Magazine article The New American

America the Balkanized: American Indian Groups and Their Political Allies, Exploiting the Homeland Security Issue, Are Conducting a Quiet Power Grab

Magazine article The New American

America the Balkanized: American Indian Groups and Their Political Allies, Exploiting the Homeland Security Issue, Are Conducting a Quiet Power Grab

Article excerpt

A proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 would imperil the constitutionally guaranteed rights of hundreds of thousands of American citizens. It could also lead to literally hundreds of small, self-contained sovereign nations on American soil.

S. 578, the "Tribal Government Amendments to the Homeland Security Act of 2002," would formally recognize "the inherent sovereign authority of an Indian tribal government ... to enforce and adjudicate violations of applicable criminal, civil, and regulatory laws committed by any person on land under the jurisdiction of the Indian tribal government," except where forbidden by treaties or an act of Congress. The measure also recognizes "the inherent sovereignty" of each tribe "to establish its own form of government."

Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who sponsored the proposed amendment, told a gathering of Indian leaders last February that the measure was intended to make Indian tribal governments "as sovereign as any state in the union" by overturning Supreme Court decisions limiting tribal police and taxation powers.

Post-9/11 Opportunism

More than 25 Indian tribes exercise jurisdiction over lands or waterways along our international borders; more than 260 miles of the roughly 7,400 miles of international borders fall under Indian jurisdiction. Furthermore, many potential terrorist targets--including dams, water works, oil and gas deposits, and nuclear plants--are located in what is called "Indian Country." Thus the text of S. 578 hardly exaggerates in saying that "involvement of tribal governments ... is essential to the comprehensive maintenance of the homeland security of the United States."

But as with so many other facets of the emerging Homeland Security apparatus, S. 578 is a product of vulgar opportunism. Senator Inouye, according to a summary of his February address published by an American Indian news service, "urged tribal leaders to capitalize on the focus on the war on terrorism" in order to press their claims of tribal sovereignty. In fact, the measure grew out of a proposal--"The Tribal Governance and Economic Enhancement Act"--that originated at a September 11,2001 meeting of tribal leaders.

"Homeland security presents an opportunity to secure a status under federal law that will not only recognize your powers and responsibilities as sovereign governments but will strengthen your position and your status in the family of governments that make up the United States," asserted Inouye. But the powers the measure seeks to grant to Indian governments would far exceed those of the state governments.

Article IV of the U.S. Constitution specifies that "the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states." It also grants to the federal government the power to guarantee that each state would have "a republican form of government"--that is, a representative government, with a separation of powers built on the principle of law, and ruled by a written constitution. And it prohibits the federal government from creating a state "within the jurisdiction of any other State."

If enacted, S. 578 would violate all of these critical provisions. Unlike states, which are required to maintain republican governments, tribes would be permitted to establish any form of government they please--and they could do so within the territories of existing states.

Furthermore, tribal governments would have criminal, civil, and regulatory authority over "any person" within their jurisdiction--including non-Indians, who would have no political rights under tribal governments. In his July 30th testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, warned that the measure "would expand tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians without adequately providing for common rights defendants expect in federal or state courts. …

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