I drove from my home in Texas to attend Rep. Diane Watson's public meetings on her bill to terminate the Cherokee Nation's relationship with the United States. It was a difficult experience. Despite her claims that this is about the ''rule of law,'' Rep. Watson appeared not to know or care what the ''law'' really is, since her bill ignores several 10th Circuit and Supreme Court rulings that emphatically state that tribes have a right to establish their own membership. But what the courts say doesn't seem to interest Rep. Watson at all. The law is what she says it is.
Even though Rep. Watson bases her bill on her own interpretation of a historical treaty, the truth of our history didn't seem to interest her, either. When it was pointed out that her version of our history was a collection of gross inaccuracies, she simply smiled and looked away. I guess our history, too, is what she says it is.
Though Rep. Watson talked about honoring agreements, she was not interested in hearing about how well the U.S. government does that. Not only has the United States broken every treaty they have ever ratified with Indian tribes, her bill would cause the United States to violate two existing international treaties with regard to rights of indigenous nations to self-determination. Apparently the only agreements worth honoring are the ones she likes.
It was hard for me to hear our history so distorted by almost everyone who supported H.R. 2824. ''The Cherokee Nation owned slaves.'' The truth is that only 2.3 percent of Cherokee people owned slaves; 97.7 percent didn't. When the United States ended slavery, so did we. ''The Cherokee Nation fought for the Confederacy.'' The truth is that 70 percent of Cherokee men fought for the Union to end slavery. ''The 1866 Treaty re-established the Cherokee-U.S. relationship.'' That is a lie. President Lincoln re-established relations with us in 1862. Lie after lie, right on up through how the Dawes Commission did wrong by everyone's individual ancestors. Funny, I didn't hear a word about what allotment did to our nation. When asked if she could even define tribal sovereignty or self-determination, Rep. Watson insisted that was irrelevant. How Indian people have had to struggle to exist as Nations was just another thing Rep. Watson was not interested in hearing about.
Despite Rep. Watson's shameless infatuation with slogans and sound bites, a just cause is not advanced by lies. This is an agenda. It is heartbreaking to see the power and legacy of the civil rights movement co-opted by those who aren't interested in ending oppression but in becoming the oppressors. Rep. Watson has re-written history AND modern Indian law to justify this bill, just as those she champions have, in order to justify their own sense of entitlement. But right and wrong are not products of color, but of conscience. And playing prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner to an indigenous nation is wrong.
- Gayle Ross