Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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C. Behavioral Evidence of Indian Rejection of American Citizenship


While there is much indication that Indigenous people have become increasingly incorporated into American political society, there have always been Indigenous voices that have rejected being designated as American citizens. For example, in relation to the efforts to obtain voting rights for Indians in New Mexico in 1948, then-Taos Pueblo Governor Manuel Lujan said “Mr. And Mrs. Voters, we are not interested in [a] mixup [in your] political affairs à. We have been getting along nicely from generation down to generation until this thing of registering and voting comes in our way.”

The most sustained effort at opposing the forced conferral of American citizenship has come from the Haudenosaunee. One of the earliest and strongest voices against the Citizenship Act of 1924 was Tuscarora Chief Clinton Rickard. As the leader of the Indian Defense League of America, he was a “traditionalist” who argued that “citizenship and voting in the white man's system jeopardized the sovereignty of the Indian nations.” When the Citizenship Act was passed, he asked the question, “how can you be a sovereign nation and be forced to be a citizen in a foreign government?”

In recent years, a leading voice on the subject has been Doug George-Kanentiio, a Mohawk writer and activist, who has critiqued the fixation of Indian people on participating in the American political system in the 1990s. He concedes that “the Iroquois realize that whomever occupies the White House à will have a profound impact on their lives, for good or ill.” But despite this reality, he states that

[T]rue citizens of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy will not cast ballots in 1996. They will not take an active role in any campaign, nor will they contribute advice or material support to American politicians.

According to Iroquois law they are expressly prohibited from participating in the political process of an alien nation. Since the Iroquois are certainly citizens and residents of their own distinct country they consider themselves separate from the United States.

He explains that objection to participating in the American political process and to the Citizenship Act of 1924 itself is predicated upon the belief that “it is clearly impossible for the citizens of a particular country to have a treaty with its own government.” Because the Haudenosaunee have treaties with the United States, it should naturally be assumed that

the 1924 Act was pushed through Congress with the idea it would one day be used to extinguish Native rights, including aboriginal claims to hundreds of millions of acres land from their possession. It would only be a matter of time à before a US court stated the obvious and ruled against the Native nations.

Thus, Kanentiio concludes that “[i]f Indians do vote they have clearly decided to exercise their rights as Americans and therefore have no claim to separate status.” Moreover, Indians who do vote not only would sacrifice their treaty claims, but they would also subject themselves to having to pay taxes to support the various levels of American government. And because accepting American citizenship would mean the demise of Haudenosaunee nationhood, Kanentiio argues that if a Haudenosaunee leader urges his own people “to vote, or interfere, in an American election,” such a leader will have violated Haudenosaunee law and be deemed to have lost his Haudenosaunee citizenship.

Not only the Haudenosaunee have looked upon the conferral of American citizenship as an interference with their claims of nationhood and sovereign status. Recently, the Teton Sioux declared their “intentions to renounce U.S. citizenship, reestablish the legally agreed upon territorial boundaries of the Lakota Nation à and to completely disengage from further control or supervision by the U.S. Government.”

Despite these voices of opposition, there is little evidence that large numbers of Indigenous people reject their designation as American citizens. It is obvious, however, that in an era when colonization has so changed the Indigenous way of life, that the temptation to obtain more control over one's future through voting is a great temptation. For example, Miguel Trujillo, a citizen of the Isleta Pueblo, sued the State of New Mexico in 1948 to become the first Indian to vote in that state. Despite doing so, his daughter said that “æDad had mixed feelings about it à [h]e knew it was a real benefit, but at the same time he did turn many people against him--even from his own tribe.”Æ The animosity was undoubtedly real, because it was believed by some Indians in New Mexico that voting would “chip away at tribal sovereignty or that the government would impose more taxes or strip them of their rights.”

In the face of the temptation to accept America's offer to join its polity, there nonetheless remains a strong view amongst some Indigenous leaders that the survival of Indigenous people requires continued resistance against incorporation into the American political system. As Seneca scholar John Mohawk describes the challenge,

Indian leadership needs to understand that when they stand as Indians for Indian rights they are in direct conflict with U.S. aspirations, and that an Indian allegiance to the United States is secondary to their allegiance to their own nations because the former by nature seeks to eliminate the latter.

 

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