In comments to this post below, a couple of folks asked about the sovereignty of Native American tribes. This brings to mind President Bush's recent garbled, gasping response to a question on sovereignty at the Unity: Journalists of Color conference. Here's how that exchange went:
QUESTION: What do you think tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, and how do we resolve conflicts between tribes and the federal and the state governments?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Tribal sovereignty means that; it's sovereign. You're a — you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And, therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.
Lewis Kamb, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, notes that "Bush's comment on tribal sovereignty creates a buzz" (link via Cursor). That buzz is due to one word: "given."
To many Native Americans the president's answer spoke volumes about what they see as his ignorance of Indian issues. And to many, the operative word in Bush's response was the verb "given."
As the continent's first societies, American Indian tribes hold their status as sovereign nations with an almost sacred reverence; an inherent standing as self-governing, independent bodies dating back millennia, something that's always existed.
Sovereignty is "the nearest and dearest, No. 1 issue in Indian Country," said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians. "It's not something that was given to us. As tribes, we see sovereignty as something we've always had."
Kamb goes on to note that Bush's use of this word could have an effect on the outcome of the election. The Indian vote is a significant factor in swing states such as New Mexico, Arizona and Washington.
To prospective Indian voters, sovereignty is an issue steeped in legal meaning that drives Native American stances on public policy, court cases and tribes' core "government-to-government" dealings with the United States. And it's a status that many indigenous people see as falling increasingly under attack.
With the erosion of tribal sovereignty, some say, so too comes the weakening of tribal rights, traditions and customs, and essentially, the American Indian's way of life.
So, unsurprisingly, the president's view that sovereignty was something "given" to tribes — and conversely, some fear, is something that could be taken away — carried much weight in Indian Country.
A very similar fear was expressed earlier this year by an observer on the other side of the world who had just listened to President Bush's May 24 speech on the "transfer of sovereignty" to the Iraqi people.
"The message in the speech was not that Iraqis will be given sovereignty but that the US will grant them this sovereignty as a gift," Baghdad political analyst Abd-al-Razzaq al-Na'as told Al-Jazeera.
Sovereignty that is granted as a gift is a conditional sovereignty. "Conditional sovereignty" is, of course, an oxymoron. And that oxymoron is upsetting to sovereign people on two continents.
(In answer to the specific question about sovereignty issues, one place to start would be the links under "governance" on the National Congress of American Indians' issues page.)