From the arrival of the earliest European settlers to the “Trail of Tears” orchestrated by President Andrew Jackson in 1838, and up to the recent 2016 clashes about the Dakota Access Pipeline and beyond, our government’s relationship with the 573 different Native American tribes existing within its borders has been tenuous at best and bloody at worst.This relationship and its evolution over the years are important for us to understand because we, as a nation, purport to uphold and defend the values of justice, equality, recognition, and acceptance of diverse cultures as well as their assimilation into our “melting pot” social fabric. The current Native American-centric issues playing out in our country, most specifically the Dakota Access Pipeline and repression of voting ability on reservations, underscore the lack of an equal relationship with the sovereign nations within our country. Additionally, the majority’s ongoing ignorance of tribal affairs and utter disregard for their unique status within our national culture allows for their voices to continuously be drowned out and ignored. Those who want to advocate on their behalf do not know enough about them to properly point out injustice when it affects them—making the prospect of that equal relationship look bleak.If American society—if any society—chooses to construct its rule of law on basic moral principles, then the clash between morality and legality that lies at the heart of our treatment of the Native American population must be reviewed and evaluated comprehensively, in much the same way as we have had to evaluate and address other such basic human rights issues as women’s suffrage, the Japanese internment camps, the civil rights movement, gay marriage, and the plight of migrant farm workers. We need to recognize our mistakes, correct them where appropriate, and set a foundational framework to protect Native American interests going forward, and this can be best accomplished through nationwide education on indigenous history and culture.
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