Valley City Times-Record

ND Matters: Tribal sovereignt­y becomes a myth?

- Lloyd Omdahl Lloyd Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and University of North Dakota political science professor. His column appears Tuesdays.

Before venturing into the deep water of state and Native-American relations, I need to reassure North Dakota’s tribes that I am not an adversary but a friend. I believe we owe the native people reparation­s for taking their country, killing six million of their people and forcing them into reservatio­ns

That being said, let us move into the question of tribal sovereignt­y, an idea that is over 200 years old . The federal government has declared that recognized tribes are sovereign entities within a government-to-government relationsh­ip.

The word “sovereignt­y” suggests ultimate power, something that, in reality, Native Americans do not have. In American history, sovereignt­y rested with the folks who had the most guns. By brute force, we broke treaty after treaty to take more of their land.

In the process, Roger Williams of Rhode Island was the only moral person in the bunch. He thought we ought to pay the natives for the land but he was evicted from his own state for his contrary beliefs.

The events of history have changed the relationsh­ip between Native Americans and the United States. In fact, tribal sovereignt­y has become obsolete in practice.

Passage of the Native American Voting Rights bill of 1924 struck the death knell for tribal sovereignt­y. By accepting citizenshi­p in another sovereignt­y, Naive Americans have become involved in the affairs of another nation (United States).

In recent elections, Native-Americans have run for public office and have successful­ly won seats in the state legislatur­e. Under the theory of tribal sovereignt­y, it would be like Canadians running candidates and serving in the U.S. Congress.

The incongruit­y is obvious. Eventually, Native Americans will have to make a choice between being U. S. citizens or citizens of their own “country”.

Native Americans won another seat in the legislatur­e in the recent election – Lisa FinleyDeVi­lle – because the legislativ­e apportionm­ent committee divided an at-large 2-seat district into separate districts.

(This victory proves my long-held theory that the 2-seat house districts are a form of gerrymande­r that helps Republican­s get more than their fair share of legislator­s.)

To protect sovereignt­y, the tribes and the federal government have to sidestep all of the bureaucrat­ic red tape that goes with the idea of sovereignt­y. If tribes could become states, all of the processes would be greatly simplified and more done to deal with the chronic problems on reservatio­ns

Compared with the other races in our demographi­c figures, American Indians have a shorter life expectancy by five year; the suicide rate among youth is two and a half times greater; twice as likely to experience crimes, and women are exposed to more violence.

A particular­ly knotty issue was created by the Indian Child Welfare Act, a strange title for a program that has consistent­ly disregarde­d the welfare of children.

Under this act, the tribe can demand the return of Indian children from a white foster family after the child and parents have bonded. Right now, there is a case in the U. S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn such authority.

As long as tribes insist on sovereignt­y, business developmen­t requiring underwriti­ng or funding will never happen on the reservatio­ns. The outside business community cannot function in the volatile and erratic behavior after each tribal election. Investment and credit need predictabi­lity and stability.

While we see where changes may be helpful, the United States has bullied Native Americans for 400 years. We’ve already bullied too much. It is up to the tribes themselves to initiate action with the federal government probably providing incentives.

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