Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cherokee Racism

The Cherokee Nation voted to eject descendents of slaves owned by Cherokees from membership in their nation. By a 3/4ths vote, only "blood" members of the tribe can be part of the nation.

Counting membership in Indian "nations" is one of the last remaining acts of blood racism recognized by U.S. law. They are the last remnant of the 19th century pseudo-science of race which worked so much havoc in every other area of American life. There are many irrationalities in the treatment of native American tribes in our law. I think it is time to put this one to rest.


Anonymous said...

I agree it is unfortunate that the Cherokee people voted to exclude people of Cherokee blood and African blood. However, the fact still exists that one can trace ancestry through one's "blood."

Second, your use of quotations around the word "nation" is offensive. American Indians were here before Europeans. These "nations" concluded treaties with the United States government recognizing their sovereignty, thus dealing with them like they did France or the United Kingdom. We were the ones who imposed and displaced them, so the least thing we can do is live up to our treaty obligations and not be cynical about their official status as sovereign nations.

Thirdly, the fact that the overwhelming vote to do this came after the Cherokee Supreme Court ruled in the opposite manner, should be a lesson to activist federal judges. When judges decide to impose their views on the great, super-majority of the people, they react and react with haste and in a democratic way. It may seem morally repugnant, but amending a constitution is a proper exercise of democracy and I am very leery (not always totally opposed) of making value judgments of what a super-majority of a people do when they exercise their rights by amending their constitution.

Gruntled said...

Cultural heritage is real; blood is mostly a metaphor, and not a very good proxy for cultural heritage.

I don't think the native tribes were ever nations in the full European sense. Even the Cherokee, who made the best stab at it, never fully developed national institutions. We are all stuck with the halfway status of individuals who both are and are not part of the American nation while retain some legal status as a different nation. This is the residue, I contend, of white racism in centuries gone by.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this half-status is residue of white racism from years gone by. Another aspect of this racism is the failure of the federal government to abide by the Treaties that it made with the Indian Nations. But I think it is presumptuous of us to say they aren't a nation just because they don't have the same institutions. Obviously they don't have same cultural roots and ideologies of Westerners (e.g., Calvinism) but this doesn't mean that they are not a nation. It's true that cultural heritage and blood heritage are two different things, but it was mostly the imposition of white people and the racism it brought that resulted in a great loss of cultural practice.

So here's what I've concluded:
American Indian people and nations who earlier in American History had much more power in relative proportion to the US government was legitimate enough for the Senate to make treaties with them. These nations should not be expected to assimilate into American society, but the US should live up to the obligations we made through those treaties. And normal Americans shouldn't assume that all Indians and their land is always available to our use, if where we put them ends up being desirable at a later date. We wouldn't imagine doing the same thing to Canada or Mexico!

And I still believe that sovereign nations deserve the right to amend their constitutions in the prescribed manner without Americans assuming that they should just be expected to assimilate and adopt our values.