Title: American Indians, American Justice (ISBN 029273834x)
Author: Vine Deloria, Jr.; Clifford M. Lytle
Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Prairie Edge Trading Company & Galleries
Review Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary: For me personally, it is a sad note that my awareness of Native American/American Indian history stopped after the Battle of Wounded Knee. It wasn’t intentional. It was just that my history books just stopped there. I knew that Native Americans history continued after that, but never really heard of anything even close to the complex political and legal history of these great people. Reading American Indians, American Justice (1983) helped me to realize the depths of that ignorance.
The book starts with the legal question of how Europeans were to interact with native people who already lived there. The answer to that question is still being answered today. The first chapter outlines the overall history of key legislation and policies regarding land rights, self-government, and tribal jurisdiction with the rest of the chapters discussing various aspects of that history with more involved discussion. Some of the topics discussed include:
- The definition and legal use of the concept of “Indian country”
- Past and current tribal governments including the judicial system, jurisdiction, criminal system, and their civil liberties (free speech, religion, rights of the criminally accused)
- History of the political agencies that deal or have dealt with the Native Americans
Throughout the journey, the authors take you through an astounding number of laws and policies, taking time to provide examples and cases where these laws came into use. In their analysis, you come to see the complexities and nuances the American government has had in interacting with Native Americans. The book then shifts toward the legal system set up by the tribal governments (under the auspices of the United States), providing critiques and analysis, finally ending with a discussion of public policies and civil rights of Americans.
Commentary: This book was definitely an eye-opener. As I stated earlier, I had little knowledge of Native American governments in the past or in the present. Most U.S. history books only focused on aspects of Native Americans with little concern to their legal and political history. Some things I was astounded to learn:
- Native Americans were not considered citizens by virtue of 14th Amendment
- There is a series of (complex) laws that determine if a situation falls under tribal jurisdiction, US federal jurisdiction, or both, which often lead to confusing consequences
- There was a Native American Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Link: http://www.tribal-institute.org/lists/icra1968.htm)
- The United States government attempted to allocate land, similar to what had been offered Black Americans
- Native Americans have a long standing tradition of governments that worked in various ways. These governments have been adapted, but do not mirror, the American government system.
The book offers many insights for people unfamiliar with Native American law and policy. It is not a particularly long book (around 250 pages), if you find the material interesting. The book is geared toward the law or policy student, so it helps to be comfortable with the presentation of a lot of laws, statues, legal terms, and analysis. This book does not cover only legal or policy issues, but those serve as the foundation of the study. It’s similar to the Bruce Jansson’s book “The Reluctant Welfare State” with a more legal twist.