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Friday, August 1, 2008

For Future Reference: Water Is Not a Renewable Resource

On August 1, 1953, during the 83rd Congress, the House unanimously passed House Concurrent Resolution 108, and while house resolutions are not enforceable by law, as statements of general intent they are binding.

Here is some language: Whereas it is the policy of Congress, as rapidly as possible, to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, and to end their status as wards of the United States, and to grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship; and
Whereas the Indians within the territorial limits of the United Sates should assume their full responsibility as American citizens. (emphasis my own)

H.C. 108, Termination policy, was comprised of a bevy of interlocking pieces, each designed to sever the U.S.'s Federal trust relationship with tribes and Pueblos, ending the trust protection of tribal lands, and liquidating tribal assets (disbursing after sale funds through per cap payouts) from tribal to individual ownership, converting homelands into "fee simple" titles sold at large and to (former) tribal members. In other words, dissolving the tribe as if it were a corporation. In this way the People would become Americans.

Termination would in effect grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship, and in return the People would assume their full responsibility as American citizens. The tribe, as an entity, a body with a mind, a spirit and a responsibility of its own, would no longer exist, as would the U.S. Federal government's responsibilities and obligations to the Nations.

In the House Report No. 2680, 83rd Congress, Second Session, 1954, The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara of Fort Berthold were determined to be one of 96 in a list of 179 tribes and Pueblos local BIA officials believed ready to "handle their own affairs."

When tribes vocalized their opposition to being eliminated Senator Arthur V. Watkins of Utah countered, "They want all the benefits of the things we have, highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished, but they don't want to help pay their fair share of it."

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations have paid.

George Gillette, Hidatsa leader, wept while the Secretary of the Interior J. A. Krug signed the document that allowed the flooding the prime river bottom lands of the Missouri River to build the Garrison Dam, resulting in the creation of Lake Sacajawea. The U.S. snatched 152,360 acres, one quarter of the reservation was flooded by the dam reservoir and 325 (80% of the total tribe) families were relocated, losing 94% of their agricultural lands, as well as their ability to "handle their own affairs."

Forced relocation and homeland destruction has left a spiritual and psychic wound in every member of the three tribes that comprise the MHA Nation, both on and off the reservation.

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara continue to pay. As part of the national Fossil Fools Day (April 1) Kandi Mossett, coordinator for the Campus Climate Challenge (Indigenous Environmental Network) scheduled a meeting on Fort Berthold to discuss clean (solar) energy on the reservation. The tribes are currently in the midst of heated negotiations regarding a proposed oil refinery on the MHA Nation. The signs for the meeting were torn down, the event unceremoniously moved and the North Dakota Division of Homeland Security was contacted. (For a full account see ICT, April 14, 2008, New Town, N.D.) Aside from the particulars of the MHA Nation's thinking and action, what is clear is that they are still paying for other people's resources (fuel, electricity) and entertainment (tourism in the form of water based recreational activities) while trying to address the poverty that has resulted from the U.S. reservation system and the MHA Nation's relationship to U. S. citizens, at large, as well as their own status as U.S. citizen, under the 1924 Citizenship Act.

During the Termination Era roughly 3% of the U.S. Federally recognized tribes were terminated, including 41 California tribes in a single "Rancheria Bill" in 1958. The unsophisticated language served further notice to tribal people of the time to what our ancestors knew during the U. S. government sanctioned wars and mass western expansion of settler colonists in the 19th Century. These policies still stand as statements of intent today.

Today, on the anniversary of the H.R. 108, it is necessary to remember that the desire to absorb First Nations into the general American populous remains the same. If we wish to maintain our position, in the land, as handed down to us (in oral tradition and tribal history) through our medicine, wise people and elders, we must discriminate and evaluate our daily participation in American culture.

Water is not a renewable resource. Those with dams on their homelands and on their sacred rivers (like the great Colorado) know this intimately.

Termination policy makes clear the entire project of Americanization—to rid the hemisphere claimed by the "original settlers " of all obstacles to what they envision as life via extermination (of people and their way of living). American consumer culture is not an inevitability, though many cannot see anything outside it, but the culture does exert itself with such force and persistence that it feels irresistible, and somehow a natural part of "progress" as if it is the very definition of "civilization" itself.

We face the legacy of Termination today in advertising, commerce, education, home improvement, enrollment, federal recognition and employment: Nike, Pepsi, Exxon, iLife, MySpace, TMobile, ATT/Comcast Broadband Cable, Direct TV, NASCAR, alcohol, Meth, Water Recreation, English, French and Spanish.

We face it in a flat and unimaginative notion of civilization.

Termination told the truth: They don't want us here and will stop at nothing until we disappear. The immigrant mythology of the U.S.A. is a powerful tool, able to lead new arrivals on the program of abandoning their origin stories, their ancestors and their way of life in exchange for the promise of full participation in the American Dream, in exchange for a flat screen TV, cell phone and iPod.

We are not immune; never forget. What's at stake and what are the costs? America needs Indians, for their mascots, entertainment, and for their national history, but tribal people engaging in tribal culture are the problem—always have been and always will be.

For more information about these policies read Creek/Seminole/Shawnee/Sac and Fox historian Donald L. Fixico's book Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960

For more information about the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations visit:

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.