'I Have a Dream' for the Cherokee Nation

Steve Russell
August 30, 2013

In a series of columns keying on Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, I’ve asked Indians to dream. I’ve asked whether we have dreams worth risk and multi-generational effort.  Without dreams, it’s hard to see how we have an Indian Martin Luther King or an Indian César Chávez.  It’s hard to see a need for the tactics set out by the other kind of Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an English-educated Hindu lawyer whose life ended as MLK’s, by an assassin’s hand. By the time of his death, Gandhi carried the honorific “Mahatma.”  In English, “Great Soul.”

I am not a Hindu like Gandhi or a Catholic like Chávez or even a Baptist like King, though my great grandfather was a full blood Cherokee Baptist preacher. I am a mere student of political science and history who can see what works. Gandhian tactics are only available to those willing to risk their freedom and perhaps their lives.

While Indians have few relevant traditions—we did do some non-cooperation—Gandhi suggests that the highest level of organizing is “parallel government.” We already have parallel governments.

Those governments do not, as a rule, dream inter-generational dreams or offer much to those who do. Therefore, should dreamers run for tribal office?

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I cannot speak for others. You don’t tell others how to order their lives. It’s enough that you order your own in a constructive way. For me to run for tribal office would waste other people's money, since I have none of my own to waste.

I am not a Christian. That disqualifies me. Oklahoma is the buckle on the Bible Belt, and that’s a major reason I left.

I favor marriage equality in tribal law. It’s one of those rare issues where what is traditional and what is future-oriented are one in the same. That disqualifies me.

I don't support the grief the CN has given the United Keetoowah Band. Fighting among ourselves is idiocy. Here I lose the votes of those who value market share.

I do support the historical and legal claim for citizenship of the former Cherokee slaves. Indian tribes who abrogate treaties are playing with dynamite and giving up moral high ground that is our major asset.  Here I lose the racist vote.

I do not have any problem with people living within the Nation having greater rights than outlanders, provided the differences are rational. This is relevant since the only office I could seek would be the outlander seat on the Tribal Council.

I'm generally opposed to per capita payments, but not so opposed that I would allow elders within the homeland to live in squalor.

Nobody with that complex of positions is going to be elected to any significant office in the Cherokee Nation unless they can obfuscate and deny.

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I have always been available for service on the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court, but I disqualify myself by saying a judge cannot serve any faction. This is irrelevant anyway, because it’s not within the job description of a judge to impose his ideas, let alone his dreams.

Still, I must have a Cherokee dream to write in the terms I’ve chosen? I do.

I want to reconstruct our land base.

I believe that if we cannot do this, the days for our culture are numbered.

The Cherokee government used to offer a history course, but that has fallen victim to factional warfare. We sponsor Cherokee language immersion in Oklahoma schools but we do not do tribal business in the Cherokee language. These are too little for the task of cultural preservation. We need a land base so we can live together. Culture is not a solitary enterprise.

I understand that reconstruction of a land base destroyed in 1907 is borderline crazy. So was social equality for former slaves. So was a labor union for migrant farm workers. Yes, crazy, and impossible unless it were to spread to, say, less than a third of the paper Cherokees on the current registry.

An income tax on outlanders encourages residence in the homeland and it separates the Cherokee from the hobbyist, the blood from the paper. Tribal taxes should be deductible from federal taxes on the same basis as state taxes, but we have yet to license that argument by taxing ourselves.

The next step is to sit down with a real estate “heat map” of what the Cherokee government calls its “jurisdictional area” to target the least expensive contiguous real estate. We don’t need all of northeastern Oklahoma even if we could afford it.

I would suggest that the lawyers set up some shell purchasers so as not to stir up either politics or greed.

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Then we just need a few tens of billions of dollars, right?

Dreaming a task as inter-generational expands what is possible.

I’d start in middle school and take my model from Cherokee history and the famous science fiction novel, Ender’s Game. The Cherokee language used to be the language of trade. We never went to sea, but we traded with people who did. Copper smelted in Cherokee country ended up in the desert Southwest when North America was innocent of wheels and horses.  Have we lost the knack?

The Cherokee Nation should own an internet service provider for profit, and divert some of that hardware to a new Heptagon on tribal lands, divided into seven trading stations for the seven clans: the Wolf Clan day trades equities, the Blue Clan swing trades equities, the Wild Potato Clan trades commodities, the Long Hair Clan trades sovereign bonds, the Deer Clan trades corporate bonds, the Bird Clan trades FOREX and the Paint Clan trades options.

Others might pick a different seven, and I jest by picking specific clans (although they are not random). We train Cherokee kids from the homeland in fundamental and technical analysis and put the most gifted on the tribal payroll at minimum wage while they are still in high school based on tests administered at the end of the middle school finance classes not currently offered.

They come to the Heptagon every day and paper trade. If they can’t follow the math, they’re out. If they lose interest, they’re out. If they don’t improve, they’re out. They are told, girls and boys, that they are training to be warriors, to fight for our lands. The standard for performance is the quality of their trades, everybody in each category having started with the same sum of paper.

All of these transactions are an agreement about price based on a disagreement about value.  Fundamental analysis teaches how to determine what might be called rational value, but it’s necessary to account for the bon mot attributed to John Maynard Keynes: “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” So technical analysis gives us mathematical tools to anticipate market behavior, rational or not.

At some point—and the kids are not told when this happens, because they don’t need any unnecessary pressure—the paper trading becomes the real thing.  Most of the profits go towards the land fund, but a portion is put aside so the individuals do get to eat some of what they kill.

While they can quit when they wish, it’s hard for an individual to do this sort of thing. Unless you are wealthy, day trading is on margin, and you need direct lines into the exchanges, the fastest chips, multiple screens. This takes seed money.

As in Ender’s Game, which involved a different kind of war, kids trained to the task would smoke their elders. The biggest problem with locating such a project within tribal government would be to structure it in a manner to prevent stealing.  Not by the kids, but by the adults controlling the switch from paper trades to real trades. It would probably be safer to put it out for bids with the investment banks that already have strong and secure trading platforms with integrated paper trading. And the bids are not about what the tribe pays them, but rather about what they pay the tribe in the form of reduced commissions for what would be a huge amount of business.

This is one crazy way to pursue a crazy dream using the assets of a tribal government. Those tribes that have a land base don’t share this crazy dream. They may want nothing more than to control their own tribal government.  Beside having to reconstruct a land base, that’s a cakewalk.

The election cakewalk will be my next subject.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.