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Indigenous Land Rights in America

Repeatedly throughout American history, the United States government has treated the resources of indigenous groups (cultural and geographic) as its own. After forcibly relocating indigenous peoples onto reservations in 1851, the U.S. has, piece by piece, sold portions of ancestral land to non-native business interests without consultation of the concerned tribes. In response to outcry, many lawmakers label the humanist and spiritualist claims of native peoples to be negligible or outright lies, making these claims as self-evident facts which do not require further explanation. These lawmakers include Senator John McCain, Senator Ann Kirkpatrick, Congressman Paul Gosar, and others. Their behavior, and the text of congressional acts concerning native peoples dating back more than a century, betrays a strong undercurrent of racism, motivated by greed, in the highest levels of our society.

Links to additional relevant NGOs

Sources to Consult

Ideas for helping out with the issue

  1. Marches and protests on contested land
  2. Petitions to those involved in the controversies

Brammer, John Paul. “Blackfeet Chief Asks Obama to Cancel Oil Leases on Sacred Land Before Drilling Begins.” Blue Nation Review. N.p., 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-Article regarding the land called Badger-Two Medicine in Montana, and its significance to the Blackfeet tribe. Discusses Chief Earl Old Person’s entreaties to then President Obama to block the oil leases.

Brammer, John Paul. “4 Sacred Native American Sites In Danger Of Being Destroyed By Corporations.” Blue Nation Review. N.p., 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-Brief article brushing over issues of Badger-Two Medicine, which is in danger of being drilled for oil, Oak Flat, which has been sold to Resolution Mining Company as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Black Hills, which are to be intersected by the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the Osage Mounds, which are to be leveled by the St. Louis Rams to build a new stadium.

Donnella, Leah. “The Standing Rock Resistance Is Unprecedented (It’s Also Centuries Old).” NPR. NPR, 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-In this article from NPR, the scope of the Standing Rock protests, and the scope of the brutality exhibited upon protesters by local police is described. This violent conflict is contextualized in a long history of such clashes, including the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee.

Earl Old Person. Letter to President Barack Obama. 19 Mar. 2015. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web.

-Chief Earl Old Person’s letter to Obama requesting preservation of Badger-Two Medicine. Contains a personal request to visit the Blackfeet tribe and “explore the promise” of the sacred lands.

Hoffmann, Hillary M., Fracking the Sacred: Resolving the Tension between Unconventional Oil and Gas Development and Tribal Cultural Resources (May 6, 2016). Vermont Law School Research Paper No. 6-16.

-Article explaining that the motive behind seizure of Native American lands is usually to obtain gas/oil.

H.R. 2516, 90 Cong. (1968) (enacted). Print.

-Indian Civil Rights Act 1968. Establishes Native Communities as semi-sovereign nations entitled to enforce their own laws under parameters of rudimentary civil rights. It is noted that “Indian” communities are given the right against “unlawful search and seizure”. Clearly, the term “unlawful” is considered as not applying to the US Federal Government, and its economic partners.

H.R. 2811, 114 Cong. (2016) (enacted). Print. -Raul Grijalva’s Save Oak Flat Act H.R. 3979, 113 Cong., 3291 (2014) (enacted). Print.

-The NDAA for 2015, which, in extremely brief and misleading words, authorized a “Southeast Arizona Land Exchange”, in section 3003, and began the Oak Flat controversy. LaCapra, Véronique.

“New football stadium threatens what remains of St. Louis’ Native American past – and present.” St. Louis Public Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-Article from St. Louis Public Radio detailing the potential site of a new stadium for the Rams, to be built atop an ancient Osage burial complex rich in archaeological and spiritual significance. Currently, the site is topped by parking lots, vacant buildings, a handful of businesses, and open space. Representatives of the Osage tribe do not wish the site to be disturbed, in order that their ancestral remains do not become unearthed.

Leduff, Charlie. “Range War in Nevada Pits U.S. Against 2 Shoshone Sisters.” New York Times 31 Oct. 2002: n. pag. Web.

-Article explaining the Mary/Carrie Dann case in Nevada and the tensions between the Western Shoshone sisters and the U.S. government.

MARY AND CARRIE DANN. Rep. no. 99. N.p.: n.p., 1999. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Web.

-Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ report of Mary/Carrie Dann case.

“Mauna Kea – Temple Under Siege – ʻŌiwi TV.” ʻŌiwi TV. N.p., 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-A medium length documentary, produced by Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina, details the significance of Mauna Kea to indigenous Hawaiian peoples. Mauna Kea was to be the site of observatory telescopes, but this development was met with protest. This documentary takes the adequate time to detail the significance of landforms to indigenous (and broader human) spirituality. Also featured in this documentary is the voice of Ola Cassadore Davis, describing a similar circumstance at Mt. Graham, in Arizona. The San Carlos Apache, unfortunately, were unable to prevent development on their sacred mountain, held to be sacred since ancestral times.

Ortega, Roque Roldán. Models for Recognizing Indigenous Land Rights in Latin America. N.p., Oct. 2004. Web.

-The issue of indigenous land rights in the Americas is approached from a broad scope. In the article’s opening, it is established that indigenous groups have a long, legitimate political history and socio-political present. In order to appropriately recognize and cooperate with these equally viable nations (if smaller, in terms of population) is for larger governments to recognize their innate rights to their own lands and resources.

Parfomak, P. W., Pirog, R., Luther, L., & Vann, A. (2013). Keystone XL pipeline project: Key issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

-In this report from Congressional Researchers Parfomak, Pirof, Luther, and Vann, the controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline project. In standard keeping with US policy of willful ignorance of indigenous claims of sovereignty, the researchers cite the case of Sisseton v. United States Department of State, in which it was ruled that “the plaintiffs lacked standing because they would be unable to prove their injury could be redressed by a favorable decision”. Also, it was determined that, since Executive order 11423 was written in 1968, that the office of the President has control over the determination of oil pipelines and similar infrastructure. As researchers claim, under the Administrative Procedure Act, Presidential actions are excepted from judicial review, indigenous peoples have (as usual) no legitimate legal grounds to redress their grievances.

Spiritualution. YouTube. YouTube, 28 July 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-A video taken at the Apache Stronghold Rally in Tucson, Arizona, published to the Internet in August of 2015. The video features Wendsler Nosie, Sr., a key activist in the movement to save Oak Flat. Nosie testifies to the history of his family, the pain of the reservation system, and the importance of the land in salvaging the spirit.

Statutes at Large and Treaties of the United States of America, 41 (Little, Brown and Company 1855). Print.

-On page 41, the original text of the Indian Appropriation Act of 1852 can be found. This article details a multitude of financial payouts made to various tribes, tribal representatives, tribal legislators, in exchange for services, goods, and in order to fund relocation as part of the recently founded reservation system, and in some case even white militias, in return for the “suppression of Indian disturbances” . Most applicable to modern issues is in the acts final clause, which states “Nor shall the Executive branch of the Government, now or be hereafter, recognize any contract between any Indian, or tribe, or part of a tribe, and any attorney or agent, for the prosecution of any claim against the Government, under this act.” In essence, this act explicitly establishes the Federal precedent of treating indigenous legal claims as negligent.

Swarner, Jessica. “Did Obama Just Block the Sale of Sacred Apache Land to a Foreign Mining Company? Well…” Indian Country Media Network. N.p., 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-Article explaining finer points of recent contest over possession of Oak Flat, between the San Carlos Apache and Resolution Copper. Recently, the site was placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites, though this is only a temporary roadblock in the way of mining interests.

Taracena, Maria Ines. “Congressman Gosar Claims Oak Flat Has Never Been a Sacred Site, Wants to Kick Out Apache Stronghold Protesters.” Tucson Weekly. Tucson Weekly, 04 Feb. 2017. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

-Article from Tucson Weekly explaining reactions of Arizona congress people to the Oak Flat controversy, and its recent listing on the National Registry of Historic Sites. Gosar, McCain, and Kirkpatrick have all issued claims denying the cultural significance of the region, and have moved to block legislation such as Grijalvas Save Oak Flat Act, which would deny Resolution Copper interests permanently.


Wendsler Nosie, Sr. speaks at Apache Stronghold Rally Carrie Dann to the New York Times: “I was indigenous and in one single evening they made me indigent. If you think the Indian wars are over, then think again.”

Indigenous Land Rights In America
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