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But if you go to the average reservation, the full-blood Indian is still in the same poverty he was twenty, thirty years ago.

Importance of Treaties With American Indian Tribes (Revisited)

So most of the money is going into efforts to direct Indians to do things, rather than to the local communities. And part of our problem is that a lot of educated Indians have fallen into the federal money trap and themselves been co-opted with big salaries and prestigious titles. So it becomes not simply a fight against federal government but an effort to get your own people to respond to their community.

Studs Terkel That's a tough one, isn't it. There you have, what you just said, this -- Some of the middle-class, Indians who have become middle-class who are doing rather well become co-opted and they fall away from what the aspiration is of the Indian generally. And you have the activists who are right in the middle of a battle. Now, how about the great many in between? Well, this is one of the things that that seems to be very puzzling to the federal government and they refuse to accept it. And that is that the American Indian Movement which started out as an urban venture, now has a very substantial constituency on those reservations.

And so it's across the board in terms of age group and blood quantum of this protest. Studs Terkel So something is happening. I should point out the American Indian Movement, which is the broad movement of Indian expression, came into being about, you say, about ' About '68 in relation to police brutality in Minneapolis it was urban phenomena.

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Then they got into the topic of Indian religion and treaties and then they were determined to push the treaty aspect. And that's part of the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan in ' Studs Terkel Perhaps you should explain that, too, we'll come back to the American Indian Movement and its impact and place where it happened, that impact. The Trail of Broken Treaties is an actual caravan, isn't it? And I believe eight of those dealt with the reformation of treaties in an attempt to get some some clear definition of what Indian rights were.

So I titled this book "Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties" to indicate that the treaty proposals presented by that caravan were not treasonous and they were not a bunch of kooky ideas but are -- Really fell in the mainstream of American legal thought and legal relationships that the United States had with the tribes. Studs Terkel There are certain key points of the 20, weren't there, that deal with, with specifically with independence and land.

See, it went, the way it is today, a tribal council can, oh, say, own thousands acres of coal lands and through the proper manipulation of the bureaucracy you can you can put all the pressure you want on, let's say 10 or 12 people in a tribe of four or five thousand, and get them to lease those lands to one of the big energy companies, and the energy companies then come in to strip-mine and you have thousands of traditional full-blood Indians living back in the canyons in log cabins or shacks who are suddenly dispossessed of their homes and they have no recourse right now against either the federal government or the tribal council.

So one of the proposals that I make in the book is that you cannot sell or lease Indian land without a substantial portion of the tribe approving it in a referendum to be held two consecutive years to make sure it's the consent of the people. Studs Terkel Hitherto, how has it been leased?

Just a few self-appointed spokesmen? Well, no. You have tribal governments set up for the most part in the '30s.

Behind Trail Broken Treaties

The constitutional structures are designed to handle conditions of the '30s in which a tribe may have, let's say, two or three thousand dollars income, no roads, no telephones, and you know they may give away a couple hundred dollars for scholarships, a couple hundred dollars for ceremonies on the reservation a year. Well, since that time, a lot of tribes have evolved into million dollar a year corporations either through government grants or development of their resources and you simply can't have that type of government structure which is unable to cope with today's world.

Studs Terkel We think of strip, stripping the land, we think of Appalachian people and their land stripped [and decided? It's a very hot topic right now, they're stripping part of the Navajo Hopi lands, Black Mesa, and there's tremendous controversy up in Northern Cheyenne which is a very traditional reservation over strip-mining that.

Studs Terkel So is -- This is interesting, the American Indian Movement which was, which is the, say, the unifying force for your involvement, you've been involved with it from the very beginning, weren't you? In fact, I'm really not a member of it.

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I had always worked with the groups that had advocated peaceful change and non-confrontation situations. But during Wounded Knee I tried to get some of the tribal councils to stand up for the treaty issue and ask that Congress resolve it. And they all went to Wounded Knee and backed Wilson.

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Studs Terkel You'd best explain that Wilson is the tribal counsel. Yeah, Wilson is a tribal chairman of Pine Ridge, and he and Russell Means had been political rivals and Wilson had administration that a lot of people disagreed with. I don't think it was really any better or any worse than previous administrations. But but it became an emotional issue. And so during Wounded Knee, the people who occupied the village raised the question of the '68 treaty and it's obvious if you go into the documents that the United States first demanded that the people sign the treaty and in the treaty had all kinds of guarantees against the United States, they were taking the land, and then eight years later they turned around and broke the treaty that they'd made the people take and took the Black Hills.

So that's always been the emotional issue. But what it evolved what present conditions are that kind of evolved out of Wounded Knee is a majority of people holding elected officers on the reservation or supporting the government against their own people and against American Indian Movement so that they are in effect against their own treaties, which are the only legal guarantee we have of Indian social existence today. So it's become an extremely sticky situation where you're fighting your major fight is with educated Indians to get them to stop being co-opted by the government. So I was never a part of the American Indian Movement.

I was always with the other group, and during Wounded Knee I just got so turned off by the other groups so radicalized that my ideas have switched completely around. Studs Terkel I didn't realize that. I was supporting more the full-blood reservation man in traditional ways. Studs Terkel Now is what's happening to you, isn't it, because I think of you as a chronicler and historian too, but you were not a part of the AIM, or you are -- In the sense you are sympathetic to them now. Now you say this is also, this feeling has spread now, to the older people, too?

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Not only to older people but I think a lot of people in my situation and I'm educated and I've been in the Indian game for a number of years and I've always have up to this point believed in working through the established structures. But I was part of a team of Indians we set up after the occupation of the bureau to evaluate what damage the activists had done.

Studs Terkel When did they occupy the bureau? That was election week ' Studs Terkel ' So talking about the Indian -- Bureau of Indian Affairs. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington. January '73 we brought the group together, and I was absolutely astounded; a lot of people who had been against activism up to that point were suddenly for it.

And the White House was supposed to respond to these 20 points and they wrote a very insulting and perfunctory answer to this and that infuriated me because they had absolutely perverted the historical context of most of the ideas and really didn't know what they were responding to. So I sat down and wrote a response to the White House response and that got me in hot water with all the Indian politicians.

So when I went around to explain I'm really not pro-activist, but I hate to see Indian people insulted by this very bad response from the federal government when the people are sincere. And the breach just kept getting wider and wider. And so I'm at this point, what, two years later, a very strong advocate of the American Indian Movement, although I don't like a lot of things they do but they have raised issues that I think are very important and I think the only way to solve things right now. So I've been at three of the Wounded Knee trials as expert witness on treaties and I'm working with some of the lawyers now on the historical background of exactly what is our status.

Studs Terkel Because what is, your book, by this recent book of Vine Deloria that Delta has put out, the paperback "Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties" and the subtitle "Indian Declaration of Independence" deals with the very beginnings of it, doesn't it. I started at and I think, straight forward. Studs Terkel Now, there were Supreme Court opinions, John Marshall was the Supreme Court justice, and he came through with an opinion and Andrew Jackson was then, was he president then? Or he Jackson said, "Let the guys in.

The role of duplicity played by the United States throughout is consistent. Well, there was a rumor that the Cherokees had gold in their country. And so the state of Georgia passed laws extending state laws over the Cherokee Nation and in effect invalidating all Cherokee titles and allowing the white gold-miners to go into, to go into the Cherokee lands and claim the gold. So the Cherokee Nation sued the state of Georgia and the Supreme Court and John Marshall was was in trouble, political trouble, with Andrew Jackson, anyway, he didn't need the Indian issue to be in hot water.

And so he had to find a way to dodge the Indian question. So they wrote this famous decision, Cherokee Nation versus Georgia, and said that the Cherokees weren't really a foreign state so they couldn't go into the Supreme Court to sue Georgia. So the following year a missionary allowed himself to be convicted under Georgia law for obeying the laws of the Cherokees.


These were laws guaranteed by treaties. And the case went back up and in this time was called Worcester vs. Georgia, and John Marshall at this point had to rule the legal doctrines were so clear that the Cherokee nations were a distinct nation and that their their existence was guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

It would have been in comparison the same type of situation where Eisenhower had to send troops to Little Rock. In other words, it was that type of a crisis. And when John Marshall made the decision that the United States had to guarantee the political existence of the Cherokees, Andrew Jackson just said, "Well, he's made his decision, let him enforce it. Studs Terkel So that's it. There was a violation right there. So this is consistent throughout. And when we saw that type of the Jackson-type behavior in the Nixon administration with respect to treaty rights, well, you.

Studs Terkel You see the connection, you see the historical continuity throughout. Oh, sure. And Studs Terkel Of double-cross and betrayal. And we used to point out during Watergate that the American people are only getting the type of duplicity that we've always gotten from the federal government, so they should be able to understand this at this point.

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  • Studs Terkel Who are the five civilized tribes and what happened to them, too? They are the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks, and Seminoles, and they had occupied that whole southeastern area of western North Carolina through Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, and following Jackson's refusal to uphold their political status in the southern states, then they passed a series of removal bills and forced some of the tribes to sign what they call removal treaties and they took them to eastern Oklahoma and then you have a whole series of general statutes that purport to change Indian status but they're never applied to those tribes.

    And there is this peculiar definition. The United States has civil and criminal jurisdiction over what they call "Indian Country," Indian country from the beginning was just everything west of the Mississippi where there happened to be Indians. But some of the big criminal statutes that are now the point at issue in the Wounded Knee trials were never applied to those five tribes because of their treaties and they moved west and up until really acted as independent nations and they had, their courts were -- Had such integrity that they administered the death sentence to their own people they had the death sentence and they had their own juries and their own Studs Terkel The tribes did.

    And they had, they were so much together as a society that they could, their courts could issue a death warrant, or a conviction and penalty being death on one of their members, and they would let the member out of jail. They'd set a date for his execution. He was allowed to go home and live with his family and get all his business affairs arranged and provide for his family and then he would show up on the day of execution at the execution tree, and there allow himself to be executed.

    And so you see, there was a really a society where everyone even Studs Terkel It was an autonomous society. It was autonomous but the people felt so much a part of that society that they wouldn't run, they'd accept the Studs Terkel Now, what what happened, what happened to the five civilized tribes? Well, when when the United States -- You had maybe two or three territories left that were not states and the United States wanted the lands of the five tribes open, there was oil there, everybody knew there was oil, considerable asphalt and other minerals.

    The United States simply came in and broke up those tribal governments, appointed what they called the Dawes Commission and they just came and said we're going to allot the lands and sell whatever you have surplus. Studs Terkel Now, I think we should talk about the Dawes Commission, the Dawes Act of , now this is done in the name of doing good.