Honest politics practiced between the Indian nations and the colonists must always be, or should always be, coalition politics. This is necessary not only because we are less than one percent of the US population, but also because we are not now and never have been a united one percent, more’s the pity.
Our most obvious partners are the mainstream civil rights movement, mostly African-American, and that’s why the Cherokee Nation’s action in revoking the citizenship of the Cherokee freedmen is politically disastrous as well as morally reprehensible. This would be true even if, by unilaterally abrogating a treaty obligation, the Cherokee Nation did not license the countless abrogations to which we have been subjected.
We have much in common with Hispanics from Latin America as well, as they have been subject to legal disadvantages and their blood is about eighty per cent indigenous. The Hispanics of Spain or Portugal, not so much.
Like all persons subject to color prejudice, we sometimes turn it around to demonize the aniyonega, to claim we have no friends among the colonists. That’s simply not so, and never was so.
After his Presidency, John Quincy Adams wrote in his diary:
30th [June 1841].
Morning visit from John Ross, chief of the Cherokee Nation, with Vann and Benn, two others of the delegation. Ross had written to request an interview with me for them on my appointment as Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs.
I was excused from that service at my own request, from a full conviction that its only result would be to keep a perpetual harrow upon my feelings, with a total impotence to render any useful service.
The policy, from Washington to myself, of all the Presidents of the United States had been justice and kindness to the Indian tribes—to civilize and preserve them. With the Creeks and Cherokees it had been eminently successful. Its success was their misfortune.
The States within whose borders their settlements were took the alarm, broke down all the treaties which had pledged the faith of the nation. Georgia extended her jurisdiction over them, took possession of their lands, houses, cattle, furniture, negroes,(sic) and drove them out from their own dwellings. All the Southern States supported Georgia in this utter prostration of faith and justice; and Andrew Jackson, by the simultaneous operation of fraudulent treaties and brutal force, consummated the work.
The Florida War is one of the fruits of this policy, the conduct of which exhibits one (un)interrupted scene of the most profligate corruption. All resistance against this abomination is vain. It is among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring them to judgement—but as His own time and by His own means.
Adams’ letter demonstrates two things. Some of the colonists had open eyes. Those with open eyes were a minority.
Over the years of occupation, we’ve had many white allies—not just the late Marlon Brando, and I mention his name with respect, not ridicule. He took boatloads of ridicule for supporting Indians while he was alive.
One of our most significant allies in the great scheme of things was Felix S. Cohen, who put together The Handbook of Federal Indian Law AKA “The Bible.” Cohen was not just an Indian symp, but also a seminal philosopher of a school of thought called “legal pluralism.” Consistent with that thought, he believed that Indians could be self-governing as they had been before the colonists arrived, and when compiling his great work, he took most forks in the road toward that end.
Modern updates of Cohen’s work have passed into the hands of Indian scholars, which is as Cohen would have wanted it. The utterly irrational field of federal Indian law is populated by academics who understand the legal house of cards we are born to tear down.
The conservatives would kick down the house of cards to show that the process of assimilation is complete and the special status of Indians is an historical anachronism that needs to go away.
The liberals would kick it down and make the US government deal with us on a more level playing field, as governments. The playing field will never be level, of course, as long as we remain dependent, but it’s hard to see how we can self-govern our way to restored independence while playing “mother, may I?” with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
If legislating from a minority requires coalition politics, and if war requires allies, so too would militant direct action require coalition politics. I have suggested coalition partnerships with African Americans, Hispanics on both sides of the southern border, and honest white people. For those who claim there are no honest white people, I refer you to the story of our peoples as told by us. In that story, we always had allies. I find myself once more in agreement with John Quincy Adams:
"All men profess honesty as long as they can. To believe all men honest would be folly. To believe none so is something worse."
Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.