Truth Be Told

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A virtual Native American state (v2)

This is a good idea, but…

…it will never happen.” My article on the creation of a virtual Native American State has been out in the public realm for a few months now, and I have been doing my best to follow the conversations and dialogues that have sprouted up, not only on my blog, but on other blogs, talk shows and articles around the country. If I had to summarize the responses, I would say that the majority of voices ring with a very similar sentiment. "This is a good idea, but…” Of course, there have also been other voices. Some have decried the idea, saying they have no desire to become a larger part of this country and its oppressive government. Others have pointed at this as another way to rob our peoples of the identity and sovereignty we have been fighting for. And still others have snidely commented that this proposal would put an end to the gravy train of free handouts that our Native American tribes receive from Uncle Sam. But a vast majority of the voices I have heard have stated in one form or another that “this is a good idea, but…"

First, please allow me to address the issue of tribal sovereignty. I do not see the virtual Native American state in any way damaging the struggle for recognition or sovereignty that most of our tribes are currently engaged in. Instead, I see this state as a tool that can begin to consolidate our voices in areas where our needs, issues and struggles align. I also do not see the granting of this statehood in any way releasing the US government from the treaty obligations that currently exist, as our original lands are not being returned to us, nor are we engaging in any sort of armed conflict against the US. The creation of this state will not release the US government from the injustices of the past; instead it will give our tribes a stronger voice with which to negotiate the terms for our future.

During every election cycle we hear about presidential candidates courting the votes of various communities. There is talk about the African American vote, the Hispanic vote, and so on and so forth. But I cannot recall ever hearing a candidate setting out to win the Native American vote. Why? Because our voice has become irrelevant. Our peoples have been so marginalized and pushed to the borders of society, that we essentially no longer have a voice. If all tribes could vote together, we would create a block of voters, some 3 million strong, which could NO LONGER be ignored by presidential candidates.

On June 17, 1960, an amendment was proposed in congress to grant the District of Columbia the right to choose their own electors for the election of the office of President and Vice-President. This amendment was ratified as the 23rd Amendment on March 29, 1961. In 1964, the District of Columbia participated for the first time in the Presidential election with its own voice. I think that a similar amendment to grant Native American peoples to right to collectively choose our own electors in Presidential elections would be an incredible step to begin paving the way for the creation of a virtual Native American state. I am not naive enough to believe that this state will be created quickly, or without significant opposition. And that is actually fine with me. To tackle a change of this magnitude to our country's political landscape, structure and status quo is a huge undertaking. It is not a battle that I would shy away from, but it is a battle that I would like to engage in stages, as the issue is discussed and negotiated thoroughly. But I also do not want to wait for years or even decades for some amount of change to begin to happen. So I think that an amendment, similar to the 23rd amendment, for our Native American peoples would be a great first step.

The citizens of Washington DC fall into an ambiguous crevice when it comes to representation in this country. They are full US citizens but do not belong to a state. Instead they fall under the direct authority of the US Congress. Yet they have their own local government with a mayor and a city council. This crevice that they occupy sounds very similar to the ambiguous state of existence that most Native American tribes and peoples fall into. We are told that we are sovereign nations, yet we do not have formal embassies or relationships with the US government as other nations have. We have been 'granted' lands (reservations) throughout this country and have our own local tribal governments, but we are also citizens of the states where these lands exist.

As separate Native American peoples we probably have more interests, needs and concerns in common with one another than we do with the non-Native residents of the very states in which we all reside. But just as the citizens of the District of Columbia are ultimately governed by congressional representatives who are foreign to their city and their issues, so we must rely on senators and representatives who are not from our lands or our people and who are not first and foremost concerned with our unique indigenous issues.

The next steps will come. I am not sure how to deal with all of the complexities that arise from the creation of a new state. And I trust that the Creator will both grant and bring wisdom into the discussion as it progresses. But for the moment, I would like to focus on this first step. Let us create a voice for our Native American peoples by allowing us to choose our own electors as we vote for the office of the President and the Vice-President.

I propose that an amendment to the Unites States Constitution be formally introduced that will grant Native Americans, who are registered members of tribes, to collectively choose our own electors for the election of the United States President and Vice-President.

This will be a huge step forward as these candidates will now be forced to campaign to Native American issues and to court our votes.

Tomorrow will be another day and it will bring another step. But let us start by creating a voice.

Mark Charles
Fort Defiance, AZ


Kade Ferris said...

This is all fine and dandy for a large tribe like the Navajo Nation, who would have the majority of voting power in electing delegates, making policy, etc. Small tribes would be powerless minorities.

Adam Long said...

I still think that instead of putting efforts into getting recognized by the National Government, essentially supporting an insitution seperate from our own insitutions (ceremonies, traditions, beliefs) we are undermining who we are as native people. Being within the community I already see the youth moving farther and farther away from tribal traditions and beleifs BECAUSE of the larger society and moving towards beliefs such as individuality and a linear way of thinking. We need to not move closer towards those institutions and unions but support our own communal institutions. Build ourselves up and not look towards outsiders to build us up.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I have been introduced to this idea. It makes sense that the implementation of a 51st state would result, not only in a collective Native voice but also political leverage for the First Nations in the US. I am no politician yet this sure seems like a compelling and worthwhile vision.

Ivan Gamble said...

Do you feel any hesitation trying to constitute 562 first nations into a unified voice for any issue? Dinetah is not Mohegan nor Pechanga or Pine Ridge. It is different from our Kisaani neighbors; it was the reason Navajo Nation opted not join the NCAI yet choose to join CERT for economic reasons similiar to OPEC.
Your idea is not inconceivable and probably a step in the right direction but there are might be unintended consequences in the long run. Remember too that those in the Beltway, or actual residents of Chocolate City (which is truer than ever now), do have electoral power but do not have 27,000 acres for less than 300,000 people. Dinetah is an amazing place with a destiny all its own.

Anonymous said...

I feel that you have brought up very important points in terms of sovereignty and our current relationships to the US Federal Government. No doubt are they correct in terms of us being "nations" and just how exactly other nations deal with the US Federal Government. While I agree with the idea that a virtual State of American Indian peoples would bring up a lot issues that are not dealt with, we would soon deal with who's getting the attention and our national organizations begging for their reign on what's right for our communities. Things are established in just how our politics are supposed to work and creating a unified state is just not reachable in our generation.

I'm not saying give up on the idea, as I support the development of such thoughts, but what's established in the way our "leaders" do politics won't be easy to win over. It's all about who's who and how people do things in our communities. Just go to any national organization's conference and you will be amazed.

Having our peoples as a unified voice might not be okay for some nations, like smaller nations that feel they need to compete with larger nations. Some nations simply don't want to be included in the same agenda as others simply because one does something one way and not the other.

jcs said...

I don't know that a white guy like me has a place on your comment page, but I just want to say that I admire your courage and initiative. During the Presidential primary season, I sent e-mails to Barack Obama, begging him to go to Pine Ridge in December, when he was here in Iowa. Simply to stand there at Wounded Knee on December 29 would have been wonderful--or so it seemed to me. I'm sure my e-mail notes were needles in haystacks, but what prompts my sympathy for your cause, Mark, is what even this white guy knows as Native invisibility. Whatever you can do to raise the profile of aboriginal people has to have significant benefits, not just for Native people but for the rest of us as well. After all, the fact is we were all at Wounded Knee, one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Ya'at'eeh hastiin,

Na'...For a purely historical reference related to your idea of unifying different tribal people for a virtual Native American state look into what this individual tried to do in history to unifying the arab tribes, his name is T.E. Lawrence, aka, Lawrence of Arabia. He envisioned an Arab State for all arabs but because of their unique different cultures it didn't last.


Anonymous said...

Will you be speaking in Columbus,Oh on March 17th?..

Anonymous said...

First of all, Mark Charles, you arent even a full blooded Navajo. You are from a staunch Christian Reformed Church of the Dutch variety who chose to marry a non-Native woman. All you need is a headband, a fringed jacket, and a sign that says "Peace" as your fingers are busy elsewhere sticking it down our throats to help regurgitate your proposals. A 51st state indeed. That's why the United States made most tribes "sovereign nations". Second of all, your inner "Yippy" doesn't seem to have contacted the leaders of the 565 Federally Recognized Tribes in the U.S. to make sure you got their vote and confidence to speak on their behalf which is downright disrespectful and disturbing. Third of all, how does the Christian Reformed faith mix with Navajo Traditionalism? It doesn't. So, Mr. Charles, have a little more respect for we FULL BLOODS and ask permission from our leaders before you decide to stir up the pot for US. It's easy for you to simply walk away from it all and hide behind your 'white woman' and kids; but you forget the pot is stirred for the rest of us REAL INDIANS who choose to remain with our culture and our people. Living in a hogan on the reservation for three years (sigh!) doesn't make you a real Navajo or an authority on Native American and U.S. Policies. A 51st state would simply set us back YEARS by helping the U.S. Government REFUSE to recognize and honor 565 separate treaties that were established with EACH TRIBE. What makes you think we would do any better as ONE TRIBE OR STATE?! Go back to the hogan and don't come out until you've lived there for at least twenty years - when most real Navajos are finally economically and emotionally able to deal with White America. You should fare well, you'll have a White Handler on board!

PS Don't forget, we Navajo are MATRILINEAL! That means ALL OF YOUR DESCENDANTS belong to the White People. That goes double for you since your MATRILINEAL LINE is Dutch. You might be fine and dandy hearing koodos from your White Brethren there at your church; but the reality is this: You come from a line of Dutch Women, you are Half Navajo, your kids are 1/4 and YOUR MATRILINEAL FUTURE sits with your WHITE WOMAN. And you want to speak on the behalf of all Native America?? Go build a hogan in the Netherlands!