It’s a good week to be Indigenous.
Over the last several weeks and months, our nation has witnessed a groundswell of action by Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. For tribal communities, so much has happened in just the last few weeks, we wanted to share these events with you.
Here are 5 things inspiring our team in our work for tribal communities and nations this week.
SUPREME COURT RULES THAT EASTERN OKLAHOMA IS RESERVATION LAND
In one of the most consequential treaty rights cases in a generation, The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that almost half of Oklahoma is a Native American reservation in the eyes of the law. Justice Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion, “Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”
The decision reaffirms the political and territorial boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Just as importantly, the court made it clear that Oklahoma had infringed on tribal jurisdiction. Although the case centered on a criminal proceeding and jurisdiction, the ruling has important implications for a broader set of rights guaranteed by treaties and tribal lands across Oklahoma. The ruling makes tribal authority clear in Oklahoma, and the state must now negotiate and consult with tribes on jurisdiction, regulation, and other matters. In a joint statement, the State of Oklahoma, Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations said, “The Nations and the State are committed to implementing a framework of shared jurisdiction that will preserve sovereign interests and rights to self-government while affirming jurisdictional understandings, procedures, laws, and regulations that support public safety, our economy, and private property rights.”
Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and the first Native American woman to serve as Poet Laureate of the United States, explained in a New York Times Op-ed this week “The elders, the Old Ones, always believed that in the end, there will be justice for those who care for and who have not forgotten the original teachings, rooted in a relationship with the land. I could still hear their voices as we sat out on the porch later that evening when it cooled down. Justice is sometimes seven generations away, or even more. And it is inevitable.”
THE END OF A RACIST FOOTBALL TEAM NAME AND LOGO
After decades of protests and organizing by Native people, the Washington football team finally announced that it will retire its racist team name and logo. Though the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, has adamantly opposed attempts to change the name, the team and NFL took a very different position after major sponsors like FedEx, Pepsico and others threatened to end their sponsorship if they kept the name.
As Carla Fredericks told Indian Country Today, “I think what’s really happened in the last couple of weeks is that people are really beginning to understand how corporate behavior should be looked at holistically, that what people might consider investment issues should be broader to encapsulate investment risk on social issues, as well as investment risk on environment, on governance issues.” Fredericks is Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, and the director of the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School. The team has not yet announced its new name.
Though Native activists across the country are praising the decision, the fight is far from over. There are still over a thousand schools with Native American mascots, logos, and team names. Locally, a number of jurisdictions are retiring these offensive references and re-naming their sports teams, but many more still need to follow suit.
JUDGE ORDERS DAPL SHUTDOWN
A federal court ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline be shut down and emptied of all oil within the next 30 days while the federal government conducts a full environmental impact study in order to assess the pipeline’s risks to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The decision is subject to appeal but is nonetheless a victory for the tribe’s protection of their lands and water.
According to Earthjustice, the environmental law organization that represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, “The shutdown will remain in place pending completion of a full environmental review, which normally takes several years, and the issuance of new permits. It may be up to a new administration to make final permitting decisions.”
Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network told Native News Online, “This is a big win for the Oceti Sakowin or Great Sioux Nation and all our ally tribes and friends who came to stand with us to protect water and the future of our children.”
BLACK HILLS DEMONSTRATION
In a powerful demonstration of resistance, Native American land protectors protested a rally held by the Trump Administration at the Mount Rushmore tourist attraction on July 3rd. In addition to the event being held at the Six Grandfathers mountain, a stolen sacred site in the Black Hills, officials declared that the rally would not require face masks or social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently ravaging Native American communities at disproportionately high rates.
20 Native protesters were arrested by state authorities. NDN Collective Founder and CEO, Nick Tilsen, was among them. “As far as I’m concerned it was a successful demonstration of our voice. We let the world know and reminded the world who the rightful owners of the Black Hills are– the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. We made it clear that the President of the United States was not welcome in our territory, without the free prior and informed consent of our People and of our Tribal leaders,” said Tilsen in a statement after being released. “We don’t need allies. We need accomplices. We need people that are going to be accomplices with us in the dismantling of white supremacy.”
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART PURCHASES ITS FIRST PAINTING BY A NATIVE AMERICAN ARTIST
The National Gallery of Art acquired its first painting by a Native American artist. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, is a pop artist whose work “I See Red: Target” will join the collection in this history-making acquisition.
Smith’s “I See Red: Target” is an 11-foot-tall painting which highlights the importance of addressing racism through discussions of commercial branding of Indigenous American identity. This piece is among a series about the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. “I See Red: Target” is in response to the appropriation of Native Americans by professional sports teams, like the Washington R*dsk*ns.
Smith’s work will be displayed among work by pop artists Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol in the East Building pop art galleries.
These important strides forward for Native people follow in the steps of our ancestors. This momentum we’re seeing now is the result of decades of activism and resistance. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial for funders to invest in community organizing. As the nation continues its reckoning over race, we’re proud of Indigenous activists and their allies across the country who are building a powerful new vision for our communities and the dismantling of colonial and racist systems of power.