Dr. Dean Chavers
As an inveterate reader I tell people I do not read books—I devour them...
Suzan Shown Harjo
“I was the go-to-jail guy.” That’s how Billy Frank, Jr., (Nisqually) often described his role during the treaty fishing rights struggle in the Pacific Northwest of the 1960s and ‘7...
Dina Gilio-Whitaker

I write this in response to Steven Newcomb, who took issue with the column I recently wrote titled, “Moving From Sovereignty to Autonomy.” He is passionate about his opinions and intellectual projects and I respect that. I respond in the spirit of public debate that this issue requires.

Not surprisingly, Newcomb is concerned about language and the meanings behind words and concepts such as “autonomy” and “indigenous” and the ways they are deployed in international law to imply and reinforce relationships of domination. Of course his concerns are justified, and in principle I agree with him 100 percent. Where we part company, perhaps, is in our approaches to addressing those structures of domination he so aptly names. For me the question is: how do we as “indigenous” peoples negotiate our way within those very deeply entrenched and troubling structures to find workable solutions? To borrow a bureaucratic colloquialism, how do we find “work-arounds” to what sometimes appear to be insurmountable obstacles?

In a perfect world, states’ governments would wake up one day and having seen the error of their ways they would renounce those oppressive structures in the interest of following an altruistic, moral imperative to do right by indigenous peoples. We can all hope and even work for that. What he is saying needs to be said. But it seems to me that in reality we could be waiting a very long time, if it were to happen at all.

Would I like to see the doctrine of discovery repudiated and the entire regime of international and federal Indian law restructured to assume new, more just meanings and models relative to indigenous peoples? Yes. Is it possible that Indian nations can be restored to their pre-colonial levels of independence? In my opinion, that’s highly questionable and at this point maybe even undesirable for some nations, but it’s for each nation to decide for themselves.

We live in a different world now compared to our pre-contact ancestors. It is a world far more dependent on the quality of our political relationships. Like it or not we are swimming in the river of international relations as it exists, not as we wish it to be. From my perspective we must find ways to advance self-determination through the channels that are available—as imperfect as they may be—even while we imagine better paths. We can do both.

The fact is that the world of human relations is always evolving; it has never been static. Contrary to Steve’s Alice-in-Wonderland metaphor of “the illusion of moving from one state of being to another” the one thing we can count on is change. This is the core of the idea of political development.

Right now an available channel for indigenous political advancement is UNDRIP, written with the language of self-determination and autonomy. It stresses the ability of “indigenous peoples” (and I would argue indigenous governments as political bodies accountable to their respective peoples) to “freely choose their political status.” Are the choices circumscribed by relationships of domination? Probably, yes. Is it possible for indigenous and state governments to come to new political arrangements with each other based on mutually agreed upon understandings of the meanings of autonomy and self-determination (and whatever else they deem necessary)? I think so...

Duane Champagne
One of the reasons that contemporary college education is not relevant to many Indian nations is that there are not enough PhDs trained in American Indian Studies related issues...
Christina Rose
This Date in Native History: On November 24, 1973, John G. Neihardt, 92, poet laureate and author of Black Elk Speaks , died of natural causes...
Albert White Hat Sr., or Natan Tokahe, “The First One to Charge,” spent more than 25 years as a Lakota language instructor at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota...
Simon Moya-Smith
Yesterday, during a speech on immigration in Las Vegas, President Obama reacquainted the nation with the actuality that “unless you’re one of the first Americans, Native Americans,...
In an effort to spread the voices and visions of indigenous scholars the University of Arizona American Indian Studies Program will hold the 2012-2013 Vine Deloria Jr...
Steve Russell

To say that American Indians, First Nations, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians live in tension with the colonial states of North America is both a truism and an exercise in distance by use of academic jargon.  One reason academics use such clinical, bloodless language is that we are not supposed t...

Steven Newcomb

On November 19, the Drudge Report linked to a story about a Native student group at...