Native Nations Should Define Themselves

Harold Monteau

We need to stop thinking about being "Indian" as being a matter of race or culture (both of which are just part of our reality) and think about being Indian in terms of citizenship in a "Native Nation." Race should not define us although it is part of our reality. Culture is dynamic and changes (sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly) and should not define being Indian although it too is part of our reality.

Being an Indian is defined by the indigenous group we come from. All of us have an articulated sense of our place in "the group," and in most cases, that is a Native or Indigenous Nation. Others have a sense of being in a group which is rather undefined but might best be referred to as the "United Native Nation" similar to the United States or United Arab Emirates. This sense of belonging to the group of Native Nations, as a whole, is something that transcends borders and goes with you wherever you are in the world. At present our being in a Native American Nation is defined by how we are defined in treaties by the colonizers. At some time in the future, as we did in the past and some still do, Native American Nations can come together in a confederacy (like the Iroquois Confederacy) or we can come together in a United Native Nation, the commonality being our status as Native Nations. It may be imperative to our survival.

Native Nations (Tribes) need to stop living by the distinctions that keep us apart; distinctions that were mostly assigned to us by the colonizers. Native Nations can make treaties, written or unwritten, by and between each other and with other world nations. Despite the made up "law" by John Marshall that we are "domestic dependent nations" our sovereign right to make treaties has never been taken and we have not given it up. We simply do not exercise it. Like a muscle never used, we have let it atrophy.

What we now call "Indian Country" is a legal definition that recognizes that we live in defined areas over which we hold dominion, presently by leave of our “trustee”, according to U.S. Courts. Some Native Nations do not accept this “domestic dependent status” and act accordingly while still recognizing that the colonizer has perpetual responsibilities towards “their nation” as a consequence of the colonizer acquiring the right to occupy certain lands of such Native Nation.

While our individual Native Nation’s sovereignty defines our individual Native Nation, were we to engage each other in accumulative sovereignty or augmented sovereignty based on shared sovereignty that comes with treaty making, we can be much stronger viz a viz the United States (which includes individual states) and in the world community of nations.

We are taught by the colonizers that we have "tribal sovereignty" and we hold that sovereignty to our chest to protect it from the individual states and the United States. But were we to link hands in a confederacy or United Native Nations we can put all our individual Native Nation sovereignty in a much stronger and protected position. Whether the United States recognizes us in this augmented Indian Nation is of no consequence. It is of consequence that it be recognized in the international community under existing International Law and policy. In the meantime every individual Native Nation has the right to recognition under International Law and should take their rightful place in the International Community, whether they are a federally recognized Native Nation or not. International law recognizes that right, and not just by policy declaration.

International Law is a powerful tool which we have just barely come to recognize and utilize. Some individual Native Nations have been living under the reality of being a Native Nation in their relationship with the world community. Because of the indoctrination of the colonizers we tend to look at these nations as mavericks or radicals who don't know their place. If all of us were to act in a similar manner viz a viz the world community and/or as a group of United Indian Nations, our sovereignty is no longer left to the whim of the U.S. Congress, U.S. Courts and U.S. Administration. Our present reality is that they say, and we believe, in this diminished sovereignty or diminished nationhood which keeps us dependent. We can, as individual Native Nations and together, take the “domestic” out of "domestic dependent nation" while still making the U.S. live up to the responsibilities it took on in exchange for the right to occupy most of our continent. Those U.S. responsibilities are perpetual and should not, under International Law, treaties and conventions, be any the lesser if we define ourselves in the international community. We also can take the “dependent” out of “domestic dependent nations." The duties that the United States owes us into perpetuity are not “dependence." These duties are consideration for the continued occupancy of our continent. Our relationship with the United States as two Nations in the World Community of Nations should be defined by us.

Harold Monteau is a Chippewa Cree Lawyer and was a Visiting Professor at the Southwest Indian Law Clinic at the University of New Mexico. He supervised student authors of parts of Mr. Romero’s brief.

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warrior0369's picture
You would surrender your sovereign souls to the UN? You would dissolve the great nations of America into the mass of human suffering called the UN? Where is your heart and brain? It's bad enough to suffer at the hands of these so called caretakers here at home.....You would allow those of other countries to guard out heritage? You are so wrong on so many levels......
colt45's picture
Warrior0369, I agree with you 100 percent. the white man will do anything to get a profit and they don't care who gets hurt. All the Tribes should be able to live the way they want to, not the way the white people say they have to. The Indians were here long before the white people moved in. I have always stood for the Indians, I've got very little Indian blood in me, I am a white sqaw, I brain tan my own hides, I know some of the Indian ways but want to learn all I can, I talk to the GREAT SPIRITS and am waiting for a sign. colt45
username's picture
Very bad idea. The white man will instantly be able to control this united NDN organization. LOL, today there are so many of us they cannot control us. Not to mention that unrecognized tribes and state tribes won't be part of this so-called united NDN organization. LOL, man, did you even think through this crazy idea of yours?
soundstep's picture
I can't figure out why you complainers would not support Monteau's position (a confederacy or a "U.N." of our nations) since that's what all you complainers complain about all the time, that our nations need to unite and that there's power in numbers, etc etc, yet when Mr. Monteau proposes a solution, you guys go off on him or on our nations. Or is the case of what we citizens tell each other all the time, that the non's (the complainers) can post all the want, but on our end, we ignore the space they take up.
tmsyr11's picture
What ever happened the National Congress of American Indians? What does the NCAI do and perform particularly for the 'poorer' Indian tribes like the Navajo Nation as one example? While I agree with the concept of banding together, 562+ indian tribes all have different and varying degrees of political interests. Casino gaming dollars are one element in determining what an indian tribe will pursue. The Demo-cains and Repub-locrats know this too! For a rich indian tribe on the East coast to pitch in thier money to fund a poor indians as the Navajos - is asking too much! Every Dick and Jane in the US has an 'interest' in indian affairs because they somehow believe they have 'indian blood' to make an opinion. If Native Tribes band together, they will have to kick out these "indian experts" and these 'experts' will have to live in their own world and compete. As long as they live on reservations and functoins as 'experts' there is no need for them to get real jobs. Indian tribes have to stand on their own and judge outside influences as illegal immigration and socialist political influences as those in South America as dangerous to any decent conservative society lest the indian themselves allow political demagagory to dictate varying economic levels as the 'rich' and the 'poor' class. Considering though how dependent most indian tribes have become on US Federal bureaucracies (particularly this White House Administration), indians are going in the wrong direction. If indians are true to being more independent, then indian tribes must hold their own TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS accountable!
greypuma's picture
Mr. Monteau's article is an idea I have waited long to see surface among the Native Nations. It is my opinion that Mr. Monteau should consider the next logical step in this process. As a soveriegn nation, the Native Nations should also make application for membership in the United Nations.
husbandofmoonlight's picture
We here at North American Intertribal Missions "NAIM" have for over twenty five years worked toward a "United Native American Union". Unfortunately it presently seems that the 'majority' of Native America is far too fractured from 'tribal affiliations' after generations of mental conditioning that decribes them as "Domestic Dependent Nations", and as a majority they seem willing to accept that. Through our own influences in the education system of as many as we can reach, we show many who are Native American that they are heirs to a fantastic history, which includes pre contact eras and of course post contact eras. Indeed we are quoted as saying that the 'current oocupying nation' the USA has already shown itself to be an "organized criminal enterprise", and simply a "mark on the wall" of OUR evolution. From the beginning of the USA, they have been a Negative Example for all other nations to follow; when the "founders" wrote that "all men are created equal" while they intentionally excluded the Native Americans they were displacing; and the slaves who's labor they lived off of. All this of course is the highest hypocricy,the 'fable' of bringing "civilization" to a continent who's "occupants" contained a collective group of people who were in reality very closely related by DNA, and ancient beyond those "founders" wildest imagination. We believe eventually that forces outside of our collective control will force ALL of Native America to face the reality that the USA does not intend to follow through with their 'contracts/treaties' with compliance; and they certainly have little regard for our continued existence in any form except "absorbed into the population"---then quitely forgotten; except with entertainment venues such as the upcoming cenimatic expose---"The Lone Ranger"---where the "Indian" is the "side kick" and helper----to the "White Man" while they ride around in the 'old West' doing really good things for the white folks they meet. This article is an excellent example of the "moves in the right direction" and we congradulate the author; and are open for any communciations in the future which we would be able to offer whatever services we are able----to succeed in a "unified" Native American population. Our ancestors defended OUR future with their lives; and the USA was forced to bring "treaties of peace"----in reality "capitulation". We owe our descendants the same courage and dedication and we can only perform that duty in "UNITY". Thanks for Your time, Husband of Moonlight