Indian tribes that were the aboriginal occupiers of U.S. soil remain “domestic nations” within the country. The United States should assure that its future relationship with its indigenous peoples is a fair and positive one.
Cultural rights are widely recognized as human rights. Yet, the extent to which human rights law may be considered by investment tribunals remains mostly the subject of academic debate. This dispute may well bring such issues to center stage.
From European colonization to American rule to an Indian Renaissance and tribal self-determination, Indian history is a storied one. Indian nations are now major players on the national political scene.
The 1887 General Allotment Act divided tribal lands into small parcels for individual Indians. The United States is trustee of these lands. In 1996, a class action lawsuit was filed against the secretary of the Interior for a breach of trust. The plaintiffs’ side is told here.
In response to the plaintiffs’ claims in the long-running and highly emotional Cobell v. Norton Indian trust litigation, the U.S. Interior maintains that claims are false and its responsibility to Indian trust beneficiaries is misunderstood.
In the 1970s a focus on political oppression and poverty in tribal areas led to self-determination (self-governance) replacing antitribal policies. Native Americans have seen unprecented economic growth, but many obstacles remain.
Environmental problems can become complicated on Indian lands when jurisdictional lines are blurred by inholdings—lands owned by outsiders. Cross-jurisdictional coordination could resolve these issues for all residents.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 ignored the existence of Alaskan Native tribes and Law of Nations principles that recognized the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples. The United States has yet to right the wrongs of the act.
In 1993, the United States acknowledged its overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Native Hawaiians have valid claims for the loss of their lands and suppression of their inherent sovereignty as a people. The U.S. government has not provided a forum to hear and resolve these claims.
The lands of cultural, sacred, and economic importance to indigenous peoples are sought for commercial use by global enterprises, often with¬out permission from or benefit to the communities. Laws to protect these lands are often unenforced.
Congress has yet to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and its proposed amendments to strengthen the program, maintain and repair deteriorated Indian health facilities, and address the changing needs of Indian populations in the United States.
John Echohawk, founder and executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, has made his life’s work addressing the unmet legal needs of American Indian nations and Alaska Native tribes.