Do you think that the United States’ injustices against American Indians exist only in the past? Think again. It’s pretty common to hear non-Natives say things like “Natives should get over their anger” or “let the past be the past and move on.” Natives are so used to hearing phrases like this, that we offer a new rebuttal especially for those non-Natives 45 or older.
For anyone born in 1970 or later, it could come as a surprise that the following nine civil rights are actually younger than them:
Aleut Restitution Act (1988)—In a little known episode of history, during World War 2 the United States had relocated thousands of Aleut Natives (indigenous to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska) off their lands to internment camps where they suffered horrendous conditions and many died. Congress passed the ARA which provided $5 million in reparations, implemented a cleanup of the contaminated lands, and offered an official apology.
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990)—For hundreds of years Native people have endured the relentless digging up of their ancestral burials by treasure hunters, scientists, and careless developers. While NAGPRA requires federal agencies and other recipients of federal funds to repatriate (return) items of cultural patrimony, it has no power over private holders of such items.
Indian Arts and Crafts Act (1990)—As early as the 1930s the production of fake Indian art was identified as a problem as it undermined the economic viability of Native American artists. To protect the integrity of the growing Indian art market, the IACA—a truth-in-advertising law—imposed new definitions for “Indian.” Critics, however, have argued that the law instead created Indian identity into a form of property and deprives some Natives of their legal definition as Indian.
Native American Languages Act (1990)—NALA was passed to reverse the trend of dying Native American languages which is a direct result of decades of the government policy of forced assimilation. However, NALA and subsequent pro-indigenous language legislation has been hampered by other laws and policies that continue the work of assimilation (such as the No Child Left Behind Act) and perpetually under-serves Native students.
General Assembly Adopts Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights. Les Malezer, Chairperson of the Global Indigenous Caucus, addresses the United Nations General Assembly after the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at UN Head
Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (1996)—Well into the self-determination era, Indian country was still plagued by high rates of poverty and substandard living conditions which included overcrowding, physical inadequacy, and unaffordability. NAHASDA was an effort to address these problems, and to a degree it did, but barriers still exist, such as underfunding, lack of access to credit, predatory lending, ambiguities in tribal law, the trust status and fractionation of reservation lands, and more.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)—More than two decades in the making, the declaration was passed to recognize self-determination and other rights of Indigenous Peoples who still struggle with rights violations in dominant nation-states. The United States was among four states to initially oppose the UNDRIP, at the time under the Bush administration. In 2010 the Obama administration reversed positions and issued a statement of its endorsement for the Declaration, but was not without controversy. Among other things, the statement affirmed a definition of self-determination consistent with domestic law, not self-determination as defined in international law. The definition of self-determination for Indigenous Peoples continues to be contested in the international arena.
Claims Resolution Act (2010)—After approximately 15 years of litigation, theCobell class action lawsuit culminated in a historic settlement for several hundred thousand individual Indian people. At issue was the failure of the federal government to provide accounting for over a century of income generated by the leasing of Indian trust lands, for which it was responsible. The case was settled with the CRA legislation, and divided the $3.4 billion settlement into three segments: individual settlement payments, a land buyback program, and a scholarship fund.
Tribal Law and Order Act (2010)—For almost two centuries, federal intrusions have hamstrung Native nations’ ability to be self-determining, which includes implementing law enforcement and justice systems on their own lands. The TLOA strengthens tribal court authority to expand jail sentences over Indian offenders; clarifies the relationships between federal, state, and tribal agencies; and was a precursor to the Violence Against Women Act of 2013. However, a Senate review earlier this year revealed that TLOA is compromised by underfunding, jurisdictional complexities, and persistent problems in the juvenile justice system.
Violence Against Women Act (2013)—VAWA was widely celebrated as a law that closed many of the gaps in services and justice for violence and sexual crimes against all women. One of the most contentious elements in the drafting of the law is a clause that enhances tribal authority to prosecute non-Native offenders in domestic violence cases on Indian lands, since research clearly shows that Native women experience astoundingly higher rates of violence than any other group in the United States and that the majority of violence committed against American Indian women is committed by non-Native men. Critics have argued, however, that limiting tribal authority to domestic violence doesn’t go far enough to combat other violent crimes against women and children.
Courtesy National Congress of American Indians
VAWA Rally. NCAI 1st Vice President Juana Majel-Dixon addresses VAWA rally attendees in Washington D.C. June 25th 2012, to make permanent VAWA.