DENVER, CO – Recent assaults on Tribal sovereignty shaped the theme at the 75th Anniversary of the National Congress of American Indians Conference held in Denver, Colorado where hundreds of Tribal leaders met to hear first-hand accounts of the impacts on Indian Country.
“I think we often take our Tribal Sovereignty for granted and expect it to remain strong and in place for generations to come,” states Loris Taylor, President and CEO of Native Public Media. “We are learning that we must continue to exercise our Tribal Sovereignty, and even more so, be astute about its protection especially in the courts.”
While Tribal Nations are inherently sovereign, in September, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe was stripped of its federal recognition by the U.S. Department of Interior.
In October two major court decisions were handed down. First, the Texas U.S. District Court declared in an unprecedented ruling that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unconstitutional; and the Act’s accompanying 2016 regulations unlawful. This is the first time a state has sued the federal government over ICWA’s constitutionality. Next, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand North Dakota’s decision to enforce a voter ID law requiring the presentation of identification that includes a current residential street address, and which directly suppresses the right of Native Americans to vote who have no street address.
The Trump Administration contends that tribes are a race rather than sovereign governments and began chipping away at Tribal sovereignty early on, starting with the imposition of work requirements on Medicaid recipients when Native Americans were historically exempted from those kinds of requirements. Other decisions of the Administration include the approval of the Keystone pipeline and the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument for resource exploitation, despite opposition from Tribes.
One thing urged over and over again at NCAI was that Tribes must be united in their mission and purpose to protect Tribal Sovereignty – at stake is the freedom to live on tribal homelands, to practice tribal religion and culture, and to benefit from the lands and waters of ancestral homelands as self-governing peoples.
“There is no such thing as “race.” It’s a social construct that will be used chip away at Tribal sovereignty. Our children are depending on our wise collective decision-making moving forward so that our sovereignty can withstand the winds churned up by the national political pendulum. It is our inherent authority as citizens of sovereign nations to exercise our self-governance just as our nations have done before contact. That perhaps is our greatest purpose today,” concludes Taylor.
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities.
“In order to secure to ourselves and our descendants the rights and benefits the traditional laws of our people to which we are entitled to as sovereign nations” – from the Preamble to the Constitution of the National Congress of American Indians – Denver, Colorado – 1944