Monthly Archives: April 2017

Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of UNDRIP!

UNDRIP? What is UNDRIP, and why should we be celebrating it? It’s the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN debated over twenty years before coming up with this comprehensive statement regarding the rights of indigenous people. The declaration was finally passed in April of 2007, with only four member nations voting against it. Those Countries were Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America. The Bush administration saw little benefit in supporting the rights of indigenous and oppressed people.

In forty-six articles, the declaration emphasized indigenous peoples rights to live with dignity and maintain their own institutions, cultures, and traditions. The articles address both individual and collective rights for cultural identity, education, health, employment, languages, and more.

Article one says indigenous people have the right to the full enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal declaration of Human Rights, and international law. Many articles deal with protecting and promoting indigenous culture and allowing the people to participate in all the decisions that will affect their lives. Importantly, it confirms their right to self-determination and their rights of land, territories, and resources.

At the end of this post, I will provide a link to the actual declaration so you can read it for yourself. As you do, you will see why the greatest colonizers in the world chose to vote against it. For instance, article eight prohibits individuals from being subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. At the same time, it prevents any form of forced population transfer or forced assimilation or integration. Since 1830, the United States has implemented at least three removal acts against Native People, and in 1950, attempted forced assimilation through Termination.

Prohibitions spelled out in the forty-six articles are a restatement of the step-by-step actions of the United States government in the elimination of all these right to our Native tribes. The United Nations simply had to categorize, and codify our treatment of our indigenous residents, and the declaration almost wrote itself.

Finally, on December 15, 2010, President Barack Obama reversed the Bush administration’s 2007 no vote and formally endorsed the declaration. The United States was the last of the original four opposing countries to endorse. In his statement, President Obama said, “The aspirations it affirms, including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native people, are ones we must always seek to fulfill. That’s the standard I expect my administration to be held to.”

Technically, the declaration is not legally binding, but it does represent the development of international legal norms. It is still a significant means of eliminating the rights violations against more than 370 million indigenous people worldwide. What do you think?

Click the link below to read the declaration in its entirety.



Ah, Spring is in the air. Flowers are blooming, and the pollen count is outrageous. Schools are winding down, and across the country, summer camps are warming up. As camps gear up, so do the plans to “Indianize” camp participants. Dress like Indians, dance like Indians, do ceremonies like Indians and even give Indian names. All under the guise of “better understanding and respecting Native culture.” Sadly, it doesn’t work.

Respect for their culture cannot occur by creating plastic or paper headdresses or mimicking  Indian sounds or songs while hopping, Indian-like, around a bonfire. And it is never appropriate to hand out Native names. In short, it is okay to study a culture, but not okay to usurp it. White men have been pretending to be Indian at least since the Boston Tea Party, and it has never worked out well.

Native customs and beliefs are not trivial or frivolous. They are the deep-seated connection between the people who practice them and their spiritual understanding. The practitioners of these ceremonies are not ancients, long dead and forgotten, they are real and alive today, and their lives are relevant.

Rather than make fake headdresses, talk about the fact that many tribes did not wear feathers at all. That in most tribes that did wear them, they were only worn by men. You might even teach how feathers were earned. What birds were most sacred and desired, and what was the significance of cuts, colors, or add-ons.

For other ceremonies, you might want to discuss the meaning and importance of the drum. Did it sound like the Atlanta Braves war drum, or was the beat more subtle and spiritual?  Instead of making up pretend dances, learn the significance of real dances like the Jingle Dance, or the Shawl Dance, or the men’s and women’s Fancy Dances. All tribes danced at ceremonies and events, and there were reasons for every ceremony. How many ceremonies did a tribe celebrate each year? What was the significance of each one? The “Green Corn Ceremony” was celebrated by all the southeastern tribes. What was its significance and what did it accomplish?

Lastly, forget naming ceremonies. It’s okay to learn about the naming process, but it’s highly disrespectful to assign Indian names. You and your campers probably are not Indian. If any are, they already have their Indian name and don’t need you to make fun of how it came to be.

You can, and I encourage you to, learn and teach as much Native culture as you are able, but it is not possible to become an Indian, so don’t try. Don’t even pretend. It is just plain disrespectful. Remember, respect is the ability to recognize someone’s excellence or worth and to show consideration for that person or culture. What do you think?

Freedmen vs. The Cherokee Nation (Sovereignty or Racial Discrimination?)

In March of 2007, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma held a special election that amended its Constitution regarding citizenship in the Nation. That action disenrolled black citizens, called Freedmen, who had been members since 1866. Was this the decision of a sovereign nation rightfully declaring who can be a citizen or an act of racial discrimination? The answer will be decided in federal court in the next few weeks, but let’s look at some of the critical issues leading up to the disenrollment.

Who are “Freedmen,” and what is, or was their connection to the tribe? The answer to that question lurks in the early 19th century when southern tribes struggled between continuing their historical culture or assimilating white Christian life. The five largest southern tribes, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole, commonly known as “The Five Civilized Tribes,” began adopting an Anglo lifestyle. Along with farming and animal husbandry, they also adopted the European version of slavery. In fact, even though few held as many slaves as their white neighbors, the percentage of Cherokees owning slaves was greater (about 7.5% vs. 5%).

By 1830, the Cherokee, through intermarriage, education, Christian conversion, farming, ranching, and slaveholding, could barely be told apart from their American counterparts. That, of course, wasn’t good enough. They were still “heathen Indians,” and were removed west to Indian Country, Oklahoma. The event will forever be known as the “Trail of Tears.” It was a brutal hardship resulting in heavy loss of life, but they didn’t suffer the tragedy alone. With them on that desperate journey were their slaves.

During the Civil War, the Cherokee, like the other “Civilized Tribes,” eventually fought for the Confederacy. The loss resulted in the Treaty of 1866 which required the abolition of slavery and incorporation of slaves as citizens into the tribe. A copy of the wording is shown here:

The Cherokee Nation having, voluntarily, in February, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, by an act of the national council, forever abolished slavery, hereby covenant and agree that never hereafter shall either slavery or involuntary servitude exist in their nation otherwise than in the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, in accordance with laws applicable to all the members of said tribe alike. They further agree that all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees: Provided, That owners of slaves so emancipated in the Cherokee Nation shall never receive any compensation or pay for the slaves so emancipated. – Article 9 of The Treaty Of 1866.

Immediately following the signing of the treaty, the Cherokee National Committee amended its Constitution and declared citizenship for all former slaves and their dependents residing in the Nation. The wording of the amendment is shown here:

All native-born Cherokees, all Indians, and whites legally members of the Nation by adoption, and all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months from the 19th day of July, 1866, and their descendants, who reside within the limits of the Cherokee Nation, shall be taken and deemed to be, citizens of the Cherokee Nation. – 1866 Amendments to Article 3, Section 5 of the 1836 Cherokee Nation Constitution.

At this point, it seems clear; Freedmen are officially adopted into the tribe. Fast forward now to 1898, when white America again showed it knew best what was good for Indians and passed the Dawes Act, also known as The General Allotment Act. The purpose was to speed assimilation of Indians into white society by taking communal land and dividing among tribal members (of course, surplus land was to be sold to non-Indians). To complete the process, a list of citizens had to be attained. From 1898 to 1914, Cherokees were required to account themselves, and registrars would categorize them as one of three classes. Those “of blood,” those who had “intermarried,” and “Freedmen.”

In the thirty-two years span from the end of the war, many former slaves did in fact, intermarry with Cherokee by blood, and their offspring would, therefore, have qualified in the “of blood” group. Unfortunately, large numbers were either erroneously or purposely listed as “Freedman” by the white registrars. Hence, when the National Council voted to amend its Constitution to define citizenship as only those who could show direct lineage to “By Blood” citizens of the Dawes Roll, everything changed.

The court must decide whether the tribe has a right, as a sovereign nation, to determine who it allows as its members, or if the Treaty of 1866, regardless of the classifications of the Dawes Act, prevails. Cherokee Nation Attorney General, Todd Humbree, who is arguing the case, said “After eleven long years of litigation, the Cherokee Nation is looking forward to having a judge decide the longstanding issue of what rights, if any, the freedmen descendants are granted under the Treaty of 1866. The Cherokee Nation believes strongly in treaty rights and believes the correct interpretation of the treaty would allow the Cherokee people to determine who is a Cherokee citizen.” What do you think?