My article proposing the creation of a virtual Native American State has been out in the public arena for over a year now, and I have been doing my best to follow the conversations and dialogues that have sprouted up, not only on my blog, but also on other blogs, radio talk show and articles from 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 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 where do you start".
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 creation of this state in any way releasing the US government from the treaty obligations that currently exist. This is because our original lands are not being returned to us, nor are we engaging in any sort of armed conflict against the United States. 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.
Second, I would like to take a closer look at the history of the District of Columbia as I think it will set some precedent for what I am talking about.
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 reside in a formal 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.
The crevice that they occupy is 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 governed by the states which these lands occupy.
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 the first logical step in creating this virtual Native American state will be to pass an amendment to the US Constitution that will grant Native American peoples to right to collectively choose our own electors in Presidential elections.
I am not naive enough to believe that this state will be created quickly, or without significant opposition. And that is fine with me. To tackle a change of this magnitude to our country's political landscape, structure and status quo is a huge undertaking. While this is not a battle that I shy away from, it is a battle that I would like to engage in stages as the public is educated and issues are 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 this amendment would be a good first step.
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.
This amendment will be a huge step forward as candidates for these offices 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.
Fort Defiance, AZ