1947 A year before President Truman desegregated the military, Jackie Robinson debuts for the Dodgers becoming the first black player to participate in a major league game this century. In front of 25,623 Ebbets Field fans, the 28-year old first baseman is hitless in three at-bats, but scores a run in the 5-3 Opening Day victory over the Braves.
Jackie Robinson (though we should call him Jack: his real name, not the nickname that helped make him less threatening and more palatable to white audiences) is clearly a key figure in baseball, and American, history. After Babe Ruth, he is probably the most written-about figure in baseball history (the Black Sox scandal comes in third, I believe). If you want a great recent book about him, check out Opening Day by Jonathan Eig, which looks at the whole first season in real depth.
But the barrier set up in the early 1880s against African-American players was not the only race issue in the game. Way back in
1921 At Crosley Field, Pirates right-hander Chief Yellow Horse makes his major league debut against the Reds. The Pittsburgh hurler, a member of a North American Plains Indian tribe called the Pawnees, is believed by many baseball historians to be the first full-blooded American Indian to play in the big leagues.
The quote below is from Language and Art in the Navajo Universe by anthropologist Gary Witherspoon—who was a teacher of mine—published in 1977. This passage made me think of some of the fretting—and mockery—in the press about Occupy and its political/decision-making process and unusual way of using language: the "mic check," the repetitions, etc.
Navajos believe that each person should have the right to speak and act as he pleases, so long as his intentions are not malevolent or his actions harmful to others. Desirable and ethical behavior on the part of others is hoped for and even expected, but it is never demanded or required. Coercion and control are always deplored in interpersonal and intra-group relations. Downs described this attitude as a belief in the "inviolability of the individual."
... In intra-group relations no individual, regardless of position or status, has the right to impose his will on the group. Likewise, the group does not have the right to impose its will on the individual. Unanimity is the only acceptable basis of collective action. Although a system of majority rule has been imposed on the Navajos for half a century, the extent to which the principle of unanimity continues to pervade almost all social and political deliberations is amazing. In searching for a key to the Navajo social system, Shepardson and Hammond came upon the phrase bila, "it's up to him," which is heard so frequently among the Navajo...
The reluctance to avoid even the slightest appearance of attempting to speak for or control the actions of others is also significantly marked or expressed in Navajo grammar and linguistic behavior. A Navajo never addresses another person by name or speaks the name of another person when he is present... Beyond this practice of not using names in address, there is a separate person (called the Navajo fourth person by Hale and others) in the conjugations of all verbs which is primarily used in reference to states and actions of people who are in the presence or within hearing distance of the speaker.
This is probably my favorite news story of the week: The Navajo Nation is suing Urban Outfitters over their use of the word "Navajo" on a line of (shitty, shitty) products. The tribe sent a cease-and-desist letter months ago, but says that while some of the product names have been changed (like the underpants and the FLASK—no, I'm not joking), others are still being sold through other brands and outlets.
The lawsuit filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico alleges trademark violations and violations of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest they're made by American Indians when they're not.
The tribe has about 10 registered trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. Tribal justice officials said they're intent on protecting what they believe are among the tribe's most valuable assets.
I can't wait to see how this plays out. It looks like they have a seriously legitimate trademark law case.
The Cherokee Supreme Court recently approved the dumping of 2,800 descendants of the nation's black slaves—called "freedmen"—off its tribal rolls in the middle of a contested election for principal chief.
Being de-enrolled also cuts some of those freedmen's medical and education benefits, as well as food stipends.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has called the move "unconstitutional." Joe Crittenden, the acting principal chief of the Cherokee, responded that his nation remains sovereign and will govern itself as it sees fit. The freedmen countered that the Cherokee have violated a 145 year-old treaty and are scheduled to have a hearing before a U.S. District Court judge on Sept 20. The election for principal chief is scheduled for Sept 24.
“There is a group of Cherokee citizens that have citizenship conferred on them by the Treaty of 1866 that have now had their rights terminated by the Cherokee Nation while the United States is refusing to live up to its duties to live up to its treaty obligations."
This is going to be a very instructive mess. The dispute, and how the courts deal with it, might set the tone as federal, state, and tribal governments reevaluate what treaties and sovereignty mean—a reevaluation that is being spurred by a generational shift in tribal leadership and the economic roiling both on and off the reservations.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Descendants of former black slaves once owned by members of the Cherokee Nation are asking a federal judge to block a tribal election for principal chief until the tribe restores their full citizenship rights, including the right to vote.
In legal papers filed Friday in Washington, D.C., descendants of Cherokee freedmen, as they are known, asked a federal judge to halt a Sept. 24 election for principal chief of the Oklahoma-based tribe. A hearing on the request is set for Sept. 20 before U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr.
Documents filed by attorneys for the freedmen accuse the tribe of violating a 145-year-old treaty when the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court last month restored a voter-approved amendment denying citizenship to non-Native American descendants of tribal members' former black slaves. The court reversed a lower court ruling that had voided the amendment approved by trial voters in 2007. The court's decision affected an estimated 2,800 freedmen.
What's at stake for the estimated 2,800 freedmen: a vote over who gets to lead the tribe's $600 million annual budget, wield veto power over the tribe's agenda ("which is crucial," the news story says, "since many tribal members live outside Oklahoma"), and oversee its casinos and healthcare facilities. What's at stake for the genetic Cherokee: a bunch of folks with an oblique relationship to Cherokee-ness having political influence over the tribe's future.
I'm going to take a risk and venture a hypothesis.
The splashy cover story in today's Times concerns pot cultivation on tribal lands and how everyone in Indian Country is apparently "alarmed" by this. The story trots out the usual drug-war tropes: guns, mystery Mexicans, cluck-clucking from law enforcement and local politicians.
You wouldn't know it from the Times story, but not all tribal members are "alarmed" about the possibility of growing pot on reservation land. In fact, some native leaders are cautiously exploring the idea of adding marijuana cultivation to tribal portfolios, alongside gambling, fireworks, and other business enterprises that have a competitive advantage (both legal and economic) when conducted on sovereign Indian lands. (And let's not jump to conclusions: Just because a Mexican national was found next to this marijuana farm, it doesn't mean that nobody on the reservation had anything to do with—or derived any financial benefit from—the operation.)
One of the leading voices on this issue is Gabe Galanda, who practices law in Seattle (not far from the Times offices—cough, cough) and is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California. He wrote an essay on the subject earlier this year. Here's a sample passage: "Indian Country has the sovereignty, land base, agricultural savvy, and business intangibles to really make legalized marijuana happen. For some rural tribes, those attributes are all they have to leverage economically."
Dear journalists everywhere: Next time you plan a big cover story on pot in Indian Country, give him a call.
This is a bizarre and sad story from the Native American Times about dogs and death.
“You look at the Sundance area where that gentleman was killed, we went in and removed 79 dogs after that and it looked like we never touched it,” Gleason said.
Dogs roam the sides of highways, restaurant, gas station and store parking lots and just about anywhere else they might find food. Their carcasses in various stages of decomposition litter spots along the sides of the main roads and interstates.
After Gleason added the animal control operations to his duties in October, he said he ordered his officers to conduct a series of roundups. Between October and April, he said officers picked up 2,332 dogs. Of those, only 79 were adopted and 313 were released back to their owners. The rest were euthanized. The roundups were cancelled shortly after that, he said, “because we ran out of money.”
On Monday, the Suquamish Tribal Council ratified the people’s wishes and recognized gay marriage, making it only the second tribe in the country known to do so.
The new law allows the tribal court to issue a marriage license to two unmarried people, regardless of their sex, if they’re at least 18 years old and at least one of them is enrolled in the tribe.
It will be up to other courts to decide if unions granted under the Suquamish ordinance will be recognized elsewhere in Washington, said the tribe’s attorney, Michelle Hansen.
This is good news, but its implications stretch beyond marriage equality—a storm is brewing in Indian Country about the limits and power of tribal sovereignty in general and how much civil-regulatory authority the U.S. states have (or don't have) on tribal land. Some are arguing for a tribal marijuana trade. Others are gearing up for a big fight with Big Tobacco and the states over taxation of tobacco on tribal lands. And now two tribes—the Suquamish and the Coquille in Oregon—have legalized gay marriage.
With all of this—plus the new Honor the Treaties campaign—expect to see renewed legal tension and debate in the near future over what, exactly, "tribal sovereignty" means.