Beware the Voices of Political Assimilation

Ray Cook, ICTMN Op-Ed Editor

A Haudenosaunee orator and representative to Nations has said that “sovereignty is the act there of.”

Sovereignty is action, and it’s through our actions that people come to understand our sovereignty (our original free and independent existence).

In a state of liberty, individuals choose what actions will define their personal existence. But, governments do not have that luxury. Governments are not free, nor endowed with liberty and are not individuals. They make way for freedom and clear the way for individual liberty or they get in the way and obstruct liberty. 

The Haudenosaunee, as a general rule and certainly as governments, do not participate in another government’s election processes. Those are not sovereign acts.

In that paradigm, it is bad strategy for a Native government or national Native representative organization to urge their people to participate in another government’s election. The cost is too high.

Not to ignore the current relevancy of America’s Congress on tribal realities, but, wouldn’t voting in Congressional elections and Presidential elections be the equivalent to accepting as truth the plenary power they mistakenly claim to have over us? Of course it does.

The reality is that we already have representatives and we elect them on a regular basis utilizing Tribal election rules and laws. It is the job of our elected representatives to protect our nations and our resources from harm and to promote our survival, and ensure our prosperity. That is not the job of another government's Congress. Voting in American elections does not empower us, it accomplishes quite the opposite; it politically assimilates us.

We hear Native people of position urge their fellow Natives to be Americans and vote in the elections of the United States. To justify participating as Americans in American elections their argument comes down to something as silly as, “Congress will listen to us if they see us as voters, as their constituents.” But, the reality is at that moment, in the eyes of America, we become indistinguishable from them.

That's it? Voting in their elections is our new currency? A single and solitary vote? What about our holdings of land (we are still the second largest land owner in the U.S.), and our gold, silver, coal, oil, uranium, other minerals and water? Are those not currency enough to hold the attention of Congress? Of course they are.

So, what the Washington Indians are saying is they and our Tribal representatives and organizational representatives are failing to strategically manipulate the American Congress’s attention using our wealth. If that is indeed the case, then we need to find ourselves smarter strategists.

Could we be better served if we manipulate our collective markets (think of the tens of millions of people who frequent Native shops, gas stations and casinos) to vote for our favored American candidates and policies? Of course we would.

If we would put as much energy into making friends with Americans as we put into making friends in D.C., we may actually have a shot at influencing Congress and their elections without jeopardizing what remains of our sovereignty.

Sovereign Native nations voting to gain the attention of Congress is a dead end, a distraction from our best efforts to speak to America on the level playing field of Nations. And, as we should all know by now, Nations do not speak to Congresses or Parliaments. They speak to heads of states. To do any less are not actions of a sovereign.

To vote as Americans sends a mixed message. If we strive to live a free and independent existence, does voting as Americans surrender that existence? Certainly as governments of real nations it does. After that act of voting do we still remain a sovereign and distinct people, or do we become dark Americans, a minority in a sea of many?

The head of one national Native organization (NCAI) publically talks as an "American citizen" and in terms of "our government," "our president" (Obama), and "our constitution." While that may be his personal view, it’s not a responsible manner to speak as head of a diverse national organization. Not all members share that view, but when you speak that way you give the false impression that everyone who is part of that organization has the identical perspective as the "leader."

A price comes with American citizenship and voting in American elections. The price to vote is taxation and a significant portion of our original free and independent existence. Not the limited sovereignty of the IRA or the limited sovereignty of Federal recognition, though those will surely be the first to perish never to be returned should our governments continue to pursue the “get the Indian out to vote strategy”.

Beware those voices of political assimilation.

Those who present the American voting strategy on a national stage are, to put it kindly, reckless and need to be reminded of our best interests.

Indian country needs the kind of representatives who understand that not everything is negotiable and not everything is eligible for compromise, least of all our sovereignty, not for gaming or the attention of the American Congress.

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wahsontiio's picture
I feel hopeful when I read something a good Indian (not dead, lol)has logically explained about the obvious. Yet the obvious evades so many.... I just have one wish for the original people that still have traditions to hold on to.....that we don't become "them" trying to play their games of politics and economics. Its happened. O yes, there are definitely leaders getting wined and dined into sell-out. That is part of the reason some nations are in the state they are. If you are a leader, lead with the same conscience and foresightedness our traditional leaders of the past did....they lead for a life time, not a year or two.....let's not foresake all their efforts.
sierra's picture
Gr8 article Mr. Cook. And a belief that is shared well among the Haudenosaunee who haven't opted to get one. I recall some time before the issue of passports was confronted in real life by our lacrosse players, where our players experienced the hassle of our own Haudenosaunee ones not being accepted elsewheres they still stood firmly to their convictions that the Haudenosaunee passport was their legal passport and, if I recall corrrectly, our passport was eventually accepted by one of the state authorities. Sometime before that, I dialogued with an older fellow who seen nothing wrong with obtaining a state issued one, as he rationalized it as there being nothing wrong with dual citizenship. Fine. On reflection, we have different life experiences and upbringing. He served in the U.S. military and received benefits from it in terms of it having given him opportunities in life. Also related to me in another dialogue with him was that he thought then the activists in the U.S. were almost clueless. I don't agree but, even if some are, it's not necessarily bad, as they haven't been indoctrinated or overwhelmed with mainstream news and PR transmissions moulding their opinions, and lessening their critical thinking skills. On the other hand, an Oneida friend of mine related where the now coined phrase/joke 'do you want some whine with that cheese?' comes from. That's apparently what the Onkwehon:we servicemen literally received from the Queen for their military alliance. And how hard is that to believe when our territories were our greatest source of life, only to become the greatest commodified resource and today resemble but dots on the map. The society we live in today is no longer about governance by the people, for the people. It is about, say: "The Genuis of the Beast" as Howard Bloomberg put it. Hats off to all those Indians who protested the Keystone XL pipeline. More information/assessment about the environmental impacts is needed before or if it gets approved. Another election coming up and well, if other countries were allowed to vote for the world's #1 superpower president, Obama might stand another chance as it was related previously where he would've gotten in by a landslide, if that were the case. After all, he did make the most notable stand yet against the corporate Goliaths. Nia:wen.
curtj's picture
Assimilation. Another avenue to disinfranchise the Indigenous, to steal their resources and lands. Looking at the techniques used by the federal and state governments as well as other carpetbaggers, i notice they: -Stealthily clear the way for the theft of resources and removal of the Indigenous off their lands. -Decry the Indigenous indignation and efforts to right the wrongs, after which they -State the whites and Indigenous are the same with rights, after which they -Stealthily clear the way for the theft of resources and removal of the Indigenous off their lands. -Decry the Indigenous indignation and efforts to right the wrongs, after which they -State the whites and Indigenous are the same with rights, after which they -Stealthily clear the way for....... It never changes, and some of the Indigenous leaders thoughtlessly say, Don't look in the past, look to the future. They don't look at the past and present policies which are the same, and so they doom the rest of the Indigenous to the same policies of theft of the rest of their resources and lands. Makes one wonder if our leaders are wined and dined by the thieves and murderers.
michaelmack's picture
Interesting article, glad to see someone is thinking outside the box of Federal Indian law and the existing U.S. political system as having all our answers. For almost 10 years I worked for a law firm that specialized in pension law, that is issues that centered on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code. To put it briefly, we found or developed loopholes to go AROUND the existing tax code to benefit our clients. Everything we did was perfectly legal. Rather than merely accepting the IRS code as having the ultimate answers, we found NEW ways of using those laws to achieve tax advantages that the IRS code hadn't thought of or codified. We were paid very well by our clients because we got great results for them. My point of this example is that if Indian Country really wants to expand or strengthen tribal sovereignty, it has to find ways to work AROUND the existing laws, and develop NEW strategies that only use Federal Indian law as reference points, rather than the final word. I personally stopped voting in federal and state elections about 25-30 years when it became clear to me how rigged the U.S. political system is. (This was also during the time when I worked at that tax law firm, when I got a much clearer picture of how the system really works - the "little people" the 99% of American voters really have little influence in political party structure or the outcomes). The U.S. political system is designed to keep those in power, in power. Playing their game is only a facade designed to make the 99% feel like they have some influence, they really don't and never will have enough influence to make major systemic changes. What I did learn from the experience at that law firm is to look BEYOND the existing legal status quo, and come up with new ways to use it to your advantage, rather than allowing it to keep you under its control. This is what Indian Country needs to wake up to. For too long we've waited and hoped and played by their rules, in the desperate and pathetic hope if we played nice, the U.S. would finally treat us with justice and equity - that is NEVER going to happen in the existing political system. Yes, we use their system when its the only viable option, never as the final authority, but only as a stepping stone. If Indian Country really wants to re-make sovereignty in our terms, we have to look for new ways to move beyond the existing legal structure - we need tribal leaders, tribal attorneys to think along these lines. No easy task for sure, but one that has potential to produce results beyond our current thinking.