Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Tribal Sovereignty Discussed at Daylong Symposium

Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Tribal Sovereignty Discussed at Daylong Symposium

Article excerpt

It's well proven that Indian nations are sovereign, John Robinson, former president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and a former tribal judge, said Saturday.

"The real issue is the continued attack upon sovereignty and the infringements upon it, even when good people are trying to help," Robinson said during a daylong Summit for Healing and Race Relations.

The event, which drew more than 40 people to the Billings Public Library, focused on tribal sovereignty in the morning and Standing Rock in the afternoon. It was sponsored by Not in Our Town and the Native American Race Relations and Healing Lecture Series.

In the morning, Robinson, of Billings, sat on a panel with Marci McLean, who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation and is now in Billings as executive director of Western Native Voices; and freelance journalist and fiction writer Adrian Jawort, who lives in Lockwood.

Robinson kicked off the morning by tracing the history of tribal sovereignty. That included pointing to a trio of court decisions in the 1820s called the Marshall Trilogy, which he said "tried to dissipate sovereignty."

"They were sovereign but dependent on the Great White Father to approve what they were doing," he said.

In the modern sense, Jawort added, "sovereignty basically means self-sufficiency."

"How can we be more self-sufficient without relying on the government," whether talking about the economy or the law? Jawort said.

The U.S. Constitution said American Indians were sovereign nations, and the United States would deal with Indian tribes on a nation to nation basis, Jawort said. But in the same document, Indians were referred to as "merciless savage Indians."

"So we were always considered as 'lesser than,' " Jawort said.

A moment of inspiration came in 1969 when Indian activists took control of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay.

"People all across the nation came together," he said. "It was the first time many people were proud to be Indian."

Treaties were repeatedly broken over the years. One bright spot, he said, was the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, which authorized federal agencies to enter into contracts and make grants directly to federally recognized tribes.

McLean, whose organization deals with tribes across Montana, said many people hold misconceptions about the benefits that tribal members who live on reservations receive. …

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