Sovereignty is not a balancing act
1/11/2012 10:26:10 AM
 
Julia Coates
Julia Coates
By JULIA COATES Tribal Councilor Cherokee Phoenix Senior Reporter Will Chavez is to be commended in his recent reporting of the intimidation Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has directed toward the Cherokee Nation. The issues are complex and intertwined: United Keetoowah Band applications for land into trust, citizenship of Freedmen descendants and the implementation of the 1999 Constitution. But CN citizens need to be particularly sensitive to the kinds of comments made by the administration in reacting to these intimidations. The administration’s comments (which have been echoed by at least three members of the legislative branch, as well in emails, committee meetings or personal remarks) leave one with a sense of insecurity about the courage or willingness of this administration to defend the CN’s sovereignty to the utmost. When Principal Chief Bill John Baker describes the options in front of us as a “balancing act” between how much sovereignty we can manage to maintain without losing federal funding, it represents acquiescence to the intimidation of federal agencies. The administration and the Tribal Council need to remember that the federal courts can trump the attempted maneuvers of federal agencies. It is important for CN citizens to remember that when we are presented with only these two options – either capitulate to the demands of federal agencies or lose funding – we are being presented with a false choice. There is a third option, and the CN has understood this for decades. Under several previous administrations, the CN has refused to limit or reduce its level of inherent sovereignty. The removal of bureau approval authority over our constitutions has been only one of several recent actions reflecting that strong stance on the part of the Nation. In the past 20 years, the CN has been involved in cases with the Delaware Nation over appropriation (with BIA complicity) of CN jurisdictional areas. It has likewise been involved in similar issues with the UKB (with whom the BIA is also presently colluding). For more than 30 years, the CN has been involved in both tribal and federal litigation with the descendants of Freedmen over their demands for citizenship. And we already have a court decision dating to 1976 (Harjo v. Kleppe) regarding the inappropriateness of the bureau’s exercise of constitutional approval authority over non-Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act tribes such as the CN. CN citizens need to remember that in every instance, without exception, the CN has prevailed in the federal courts on all of these issues. And we have every expectation that those precedents will control future federal decisions, as long as we stay the course. But even if they do not, it would be unconscionable for the CN to not even try to defend its sovereignty to the greatest possible extent. Yes, we are tired of having to always be in court, but the exhaustion of our Nation will be permanent if we are not willing to pursue the highest remedy. In an era when tribes are fighting for every inch, we too, must fight for our territory and our right to make our own decisions about our government and society. CN citizens should let their wishes be known to Chief Baker: Do not take the unprecedented step of giving back what we already have. Do not capitulate. Exercise patience and courage. Demand the utmost sovereignty for the CN from the highest authority, which is not Housing and Urban Development or the BIA, but the federal courts.
Julia-coates@cherokee.org • 918-772-0288
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