An image from the movie "Cesar Chavez: History is Made One Step at a Time."

How Chavez Dealt With the US Government—and How Natives Do

Duane Champagne

The recent movie Cesar Chavez: History is Made One Step at a Time brings home differing strategies between minority groups and indigenous nations in their legal and political relations with the United States.

Chavez focused on non-violent methods and did not challenge the U.S. government, Constitution or values system. The farm workers movement under Chavez’s leadership embraced central U.S. laws and values. The movement won broad support because they fought for inclusion and realization of American values of equality, equal opportunity, cultural tolerance, and non-violence. The farm workers values under Chavez’s leadership wanted, and to a certain extent obtained, more complete citizenship and participation within the American economy and society.

American Indians, however, approach the United States from a different stand point of not wanting to fully take on U.S. values, culture, and institutions, at least not within their tribal communities and territories. Most American Indians are accepting of U.S. citizenship, and as citizens are willing to live under U.S. laws and the Constitution when living or engaged in activities outside of tribal jurisdictions. A primary reason that American Indians struggle to preserve dual citizenship—tribal and U.S.—is because American Indians are committed to preserving their tribal heritages, which are culturally, politically, and economically different from U.S. values and laws.

Many American Indian tribes have a hard time separating religion or worldview from everyday life and government. For some tribes, kinship, worldviews, and religious leaders continue to play a role in important community decisions and activities. Religion in U.S. society for the most part is separated from politics, economy, and everyday life.

American Indians, unlike minority groups, seek to maintain self-government and territory. Americans, and nation states around the world, tend to find the indigenous struggles for territory and self-government disturbing and threatening to the existing national political and legal orders.


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100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
The real difference is social association, government services-etc., and the connectivity to lands. Latino people (most are Indigenous Americans from the south) pressures to assimilation came internally and externally. Our tribes enjoyed the treaty and social structural support needed to resist assimilation. Only through the indoctrination called education and the changes in values that came with the education, did we lose spiritual direction and balance. Now we are becoming more Euro-American in almost every aspect. Throughout American history, the placements of fractional Indians on pedestals including mixed blood members of tribes (for the Dine' it was Manuelito) came from European-Americans "hisstory” defining our heroes. This continues today with American Indian writers mostly analyzing as 3rd person and Gov officials making policy decisions. Most are unable to converse in traditionally rooted thought process that emits through language and ultimately creating “real” Indian policy that takes the least disruptive course. The reliance to make policy is on groups composed mostly of extremely assimilated Indians.