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In this March 23, 2010 file photo, President Barack Obama signs the health care bill in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Health insurers flirted with Democrats, supported them with money and got what they wanted: a federal mandate that most Americans carry health care coverage. Now they're backing Republicans, hoping a GOP Congress will mean friendlier regulations.

Born Before 1970? You’re Older Than 9 Native Civil Rights

Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Do you think that the United States’ injustices against American Indians exist only in the past? Think again. It’s pretty common to hear non-Natives say things like “Natives should get over their anger” or “let the past be the past and move on.” Natives are so used to hearing phrases like this, that we offer a new rebuttal especially for those non-Natives 45 or older.

If we think of American society as based on settler colonialism, as most Native studies scholars today contend, this means that injustice toward Natives is embedded in all levels of society because colonialism is more than just a historic event. The wrongs of the past have become institutionalized—they are said to be structural. And because they are systemically embedded, since the civil rights era there has been a constant stream of new laws to try to counteract the ongoing injustices. But even new laws have not guaranteed that these systemic injustices will be reversed, or that backlashes against the laws can be prevented.

For anyone born in 1970 or later, it could come as a surprise that the following eight items are actually younger than them, with one being a mere two-years old.

Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968—When the United States established the Bill of Rights it was not intended to apply to American Indians. But with colonization came the interference into traditional Native governments—who had their own systems of justice— and infinite complications for protecting the rights of individual Indians. The ICRA was passed to balance “clean” tribal government while attempting to minimize outside interference. But while the language of civil rights might sound like a good thing, ICRA is seen by many scholars as a major intrusion into Native governmental independence (Wilkins, 2007).

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971)—On the heels of the discovery of oil in Alaska, ANCSA was passed to settle Alaska Natives’ land claims. It turned traditional Native governments into corporations and their land titles are held in fee simple, not trust like Indian reservations. This legal regime has presented ongoing challenges to the sovereignty of Alaska Native groups.

Arriving in Lawton, Oklahoma for a campaign rally, President Gerald Ford is greeted by Native Americans including Kiowa Tribal Chairman Big Bow and an Indian Princess. Lawton, Oklahoma. October 8, 1976. (Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library)

Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975—Ended the previous federal policy of termination, which had devastating consequences for Indian country, with more than 100 Native nations losing their federal recognition and reservation lands. Thousands of Indians lost their legal identities as Indians and access to vital governmental services. Ideological battles still continue over the meaning and scope of the concept of Native self-determination.

Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976A string of legislation has been passed since the Snyder Act of 1921 in order to appropriate funds for healthcare to American Indians, which was a right included in many treaties. It is now seen as part of the government’s trust responsibility toward Indian country. The Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) permanently reauthorized appropriations for Indian healthcare. But the Indian Health Service still suffers from chronic underfunding, contributing to the ongoing health problems in Indian country. And with Republicans continually threatening to repeal the law, the permanent appropriations for the IHS are under a constant state of threat.

Indian Child Welfare Act (1978)—By the mid-1970s research revealed that 25-35 percent of all Indian children were being removed from their homes and placed for adoption by public and private agencies. Congress responded with the ICWA which was designed to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families." The ICWA is undergoing a new wave of attacks from the political and religious right.

American Indian Religious Freedom Act (1978)—Well into the 1970s Congress passed laws that interfered with the rights of American Indians to freely practice their religions and spirituality. It is often considered a “toothless” law because of its unenforceability.

Denial of Indians’ right to vote—While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to guarantee the right to vote for all people of color, American Indians in many states were still systematically being denied their right to vote, even as recently as 2015. According to McCool, Olsen, and Robinson, lawsuits proliferated; New Mexico saw the most litigation with 19 lawsuits, followed by South Dakota with 18.

Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988)—In order to build stable, self-sufficient economies in the face of intractable poverty rendered by centuries of colonial domination, some Indian nations ran bingo halls and other minor gaming operations. Legal challenges in the 1980s resulted in a congressional act, not to “give permission” to tribal governments to engage in gaming, but to regulate these businesses.

Anti-Indian Supreme Court Decisions—While African Americans and other ethnic groups enjoyed a steady stream of progressive court decisions since the civil rights era, the court has handed down numerous detrimental decisions for American Indians. Legal scholar Robert Williams Jr. wrote that the modern Supreme Court is still guided by the same racist language that influenced its earliest Indian legal cases in the nineteenth century even though it has evolved in other realms of law.

These nine items haven’t even broke into the 1990s yet, and trust us there are still many left.

RELATED: Born Before 1970? 9 More Native Civil Rights You’re Older Than

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Linda Eastman
Linda Eastman
Submitted by Linda Eastman on
This is a terrific article and a way to provide important context to the continuing civil rights struggles. It's positive to be able to celebrate the 2016 court ruling in North Dakota that said the state's recent voter ID law was discriminatory against Native Americans and could not be used for the elections in fall 2016. Get out the vote!