Indian Law is one of the topics on the New Mexico bar exam (for lawyers). After learning a skeletal outline of Indian rights through studying for the February 2013 bar, it was interesting to read this book that expanded the bullet points of my skeletal knowledge. Generally, this writing style used by David Treuer, one that takes individual stories of real people as context/anecdotes for abstract laws/rights, is the best way I’m able to absorb history or nonfiction (see: Courtroom 302). Though, I DO wish there was a little more of what was in Chapter 4: actual rez life (errrr, isn’t that the title of book?), daily life, problems, benefits, homelife. Instead, Rez Life covered most major acts and trails of treaties re Indians, as opposed to a sociology study.
During the learning, I also got some responses. One was to my deep-set feelings of ‘but that’s land/people evolution; people are always warring and stealing land from others, why is it different with Indians?’ Treuer threads whiney white people complaining about special privileges throughout the book, which is actually how a lot of law/acts resulted (but also how a lot of Indian rights dissipated). Treuer says this:
“The sad thing is that…neither side understands what a treaty is and how treaty rights work. Indians aren’t ‘allowed’ to hunt or fish. It isn’t a matter of ‘permission.’ To cast treaty rights as ‘special rights’ is to suggest that they are in some sense an expression of pity or a payment for wrongs done or a welfare system for Stone Age people. But treaty rights were not ‘given’ to Indian people because of past cruel treatment or because of special racial status. Nor were treaty rights ‘given’ to Indians in exchange for land…Rather, when Indian bands signed treaties (and no new treaties have been signed since the end of the treaty period in the 1870s), they reserved land, which became reservations, and they reserved rights. Treaty rights are rights that the Indians who signed treaties always had, rights they explicitly reserved when they signed their treaties.”
I need to take the idea of reserved rights into consideration with the fact that the reason that the U.S. gov made treaties with Indians in the ‘treaty period’ between 1783-1889 is, according to Treuer, because: 1) Indian tribes were powerful, and 2) “paper was cheaper than bullets.” So this is the thing: although people have been warring and stealing land forever, the U.S. gov DIDN’T declare war against Indians to take their land. Instead, they swindled Indians through treaties and laws, gradually degrading and carving holes into treaty rights, dispersing & separating tribes to different lands throughout country, instituting boarding schools to deculturize Indian children, until the U.S. gov in effect got what they wanted as if they had won a war, but without the war.
The other response was concerning identity issues…more than a few times, I found myself bothered by the author doing too many “my people” this, “I’m proud of my people because…”, “us Indians,” etc. when Treuer is white
+ less than half Ojibwe + born in D.C. (off-rez). Treuer does address these complaints in the book (abstractly and through a character named Brooke), and shows that these complaints are made on both ends of spectrum, by “full Indians” regarding exclusion from economic benefits of being Indian, and by whites. Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeen while writing this I had a slight revelation of hypocrisy and I felt like reversing some thoughts: I was criticizing someone for claiming Indian-ness as being not Indian enough, but simultaneously get bothered by people who don’t accept me calling myself a lesbian even though I currently have a male partner. AH LIFE! So in the end, Treuer can go on being the best Indian he can be, and I’ll be the best lesbian.
I ended up sending $1 to Helen (Bryan) Johnson in Squaw Lake, MN (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_gaming).
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