Self-governance growing for Tribal Nations


The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) role in supervising tribal elections was removed on October 19th by the Obama Administration to encourage more tribal control over Internal Affairs.

Prior to this shift, the BIA handled every aspect of secretarial elections, from deciding who can vote to adding up the results. With the new set-up, tribes no longer have to wait on the BIA to review and conduct secretarial elections, which was a long a process that caused delay.

Tribes now have the option to eliminate secretarial elections, and are even encouraged to do so by the BIA  in order to help tribal self-determination and self-governance.  

This update has now been implemented in the Oneida Nation, and has resulted in the Nation re-working its constitution to include:

“1. The minimum voting age will change from 21 to 18.

2. The tribe’s official name will change from the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin to the Oneida Nation.

3. The Secretary of Interior will be removed as the federal oversight authority for future changes to the tribe’s constitution.

4. The formal establishment of the Oneida Judiciary as a branch of government within the tribe’s constitution.

5. The requirement to hold annual and semi-annual meetings on the first Monday of January and July has been removed.”

Tribal leaders have been working on achieving this level of self-governance for over a decade. Efforts in securing self-governance include referendum question voting, community outreach, and presentations at General Tribal Council meetings.

However, this change in regulation has been met with some disputes. A tribal member has challenged the outcome of the Secretarial election before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, resulting in putting the constitutional reforms on hold.

Once the constitutional reforms have been made, Oneida citizens will not be able to have the BIA intervene on a reservation dispute or oversee future changes to the tribe’s constitution.

In 2009 and 2010, the Obama administration held tribal listening and consultation meetings which lead to this new rule in October 2014. The final ruling on this issue becomes effective on November 18th.  


ICWA guidelines sustained by Court


Guidelines supplementing the Indian Child welfare act were sustained in a legal battle between the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the National Council for Adoption in another attempt to weaken ICWA’s power.

In 2015, guidelines created by the BIA to assist government agencies and courts in better understanding how to apply ICWA were falsely criticized as binding law. On Tuesday, October 20th, the federal court prevented the guidelines from being withdrawn. The purpose of the guidelines is in defining what the legislation means in terms of custody and other legal issues pertaining to American Indian Children. Yet, the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona families wanted them erased.

Federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee denied the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families standing to withdraw ICWA guidelines put forth in 2015 by the BIA.

The ICWA was passed in 1978 by Congress to address and prevent the alarmingly frequent abuses taking place against American Indian children in State foster care systems, by placing them in foster care that was on reservation and tribally managed. The ICWA also attempts to ensure that a child’s placement within foster care would be with American Indian families.

While it is a federal law, the ICWA continues to be violated, where families or tribal members who are willing to adopt are ignored, resulting in their placement in non-Indian homes. In light of this, the BIA released a set of guidelines in February 2015 to provide suggestions about how courts and agencies should engage with custody, adjudications, and post-trial rights relating to ICWA cases.

In an attempt to have them withdrawn, the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families argued that the recently added guidelines violate APA (Administrative Procedure Act, 5. U.S.C, 551-706) by existing as a policy that forces other agencies to abide by guidelines. Both adoption agencies went as far as blaming the guidelines for time spent and money lost through abiding by them.

Federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee reasoned that the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families did not have standing to ask for the withdrawal of the BIA’s February guidelines.  In his decision he said, “Plaintiffs [National Council/Arizona Families] cannot assert injury in fact for voluntary compliance with guidelines they acknowledged had no binding effect and no enforcement mechanisms.”

The decision asserted that the resources lost by abiding by BIA guidelines cannot be sued for, since the adoption groups were never forced to follow them. Furthermore, while the guidelines remain as suggestions for agencies and courts, they do not have to be binding or abide by APA standards.

This legal victory, in defense of guidelines seeking to ensure ICWA’s adherence, is a reminder of our much needed vigilance in the continual struggle to protect the rights of American Indian children.

State Laws Look to Prohibit Offensive Mascots

blogpost redskins        Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper created a task force Tuesday, October 6th to address the offensive representations of American Indians as mascots in his state. As a result, schools with mascots like the Lamar High School Savages and Eaton Reds may be forced to come up with new icons. In hopes of reducing and eliminating derogatory mascots that trivialize and disrespect American Indians, Hickenlooper’s task force includes representatives from both education and indigenous groups including: the Southern Ute Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute tribe, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Denver American Indian Commission, and Native American Rights fund. 

        This task force looks to address the disrespectful use of mascots by creating an open dialogue between school, community, and Indigenous representatives. Furthermore, the task force will reach out to communities affected by these mascots. The task force will also create lists of recommendations for the State of Colorado to correct and address the insulting mascots.

        The dehumanization of American Indians is ingrained in society and taught to be acceptable, as evidenced by sports mascots like the Washington Redskins. Imagine if a team adopted the team name Yellowskins or Blackskins, and presented a stereotypical image for the mascot, the public would be in uproar. People are failing to hold American Indian culture up to the same levels of cultural protection, this is a result of their culture being hidden and constantly undermined. American Indians are among the most marginalized peoples in the United States, and until the media recognizes offenses to American Indian culture as equally harmful and disrespectful as offenses to other cultures, the dehumanization of American Indians will continue.

        Hickenlooper’s task force seeking to dismantle the misuse of American Indian culture is an example of a growing recognition nationwide for regulations preventing the trivialization of American Indians through offensive mascots.The California Racial Mascots act was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 11th,  which specifically bans the use of mascots that offend or trivialize American Indian culture.

        The California Racial Mascots Act specifically defines Redskins as a derogatory term, and prohibits public schools and sports teams from adopting such a name. Furthermore, the law requires that schools currently using a derogatory mascot or name change to an icon that does not trivialize culture. To ensure that the law is complied with, the California Racial Mascots Act will help subsidize the costs associated with changing mascots and purchasing new gear.  

        Governors Brown and Hickenlooper set an example for addressing problems of cultural degradation for American Indians in the United States. Offensive mascots impact the lives of American Indians by creating an environment that celebrates the disgrace of American Indian culture, and laws that look to address inequality in the United States have always been necessary to help fix marginalization. By looking at Colorado and California, hopefully other States can follow suit and help prevent the offensive use of American Indian mascots.


Bush and Trump: Redskins mascot not offensive


This week, Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump declared they have no problem with the Washington “Redskins” name, and that it should be kept as the team’s official nickname. The Lakota People’s Law project believes that this nickname and other use of Natives as mascots are disrespectful to Indians and trivialize important elements of their rich cultural heritage.

When asked about his opinion of the moniker, Trump declared that he knows, “Indians that are extremely proud of that name, they think it’s a positive.” However, he was unable to specifically identify any Native friends that actually did support the name.

Trump has a poor record when it comes to fair representation of Native peoples. In 2000, he funded a smear campaign against the St. Regis Mohawk tribe of New York as a response to their planned casino that would have rivaled his own. Earlier, in 1993, he testified before the House Subcommittee of Indian Affairs that the Mashantucket Pequot Nation was a fabricated group, and that they did not “look like Indians” to him. Trump cannot be trusted to authentically speak for Native Americans.

Bush offers no improvement. When asked his beliefs on the Washington Redskins in a Sirius XM interview, he replied, “I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.”

Unsurprisingly, these two white men are not offended by a dictionary defined racial slur pertaining to Natives. However, various groups and organizations collectively representing 1.5 million Native Americans have called for the team to change its name and mascot.

A spokesman for the anti-Redskins campaign Change the Name released a statement, saying, “What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, (Bush) somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive. He clearly is missing something. What is even more appalling is the governor’s declaration that because he personally doesn’t find this slur offensive, that makes it acceptable.”

Native Americans are a historically underrepresented group in American Politics, which makes them an easy target for politicians and entertainers. Some politicians however, like Republican representative from Oklahoma Tom Cole, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation, agree that the mascot is offensive.

“Come on. This is the 21st century … It is very, very, very offensive. This isn’t like warriors or chiefs,” said Cole. “It’s not a term of respect, and it’s needlessly offensive to a large part of our population. They just don’t happen to live around Washington, D.C.”

Congressman Cole brings up an important point: Native Americans are often marginalized and disenfranchised in the United States, as a result of the mistaken belief that they are all ‘gone’ or living on dusty, windswept reservations in the middle of nowhere. This expressly racist perspective forwarded by men who are running for the highest office in this nation only further cements this misperception and actually compounds it.

The truth is that Native Americans are an essential part of the American fabric, and in pop culture and beyond, they deserve to be represented in a way that reflects dignity and pride, not characterized by a racist joke from the 18th century.

The Lakota People’s Law Project does not take positions on political campaigns, but we urge our followers to keep Native American issues in the topmost of their priorities when casting votes in any political election.

South Dakota secretively eliminates Native history from public schools


New changes to the South Dakota K-12 curriculum have eliminated Native American history from required standards, making it possible for a child to graduate without relevant knowledge about the struggle of the Lakota and other tribes to retain their ancestral land, or their survival in the face of repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, high school students will have the option to choose from early American history, Modern American history, or comprehensive American history to fulfill their only history requirement. As a result of these standards, the Colonial Era, the American Revolution, African slavery, Manifest Destiny, the Civil War and the Women’s Suffrage movement will no longer be a part of required curriculum.  While some students will still have the option to take Early American history, many will graduate without understanding these important historical events that continue to affect this nation.

Professors at Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, Northern State University, Augustana University, Presentation College, the University of Sioux Falls and Black Hills State University, have all criticized the new curriculum. They argue that students will not be prepared for college level history courses with such a weak high school class schedule. Ben Jones, dean of arts and sciences for Dakota State University in Madison, as argued that the new standards are “disabling their citizenship”.

However, the endemic problems with South Dakota’s new education policy go further than properly preparing students for postsecondary education and raise concerns about how depriving students of historical context could compound racial iniquities in a state that is increasingly known for its racial practices toward Indians.

Racial attitudes toward Native Americans, often resulting in outright discrimination, continues unabated in South Dakota. This virulent strain of prejudice is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the unjust and despicable practices of the state Department of Social Services against Lakota families, who face much higher rates of child removal and much lower rates of family reunification that non-Native families, even when poverty is accounted for.

The removal of lesson plans relating to the long and complex conflict between Native peoples and the United States Government will only exacerbate this issue, and make it harder for young people in South Dakota to develop a fair understanding of the historical context and causations for the current conditions faced by Native peoples.

Instead of eliminating early American History classes, so necessary to the proper development of informed citizens, the state of South Dakota should be aggressively creating programs about Native history and culture. The only way to develop future solutions to the problems afflicting Native and non-Native in South Dakota, is for all citizens to have a baseline understanding of the historical antecedents to those current problems.

Teach the children about Squanto and the Patuxet Indians, who aided the first Colonists in Massachusetts. Teach the children about how the Iroquois Confederacy was the first democratic institution in what is now known as the United States.

Teach the children the wisdom of Sitting Bull, who said “White people are good at making things, but very poor at distributing them. Teach them about the Ghost Dance and massacre at Wounded Knee, the Sand Creek Massacre, and other genocidal acts.

Teach them about the Trail of Tears, the theft of vast tracts of Indigenous land, much of which was sacred and has since been sullied by extractive industries seeking wealth and personal enrichment.

Finally, teach the children that all of these abhorrent policies have created the current situation, where Indians are relegated to second class citizens in a land that is rightfully theirs. Teach the children they have a noble obligation to remedy this dreadful circumstance and honor the cultural diversity that continues to inhabit this nation. Teach them that Native Americans are still here, as a strong and dynamic part of modern America.

The rich history of their culture and people deserve official recognition at the high school level in South Dakota. Anything less is an ill-advised attempt to willfully keep a segment of population ignorant, so in their studiously designed stupidity they are better equipped to accept and tolerate blatant injustice. South Dakota can and should do better. Much better.