Treaties that don’t Exist

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Jul 062009

June 30th, 2009 by Rob Natelson

“Government agencies and pressure groups campaigning for more taxpayer money can create a fictitious “history” almost overnight. First, they make some claim about how something has been recognized since (whenever), and before you know it, journalists are uncritically repeating it, and it is plastered all over the Internet.

“Recently I’ve seen a burst of allegations that the U.S. government assumed a treaty obligation in 1787 to provide reservation Indians with free health care. If you Google “health care treaty Indian 1787,” you will find a long list of sources – including supposedly objective news stories – making that assertion. Here’s a sample from Montana’s Lee newspapers: “A treaty dating to 1787 requires the government to provide tribal members living on reservations with free health care.”

“Now when presented with such a claim, a journalist’s crap-o-meter should start sounding like a fire alarm, because the claim is so inherently improbable. First, the reservation system as we know it didn’t exist in 1787. Second, the cash-strapped Confederation Congress would not have had the resources to meet such a commitment. (Remember that shortage of funds was one reason Congress called the constitutional convention.) Third, a treaty is a bilateral document – even if the Confederation Congress had committed itself to provide health care to the Delaware tribe, for example, it wouldn’t follow that the government had committed itself to provide health care to all Indians for all time.

“So I checked into the claim and found that — sure enough — it is flatly false. Here are some details:
* According to Charles Kappler’s authoritative collection of treaties between the U.S. Government and Native American tribes, there was no such treaty in 1787. In fact, 1787 was a year in which no U.S.-Indian treaties were signed at all!

* There were over 20 U.S.-Indian treaties before 1800, but none obligated the federal government to provide Indians with health care, free or otherwise.

* The last U.S.-Indian treaty was signed in 1868. Some of the later ones provided that the government would pay annuities to some Indians – but often even this term was left discretionary with the government. Neither my own search nor the Kappler index of all treaties disclosed any reference to a treaty obligation to provide free (or any) health care.

We can’t blame the myth wholly on activists and inattentive journalists, however — the U.S. Government bears some responsibility as well. The journalist who authored the story quoted above referred me to a PR webpage from the U.S. Indian Health Service. It states: “The provision of health services to members of federally-recognized tribes grew out of the special government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes. This relationship, established in 1787, is based on Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, and has been given form and substance by numerous treaties, laws, Supreme Court decisions, and Executive Orders.”

Now, this statement certainly does not say that any treaties created an obligation to provide free health care. But it has problems of its own. It repeats the false 1787 date. And by stating that the Indian-federal “relationship” has been “given form and substance” by . . . treaties,” it implies that treaties created an obligation to provide health care, although they have not.

The website refers to Article I, Section 8, a part of the Constitution that creates congressional powers (not treaty obligations). Clause 3 of that section provides in part that “The Congress shall have Power . . . to regulate Commerce . . . with the Indian tribes.” It is true that Congress claims this “Indian Commerce Clause” gives it plenary authority to regulate Indian affairs. But as I have shown elsewhere, the only authority this provision actually granted to Congress was a power to regulate trade between tribes and non-Indians. It certainly did not confer authority to turn tribes into wards, to meddle in internal tribal affairs, or to put tribal members on the federal dole.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 at 1:56 pm and is filed under Blogging. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. “

ICWA has interfered with Parental Rights

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Nov 242008

In 1989, the US Supreme Court declared in Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield that tribal jurisdiction preempted both state authority and the wishes of parents. The Court concluded an Indian tribe and an Indian child have an interest in maintaining ties independent of the interests of birth parents, and thus, “Congress determined to subject (voluntary) placements to the ICWA’s jurisdiction …because of concerns going beyond the wishes of individual parents.”

They then made the chilling statement, “These concerns demonstrate that Congress could not have intended to enact a rule of domicile that would permit individual Indian parents to defeat the ICWA’s jurisdictional scheme simply by giving birth…off the reservation.”

Therefore, whether a parent is four-quarter Indian or totally non-Indian, ICWA states, “… the Indian tribe shall retain exclusive jurisdiction…” and if a tribal entity requests, “…the (State) court…shall transfer … to the jurisdiction of the tribe…”

In essence, Congress has consigned our children to tribal government, and opting out is not an option. We could refuse to enroll our children into the tribe, but a child does not need to be enrolled in order for ICWA to apply. ICWA pertains to any child the tribe deems enrollable.

Thus, many more children and families are affected than even realize it. Tribal governments have the right to define their membership. This means they have a right to decide the percentage of blood needed for enrollment. Most tribal constitution require one-quarter blood quantum for membership, but some allow membership with as little as 1/64 blood quantum.

Therefore, up to 3/4 or more (in some cases 63/64!) of a child’s non-Indian heritage can be legally ignored by the courts, and tribal governments have been allowed jurisdiction over children with the smallest amounts of Indian blood.

The truth is, many tribaly enrolled parents have left the reservation because they don’t feel it is the best place to raise their children. (According to the US census, almost 80% of those classifying themselves as Indians live off reservations.)

Steve Moore, a Staff Attorney with Native American Rights Fund, estimated that 1.96 million people of Indian ancestry live off the reservations. He said that puts the tribal courts at a disadvantage in custody cases. Turning a blind eye to individual rights, he further stated,
“There’s been an obvious effort by state court judges to create loopholes and exemptions to the point that I believe Congress needs to take the matter up again.”


“The bottom line is Indian children are the lifeblood of Indian tribes as a population base diminishes due to these cases.”

There is no mention in the article as to why 1.96 million persons of tribal heritage have chosen to live off the reservation.

Most people in America enjoy the freedom to raise their children as they see fit, even if it is contrary to the way their extended family is raising children. Those parents also have the right to name a guardian for their children who will raise them in the manner they desire. They can put that choice in their will and have those wishes honored.

Shouldn’t the parents of tribally enrollable children have that right as well?