Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Native Americans and You

Native American Treaties...what are they?

Well, if you're like the standard American, you're not likely to know a whole lot about the complexity and status of Native Treaties.  Many years ago, we European whites and other nationalities moved into a seemly vacant land.  We found people who lived here, engaged them in commerce, trade, and other activities to gain a foothold.  Later, as a new nation, we entered into treaties with various native peoples.  This was so unique that it was given lip service in our Constitution:

"The Federal Government shall have the power to regulate commerce between the several states AND the Indian Tribes."
The Constitution: Article 1, section 8

Now, let's skip ahead to the modern day.  We, the United States of America have written over 600 treaties with Native Tribes over the years.  We've broken pretty much all of them.  But, today we're doing much better than we have in the past and a lot of bad blood is being forgiven and set aside.  There is, however, a lot of other kinds of bad blood that exists now.  How many of you have been to a Native American owned casino?  Did you all know they don't pay state taxes on those?  They're not subject to state regulation of any kind.  The reason: The Supremacy clause of The Constitution, Article 6:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

The above means that Native Americans, their commerce, their reservations, their resources, and anything to do with Native Lands are under the direct pervue of the Federal Government.  States can't touch anything on Native Lands unless are either A) Invited to do so by the tribe, or B) Permitted to do so by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Now, why am I making commentary about Native Treaties.  Because, I find it offensive when someone says "They should pay taxes like everybody else."  I'm sorry, there is no justified reason to state that.  We, as a civilization came in and displaced them, shoved a treaty into their noses, and at many occasions coerced it signing.  Now, talking about citizenship, Native Americans are not "citizens" in the same definition as you would think.  They are, federally dependent individual nations which are fully sovereign with a few minor exceptions.  The aid they get from the Federal Government is BY TREATY mandate...meaning it's not welfare like you would think of the kind that someone applies for with their state welfare office.  Many of our Native Treaties also included provisions to provide for the day to day needs of the people's we displaced.  In many cases, that included food, medical care, and shelter.  This was a contractual agreement between two parties in exchange for the transfer of ownership of lands they have inhabited for thousands of years.  On that note, it's important to remember that, while yes, they don't pay taxes on the activities they do, we as a society are their custodians now.  We entered into this deal with our eyes open, though, I will say that we were likely the short-sighted ones in the long run.

 When you see a Native American, you see a person, fully blooded and truly unique just as the next person.  They do what they can to preserve their cultural heritage and their ancestral lands (what few of them are left), and maintain some dignity after a relatively short period which brought their abundant, rich, and numerous cultures to near extinction.  They are peoples that we can learn from.  With their help and their guidance, we can build a stronger country for everybody.

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