theirs. I don’t hold them accountable for the actions of their long-dead ancestors. I only hold them accountable for what they personally do to me and then I give them the rough side of my tongue if I feel it’s necessary. I don’t need special status to do that. It’s a natural right we’re all born with as humans.

The Wendake (Wyandot in the US) share a reservation with the Cherokee in Oklahoma, but I admit my grasp of Cherokee history was mostly confined to a PBS special. The Wyandot were “free” by the 1830s, they had been accepted as American citizens, which meant they had a very different history than the Cherokee and other tribes who refused to assimilate. They chose to reconstitute as a tribe in the 20th century. Most of my immediate family had already assimiliated, but my grandmother registered with the tribe and my mother became friends with distant cousins in Oklahoma.  I’ve never lived on the reservation, but I do visit and I am a full-fledged voting member of the tribe. And now I’ve brushed up on my Cherokee Nation history and I understand why they were angry, but I still don’t understand why my cousins feel we should join them as our experiences were very different.

The Wyandot consider themselves to be a nation too, but you know – I don’t buy into it. Especially groups like the Cherokee and Wyandot who have no blood quantum standard for membership — it feels a little bit like a scam. Because I am a member of the tribe, I can claim to be an American citizen when it’s convenient. I can vote for President and claim Constitutional protections. When things aren’t convenient, I can claim to be a citizen of the sovereign Wyandot Nation, slip into the Cherokee Nation reservation and they’ll protect me. Literally, I’ve seen them (all of the tribes that share the reservation) circle the wagons (pun intended) and hide someone from outside authority, which walks on egg shells on Indian land. I don’t buy that. It’s having it both ways and that argues against my belief that we’re all pink inside and equality means all races being treated the same under the law.

It’s all predicated on two decisions in the 1830s that were dancing around Indian apartheid. The SCOTUS refused to hear the Georgia case because, they said, they couldn’t determine if Indians were American citizens, sovereign nations outside of the United States authority or some sort of enclave under US protection. Since they refused to rule, transportation – which was what the Cherokee were trying to prevent – was undertaken. Less than a year later, the SCOTUS ruled they were sovereign citizens of their own nation who could resist transportation on their own land, but the Trail of Tears had already begun, so they had no land on which to resist, but also because they weren’t citizens, they had no rights in US courts to protest what was happening to them. Those decisions were used later with other tribes to assert that Indian “nations” didn’t have a right to the land the US gave them by treaty because it was not their ancestral land. Pretty sweet Catch 22 — unless you happened to be a member of one of the unassimilated tribes.

At about the same time, the exact same US government that transported the Cherokee against their will offered the Wyandot money for their land in Ohio and a substitute grant of land in Kansas. The Wyandot agreed if they could become American citizens. The citizens stayed in Kansas when it became an organized territory. Those that didn’t become citizens were transported to Oklahoma in the 1870s, because non-citizen Indians didn’t have any rights. Whoa, there’s a pattern there!

I am not saying what the US and Georgia did to the Cherokee was right. I have some personal theories about how American history would have turned out had the government done things differently, but they didn’t and that can’t be changed. What if wasn’t, which leaves us with what is. Today, because white folks feel guilty for the actions of long-dead white folks against long-dead Indians, Indian nations now have special rights.  I object to that because it continues the cycle of racism and retribution. Can’t we all just be Americans? No white privilege, no Indian pride, just folks? American culture is a crazy quilt of glorious diversity and I love that.  Not only should you respect my culture, but I should respect yours — or at least your right to celebrate it. What would be so wrong with actual post-racial America? That only happens when all American citizens are equal before the law, but if I have special status, then I am more equal than you are. I want to be judged by the content of my character, not the color of my skin.

Now, once again, setting aside the slavery issue and just looking at states rights …

The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was equivalent to the shot heard round the world, when the British moved on vital American interests and the Americans moved from diplomacy to defending themselves. South Carolina seceded from the union in December. Between that time and President Lincoln’s inauguration in March of 1861, the seceding states tried hard to avoid aggression and President Buchanan took no military action, noting that while he believed the states had no constitutional authority to secede, he could find no constitutional authority for him to prevent it. While refusing to allow the resupply of Ft. Sumter, the South offered a peace treaty and to buy the military installations it was asking the Union to vacate. Because Buchanan was a lame-duck president, he didn’t move on those requests, but they could have settled the issue peacefully. Instead, Lincoln came into office and, like King George before him, refused to acknowledge the rights of the people of the seceding states to self-determination and moved to resupply Ft. Sumter, which controlled Charleston Harbor.

Last week, you said no country could be expected to ignore the bombardment of one of its military facilities. True, except that South Carolina had declared its independence and asked what it viewed as an army of occupation to leave. And, there is American precedent for that. No country could be expected to accept the encroachment of an aggressive neighbor in their most vital port. The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was no different than the siege of Boston or the bombardment of New York during the Revolution. For the Southerners, the Union Army were refusing to leave their country when asked peacefully. The Union Army had taken aggressive military action to entrench themselves in a strengthened position in control of a vital South Carolinian national asset. What choice did South Carolina have but to defend its territory or submit to what amounted to colonial tyranny? Had Lincoln taken Buchanan’s view on the situation, the bombardment never would have happened. Instead, he forced the issue and South Carolina moved before he could take control of their harbor.

I don’t know how we can say it was okay for the Americans to stand up against British colonial aggression and protect the arms cache at Concord and yet turn around and say it wasn’t okay when our government took the role of England against the Southern states. It amounted to the same thing.

Secession is in American blood, after all. We seceded from Great Britain in 1776 AFTER they forced the issue. During that war and for several years after, each of the rebelling colonies considered itself a sovereign nation cooperating with a dozen similar sovereigns in a relationship of shared goals. The Articles of Confederation explicitly asserted that each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom and independence”. It was too loose a confederacy to work and the Articles could not be amended, which is why they were replaced by the US Constitution. Most states joining the union were of the belief that they had retained the right of secession. New England threatened twice, the South threatened over tariffs in the 1830s and the border states threatened during the Civil War. Clearly half the states in the union are on record for thinking they had a right to secede.

Just because the Constitution lacks a specifically stated right to secession does not mean there isn’t one. The 10th Amendment states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In other words, the federal government was always supposed to be subordinate to the states or to the people — and was until the Civil War. The US Constitution was written by people who believed wholeheartedly in the revolutionary right of a free people to change their government anytime they see fit. They had just done that within their lifetimes. It’s enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Notably, Abraham Lincoln himself expressed a similar sentiment in 1947 on the floor of the US House of Representatives:

“Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuation, a most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.”

I guess “any people, anywhere” did not include the Southern states when he was President. They had no “sacred right”.

James Madison, father of the Constitution, argued in the Convention that the Constitution would be “analogous to conventions among individual states” and  “a breach of any one article by any one party leaves all other parties at liberty to consider the whole of the convention as dissolved.” From the Southern point of view (and I must thank a Southern friend for explaining this to me), the United States had breached several articles of the Constitution and thus the whole of the convention was dissolved.

Thom StarkI don’t think you can argue that prior to the Civil War, most Americans thought that secession was not allowed or that states rights lacked validity. The very way in which the western states were admitted into the union suggests they saw states rights as important. Why was Missouri allowed to be a “slave” state and Kansas was admitted as a “free” state if not because states were recognized as having rights?

But you are entirely right that since that time, most people have been of the opinion that states have no rights, but that’s based on the Union winning the war, not on any changes in the Constitution undertaken by all parties. I’m arguing that states should have their rights restored and that if the federal government continues to force its one-size-fits-all tyranny on the states, they will eventually breed another round of secession and civil war. Recognition of states rights as Constitutionally intended could possibly prevent the dissolution of the union.

4 responses to “Lela on Indian Nations and States Rights

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  1. If you look at the reasoning behind the succession and the revoking of that right by the Federals, it is all economic. People see what affects their lives. The business of running those lives, even in the shadows, has to do with the lining of the purse of who holds the strings.


    • Yes, but who holds the purse strings? For real?

      Far too often in this country, we advocate for “cutting those strings”, but end up cutting our own throats in the process.

      Abe Lincoln talked a good talk about the inhumanity of enslaving one race of people for the benefit of a segment of another race of people, but in the end, he turned out to be a huge statist who just wanted to impose his will upon those who disagreed with him.


  2. Pingback: Thom Stark’s View on State Sovereignty | aurorawatcherak

  3. Pingback: Lela on Sovereignty | aurorawatcherak

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