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Now maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct. They don’t look like Indians to me…”

Donald Trump and Federal Indian Policy: ‘They Don’t Look Like Indians to Me’

Bryan Newland
7/28/16

On May 17, 1934, the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs debated the terms of the IRA. At issue in that debate was which Indians would be eligible to organize under the IRA and which Indians would be left out. Here is an exchange between Committee Chairman Burton Wheeler and Indian Affairs Commissioner John Collier during that debate:

The CHAIRMAN. There is a later provision in here I think covering that, and defining what an Indian is.

Commissioner COLLIER. This is more than one-fourth Indian blood.

The CHAIRMAN. That is just what I was coming to. As a matter of fact, you have got one-fourth in there. I think you should have more than one-fourth. I think it should be one-half. In other words, I do not think the Government of the United States should go out here and take a lot of Indians in that are quarter bloods and take them in under the provisions of this act. If they are Indians of the half-blood then the Government should perhaps take them in, but not unless they are. If you pass it to where they are quarter-blood Indians you are going to have all kinds of people coming in and claiming they are quarter-blood Indians and want to be put upon the Government rolls, and in my judgment it should not be done. What we are trying to do is get rid of the Indian problem rather than to add to it.

Senator Wheeler expressed concern that the IRA would be used by “white people” (his words) claiming to be Indian.

When the IRA was enacted into law one month later, it defined “Indian” as:

…all persons of Indian descent who are members of a recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction, and all persons who are descendants of such members who were, on June 1, 1934, residing within the present boundaries of any Indian reservation, and shall further include all other persons of one-half or more Indian blood.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian tribes are still wrestling with this definition today – as seen in the Carcieri decision and the recent Mashpee litigation. The logical definition of “Indian” should have been simply, “all members of a recognized Indian tribe;” but, by adding time, residence and blood quantum limitations, Congress was seeking to evade its financial obligations and to constrain of the sovereign status of tribes.

Political Identity v. Racial Identity and Historic Tribes v. Created Tribes

In the 1970s, the BIA implemented a policy of “Indian preference” in employment – this applied to new employment, and opportunities for promotion within the BIA. Non-Indian employees of the BIA filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that this preference in employment was unconstitutional racial discrimination. The case – Morton v. Mancari – reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974. The Court upheld the BIA’s preference program, explaining that it was not racial discrimination. Instead, the Court stated that the preference was aimed at Indians as members of a political entity – similar to state-laws allowing state governments to grant employment preference to state residents:

Contrary to the characterization made by appellees, this preference does not constitute “racial discrimination.” Indeed, it is not even a “racial” preference. Rather, it is an employment criterion reasonably designed to further the cause of Indian self-government and to make the BIA more responsive to the needs of its constituent groups. It is directed to participation by the governed in the governing agency. The preference is similar in kind to the constitutional requirement that a United States Senator, when elected, be “an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen,” Art. I, § 3, cl. 3, or that a member of a city council reside within the city governed by the council. Congress has sought only to enable the BIA to draw more heavily from among the constituent group in staffing its projects, all of which, either directly or indirectly, affect the lives of tribal Indians.

At the same time as Morton v. Mancari, the Department of the Interior was drawing distinctions between Indian tribes based upon when and how they were recognized by the federal government. Attorneys within the Department’s Office of the Solicitor advanced the theory that some Indian tribes were “historic tribes,” because they have always maintained a relationship with the United States, while other tribes were “created” by the federal government. According to those attorneys, only “historic tribes” could exercise the full sovereign powers of Indian tribes, while “created tribes” had lesser sovereign powers.

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Old Lady's picture
Old Lady
Submitted by Old Lady on
Trump needs to go back to Europe and stay there...or maybe North Korea or Russia, both of which have endorsed him as the best choice for the next U.S. president.

niijii's picture
niijii
Submitted by niijii on
Many natives hold these same feelings when someone is either more black or more white claiming to be Indian. Its just the way it is in the real world, like it or not.

turbojesus's picture
turbojesus
Submitted by turbojesus on
Who's really indian? Frankly, I don't give a damn. You think I'm going to get crap on toast while some half-chinese asian and a jewish person that made a website become billionaires. Hispanics, blacks, asians and europeans go to ivy league schools and sail yachts then tell me how to run my life while I pay to be a third class citizen and for all the travesties. I don't think so. Screw that. My authority won't be questioned. I'll cut down and divide their image before I allow mine to be. I hope they're ready to die for their beliefs; I know I am.
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