SwatTalk: "Killers of the Flower Moon" and the Importance of Strong Native Nation Governments
with Miriam Jorgensen '87
Recorded on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Hey, y'all. Welcome to tonight's SwatTalk with Miriam Jorgensen, class of ’87. We're glad to host this chat, delving deeper into Osage and Native nation governance. A story in part lifted up by the recent film, "Killers of the Flower Moon". It's also timely that as we host this conversation, we're also celebrating and honoring Native American Heritage Month, and we hope all of us can gain a bit from the conversation as we collectively figure our relationship to reconciliation and decolonization here on Turtle Island and beyond. If you're tuning for the first time to SwatTalk, likely not, but we'll say this anyhow, it's an initiative of the Alumni Council, and the idea is to lift up stories of alumni and their incredible work as we also foster a sense of community and school spirit about some values which as alums, we all hold dear. For me tonight, those values are especially social justice and care. If you're wondering who this person is, who's not Miriam, Miriam will be chatting just now. I'm a member of the council myself, Saba Thackurdeen, class of 2012, and I'd just like to give a shout out to Jason Zenger-Lee, class of 1996, who's the SwatTalks director and is furiously curating all of these chats that y'all join throughout the year, and as well to Yana Johnson, class of '09, who is our Alumni Council president. As a new flash, y'all might have seen recently, the Alumni Council has put out a new Alumni Association Newsletter, so be sure to check your inboxes for that. Now, for tonight's chat, we have Miriam, class of '87. Miriam is a non-Indigenous settler scholar, a senior researcher at the Native Nation Institute at the University of Arizona. Her work on Indigenous governance and economic development spans Turtle Island, US and Canada, as well as Australia, and has addressed a wide variety of issues on tribal lands, from justice systems, child welfare policy, natural resource management, to land back, tribal enterprises, housing, and beyond. She has a bevy of experience to say the least, supporting Native nations of the Craft Governance architectures to exercise their sovereignty. And she's here to share her experience working in support of the Osage and many other Native nations. Just before we get started though, a brief overview of tonight's chat. Miriam will be presenting for a bit, followed by a curated discussion and then opening up to a general Q&A. As we go through the talk, please use the Q&A function and not the chat to send through your questions. And please also add your name and class here. It keeps it a little bit more fun and a lot of folks will get to meet each other. And we'll try to fit in those questions where we can. So with that, I will turn it over to you, Miriam.
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Thanks, Saba. It's exciting to be here, and I just wanna say a few preliminaries of my own. As Saba noted, I'm a settler scholar and I owe a debt to all the Indigenous peoples, people and peoples, who have shared their stories with me and who have allowed me to share their information with you. I also wanna just acknowledge that I'm Zooming in today from the ancestral homelands of the Eklutna Dena'ina. I'm actually... It's a place we can now call Anchorage, Alaska. So I'm Zooming in from the farthest reaches of the northern part of Turtle Island. I've got a brief slide deck to share with you, because Saba said that this was a complex enough topic that it probably made sense to show a little bit of information on slides. I'll try not to make it feel really lecturey, but it's hard to not do some deep diving into pieces, and I'll try to avoid rabbit holes, but I do wanna just try to give that overview of where we're at, and some of the challenges of the story that you hopefully know from the film and the book, and talk a little bit about where it ends and doesn't end in the movie, and the film, and the book. So I'm gonna share now my screen, and take you through a little bit of a review. Sorry. This is the eternal problem of PowerPoint, it always starts in the wrong place for me. Okay, so here we are. Hopefully, a lot of you have read the book, "Killers of the Flower Moon", or seen the film which is in theaters right now, and is a spectacular thing to see in the theaters. But the one thing I wanted to talk about today, that goes beyond the film, is that the story doesn't really stop there. There's this sense that the story is over when the FBI agents get their man, and even in the book version of it where we understand that there were many more murders and that many more people weren't caught, there's a sense of, "Well, at least we know what happened." But I think that when you step back from that, you start to understand that kind of the signals that we saw in the book and the film are about the fact that a lot of that stuff wouldn't have been possible without a structure that had been put in place by the US government. And that structure created that system of guardianship that allowed non-Indigenous people to take advantage of the Osage citizens. And it created a structure of governing that continued to take advantage of Osage citizens even when the murder spree ended. So I think that that's a challenging thought to just sit and think with, that on some level, especially in the book version of the story and of the recounting of the history, I should say, we get the sense that the US government stepped in and was kind of a good guy to sort of figure out what went on when other investigators hadn't, to figure out a way to go underground and to really get the criminals, even if they didn't get all of them. But a really strong step back from that allows us to see that bigger picture of the US government as a settler colonial power, that while it may have stopped that particular abuse, actually stood in a position of continuing to take advantage of the Osage Nation over time. And I wanna unpack that a little bit, talk about where that came from, how we saw it continuing, and then how it sets up some of the work that I do today. So this is just a reminder, in these images, that you had some ideas about this from the film at least. This is a screen grab of the scene where we see the tribal council deliberating and speaking out about some of the problem. And what you don't realize from this, even though you're presented with this decision-making body, is that this tribal council actually was created by the law that you see part of on the left-hand of the screen, an allotment law from 1906. So let's just go back in time a little bit farther, not way back in time because the Osage, like many Indigenous nations, or I would say all Indigenous nations in North America, really traced their existence here, to time immemorial. So I don't want to go back into the Sansa time, but rather into this notion of a modern history of the Osage. So I'm just gonna pick up their story in 1870, when they signed a treaty with the US government to be removed from Kansas, a treaty that was basically done under duress and pressure. I was raised on the milk of the "Little House on the Prairie" stories. In fact, my sister is named Laura Mary after Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sister Mary. And so if any of you are familiar with that set of stories, there's part of "Little House on the Prairie" where Paul Ingalls is complaining about the fact that he has to leave this territory in Kansas because of some Indian issues and the fact that the frontier isn't out there yet. And that's actually because he's settled on Osage land. And shortly after the Ingallses actually leave, this treaty is signed between the US government and the Osage, because there's all this settler pressure. People like the Ingalls were creating that settler pressure to push them away. So the Osage are under duress, forced to sell their land in Kansas, and then opt to do something that many Indigenous nations at the time did not do. They decided they were gonna take that money and buy land rather than be forcefully relocated. They were forcefully relocated, but they bought the land that they relocated to. And so in 1872, they purchased land with the intent to pick out a parcel that they thought that European settlers would not want. It was hilly, it was rocky, it was inhospitable in many ways. But they said, "Look, if we can go here and not have to interact with the European settlers, that would be great." In 1881, they further undertook a sort of just stay away kind of policy, which was to follow the example of the Cherokee nation, which had adopted a written constitution after the manner of a European-style constitution, in many ways, very similar to the US Constitution. The Cherokee had done that, but way back in the 1830s, and the Osage were like, "We're gonna take a page from that book," and so they adopted a constitution, a written constitution in 1881, very much as a nothing to see here kind of policy. But by 1887, the US government signaled its desire to not continue to recognize Native nations, and to instead try to turn every Indigenous nation and all the people into those nations, into yeoman farmers, was the term of the day. And so by dividing their communally held lands up into individual parcels to try to break the back of Indigenous governments and to have to try to claim more land from Indigenous nations. So in the case of the Osage, that led to the US government actually deciding to unilaterally no longer recognize their elected and self-determined governing form. And you could start to feel the venality sort of running through this, because by 1896, the US government created a blanket lease to all of Osage County, which was contiguous with the Osage reservation, the land that they had purchased. And the US government leased the rights to the underground resources to a single company, probably just for their convenience, as a way for the US government to themselves make more money off of that transaction. And then in 1906, they finally forced allotment on the Osage. It was a harder process with the Osage because they owned their land in fee simple, but they were still forced to break up their land into individual parcels. And a critical thing that happened at that moment in time is the land was separated from the mineral estate underground. So the land on the top was broken up into 2,229 parcels for the 2,229 individuals who received an allotment at the time. And then the underground reservation, the mineral estate was held in common, it was still a communal resource, to which all of those allotted individual annuitants, or allottees, or headright owners received a share. That was critical because that also established the government of the nation. Crazily, the government was established in terms of voter representation, so that if you are a headright owner, an annuitant, allottee, all these words really mean the same thing in this context, you got a vote. And so in 1907, the first Osage Tribal Council, which was created under the Allotment Act, and that wiped out the 1881 government, the National Council established under that, and they created this government, the 1907 first Osage Tribal Council. And it's that elected government that is elected every two years or so, a new tribal council that is there to represent in a sense, the mineral estate, their representation power, the franchise is tied to ownership in the mineral estate. And so when you see the tribal council in the film and you read about the tribal council in the book, that's who you're reading about, a government that is not structured on a one person, one vote, or not structured on the choice of the Osage Nation, about who they want to be representing them, but is instead created by the US government and is tied to mineral wealth. This image is from the Osage Museum and it's a picture of all of the pictures that they have collected in an exhibit of all the original allottees in that 1906 law. But if you think about what's going on in this governing form, it's that those individuals who are in a sense, only there because of their tie to mineral wealth, are elected to conduct all of the tribe's business. Its political business and social affairs. And only those people who are either listed on the roll or descendants of people listed on the roll are allowed to be part of that government, and to vote in the government, to be enfranchised in the government. So you can already feel they're setting up differences between different Osage people. So if your name wasn't on that roll and you were born afterward, I don't care if you were their sisters or brothers, you weren't given a right to vote into that government, and you could only receive a right to vote if somebody died and left you their share. And at least initially, those shares or votes could go to non-Osage as well. They could be inherited, and that of course, is what you saw setting up in the film of the problem of the rapscallion and other folks who take advantage of the Osage and resort to terrible crimes in order to get these rights to oil. But it really is not just a right to oil, but a right to a vote. And so it also created, even among the headright owners, disparities as well, not just between those who had a headright and those who didn't. But you could imagine if you inherited a partial share, you might have a quarter a vote, and somebody else could have three or eight votes if they had amassed shares. So it was a completely unfair system that was in effect. Along the way, Congress did amend the law to get rid of the idea that non-Osage could inherit rights in the governing structure. But as the century wore on, we started to see as Native activism, one of the things that happened within the Osage community and Osage Nation itself, this desire for people who have been disenfranchised to start to organize. And so the sixties was an era of organization and of activism. And so the Osage Nation Organization is formed to address these issues of disenfranchisement. By the 1980s, communication with the US government makes people start to think that the Osage Nation itself might only be formally consisting of those allottees who were listed on the 1906 roll, so there starts to become this nervousness about as allottees are dying, they're getting old, they're very old, some of them, will the nation still exist as a nation within the congregation of federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native Nations if the last allottee dies? So there's these questions around... Really existential questions that are arising around this time. And then by the 1980s, questions start to... In the 1990s, '80s and '90s, questions start to rise to, wasn't it an illegitimate overriding of the 1881 Constitution by the 1906 Act? And so isn't that actually still the constitution of the nation, especially for those issues that have to do with social, and health, and education, and governance issues outside the mineral estate? So these questions are vexing, and they start to become a matter of fights within the nation. And I should say maybe debates and argumentation as a better word. By 1994, they've secured a federal government ruling from a US court that says of the 1881 constitutions, it was still in effect and it should be amended to allow the election of a national council to handle non-mineral business. By 1997, that court ruling is overruled by a US appeals court, saying, "No, no, the Minerals Council is still in charge." And finally, in 2004, through a lot of work on behalf of a lot of folks in the nation, they lobbied US Congress to pass public law 108-431 called "An Act to reaffirm the sovereign rights of the Osage Tribe, to determine its membership, i.e. citizenship, and form of government." And so for the period 2004 to 2006, was the amount of time for which they were funded to undertake this task, they had to create a new government, and they had to solve some of those internal issues about whether or not those who were in power via the minerals estate, would really cede power and give up power to the broader group of Osage who had been disenfranchised. Now as it turns out, something like 70% of those who actually owned headrights were supportive of the new governing structure. And on March 11th, 2006, the new constitution is ratified. It provides for a 3-branch government that retains the Minerals Council as kind of a quasi independent body. But all the other governance is taken over by the new constitutional government of the Osage Nation. So they managed to make their way through a process, but only after a lot of struggle and a lot of work. And it's worth remembering that this Minerals Council that was put in place way back in 1906, was never super happy with the US government even after the Osage murders were, quote unquote, solved, because they, together with the Osage nation, ended up suing the US government for mismanagement of their mineral estate funds, a case that was eventually settled in about 2011. So even though they were able to solve some of their governance problems, some of those issues around management of the minerals estate, and the US government continuing to take advantage of the nation persisted throughout time. And in fact, there were just this year, in 2023, further modifications to the way that the federal government is managing the estate, because there are still concerns about the US government not abiding by the rules properly. So as we move to the next portion of this talk, I just need to pause to make sure I've got power to my computer. There. I wanna talk a little bit about my work with regard to that process. Remember I mentioned that period 2004 to 2006 when the Osage Nation had to get its Constitutional Act in order? It had this opportunity through a change in US law, to create a new governing system. Well, that's exactly the kind of time period, and just before that, that the two entities I work for, the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona and the Harvard Project on Indigenous Governance and Development at Harvard University, we engage in a lot of education around exactly these kinds of processes. So prior to 2004, we were working with the nation to kind of help lay the groundwork. It was pretty clear that this law was eventually going to get passed, and then when it did get passed, they needed to be able to just start running right away. So that preliminary education with elected leadership and with those who are critically involved in the election process, around things like, you know, what reform mechanism do you want to use to create this new constitution? What's gonna get you through the roadblocks? Should you have a constitutional convention? Should you have a committee of the council, of the Minerals Council, do this? Should you have an independent commission do this work? Helping give case studies and examples, and weighing the pros and cons of those kinds of approaches. Thinking a lot once the process was up and running, about the parts of constitutions, educating the Constitutional Commission, educating current elected leaders, and especially educating key informants within the community, key community members who are gonna carry the message about different things they might consider. Like, what do you wanna put in your constitutional preamble? What is the importance of that part of the constitution? How do you wanna deal potentially, with the Minerals Council, those folks who had had power over the entire government, who will retain power in the new form of government, but how do you incorporate them? Will they be a bicameral system, like will they be one of the houses of government? Will they just be a development corporation? All these kinds of answers, or questions I should say, is the kind of work that we do with Indigenous nations, helping them weigh the ideas, the opportunities, and the way forward for them. We also discuss issues like written versus unwritten constitutional provisions. What do you wanna put in? And what do you maybe wanna reserve to custom tradition and law that exists from time immemorial that isn't gonna be concretized in a written document? And what might be some key elements of a modern constitution that you need in order to exist in the structure of international and of national law that you're part of? So a lot of that is the kind of educational work that I and other team members with me worked with the Osage Nation to do. Now, that's not to take anything away from them, they did all the hard work. We were simply there as educators and information providers when they had questions, and really tried to do everything to stand back and support their process. They did the hard work. I wanna just point out that their reform process was tremendously successful. The vote that they undertook in 2006, put in place the new government. And while there were some hiccups in terms of implementing it, that path eventually became smooth. And the polity or the collective, the tribe, now includes all Osage descendants. Remember, many of them had been disenfranchised through the old system. Now their new system acknowledges them all, they're all citizens of the nation as long as they come forward with their paperwork and register as a citizen. And the nation is upwards in size of 21,000. I know this is actually low because I can remember talking to the person who does their citizenship registry, and it was pushing 25,000 several years ago. And remember, this is a nation government that performs all the functions of public government, and it's no longer bound to a governing system that's primarily engaged to manage a corporate asset. And I encourage you to look into the Osage Nation's governing structure. They have a fabulous website. Here's a screenshot from one of their pieces of information that's shared on their website. They're in a process of strategic planning, and you can really get a sense of their values and the kinds of things that the nation cares about by looking at their strategic planning documents and other parts of their website. But just to transition to the last part of my comments here, before we get to the curated question and answer, is I just wanna stress that the Osage Nation's story is extreme because of the way that their governing system was tied to oil rights. And again, that led to all the reign of terror and all the troubles in the teens and the twenties and into the thirties. As David Grand's book points out, the problem persisted into the 1930s. But other Native nations also have inappropriate and ineffective governing forms that were largely imposed by the US government. And in 2023, there are 574 federally recognized Native nations that share geography with the United States, and 67 state recognized tribes, and an innumerable number of unrecognized Native communities. And many of these have structural forms that look corporate or more club-like and aren't structured as public governments. The same goes in Canada. Different processes there, but Indigenous nations have really pushed hard on parliament and on the Canadian courts to recognize their inherent rights and inherent jurisdiction. And they're also in a position where they have governing forms under things like the Indian Act and old 1860s, 1850s kind of law that are inappropriate for governing modern and contemporary Indigenous nations. So a lot of nations are rewriting constitutions, or remaking constitutions, or bringing forth their unwritten constitutions into written documents. And it means that there's a big demand for the kinds of work that I and others do to support Indigenous nations in their efforts to create new governing documents. And I've just shown you a couple of pictures off to the left, of the work that my colleagues and I do. We write books, we offer educational classes, we provide nation-specific handbooks, and we also have a free online resource center to support constitutional change among Indigenous nations, to provide this and to support these processes of change. My work lately, has been mostly engaged with First Nations that share geography with Canada, on their constitution building efforts. But I have colleagues right now, that are involved with several nations in the United States as well. Why do we care about this work? Why do I do it? Why is it not just sort of funny niche work that, you know, isn't that nice kind of work? Well, it's actually work that I think affects us all. 'Cause you have to remember that in the US Constitution, directly, and in the Canadian constitutional structure somewhat more indirectly, there are really three sovereigns. There's the federal government, the central government, there's those state or provincial governments, and then there are Tribal, First Nation, and Native community governments. And they're all sovereigns that work together to support the creation of public order and the creation of public goods. And, you know, I'm formally trained as an economist, and one of the things we learned is that in economics, there are no $20 bills lying on the ground because optimal behavior means that we're gonna pick up those $20 bills and use them. And unfortunately for years, Native nation governments, because they were low capacity, or not seen as real players, or through bias and injustices, they were kind of like those $20 bills lying on the ground, where they were just capacity that was ignored. But as Native nations are improving their capacity and working hard to increase the effectiveness of their governing forms, they're really able to bring about results that are good not just for their citizens, but for all US and Canadian citizens as well. And I'm just gonna point out that econometric research, so for those of you who are big believers in the quantitative process, econometric research shows that when Native nations are in the driver's seat and when they have strong and capable governing institutions, like remade constitutions or other institutional elements that provide them with strong capacity, they manage forests better, they create cleaner water, and they even have spillover effects like when they run good institutions that help people improve their credit, they actually create rising credit scores for everyone in the region, even if they're not directly serving those individuals. So there's a lot of amazing work that really taking advantage of the capacity of the governance of Indigenous nations brings to all of us. So I'm gonna end there. I've got some recommendations for books to read and things to listen to that I'll share at the very end. But I wanna just get onto the question/answer part of this conversation.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Cool. Thanks, Miriam. So I think first step, you mentioned there's 574 federally recognized tribes in the US, more at the state level, and still many more unrecognized. And so that certainly demonstrates Indian country is no monolith. So I'm just curious, how does constitution design vary across nations? And maybe what are some of the other stories of nation buildings that you would wanna share with us tonight?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Thanks for asking that question, Saba. So one of the things we immediately learn is that there is no one-size-fits-all in Indigenous nations with regard to constitutions. And one of the places we see that the most and in fact that we encourage Native nations to really think about hard, is in constitutional preambles. And so you can see some nations decide that what is most important to them is to really call up in their preamble, for instance, their history, and to remind people of what that history was that got them to where they are. Other Native nations may feel it's most important to recognize that their constitutional founding, like what creates them as a people, is very different from that of the settler colonial state. You know, there's not a we the people for many Indigenous nations, as there's not the crown as there is for Canada, for instance. I shouldn't say the "We the people," as there is for many settler colonial nations. Native nations oftentimes, look to a creator or a creating being that put them in this place, or through their connection to land, and they might mention that in the preamble. So you're getting the sense that even in those very first words of Indigenous constitutions, they're differentiating themselves from one another. That goes straight through to rules around citizenship. Who counts as a citizen may depend on whether or not it's a matrilineal or a patrilineal kind of society. It may depend on whether or not they're acknowledging people who live off their ancestral lands, or on their ancestral lands, or off their current reservation, or on their current reservation. They may acknowledge them, but have different sets of rights for those kinds of individuals, depending on residency. So those things are all set up in the constitutional order. They might also have very different decision-making structures. Some of those decision-making structures might be unicameral, to replicate that idea of a single tribal council making decisions. Others might be bicameral, or reserve certain kinds of decisions, not to necessarily a legislative body, but to a different decision-making group, and set those two aside to that decision maker. They might have very different ways of resolving disputes that are written into their constitutions. So in a sense, a lot of the work that we do in terms of education and professional development around constitution making, is to say governments have functions, and those functions can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways. And it's the decision of that Native nation to decide how it wants to accomplish those functions, and which of those it actually wants to write into its written constitution, because its unwritten constitution could contain a number of those things as well. So already, I think you can tell in just that brief description that there is tremendous variety in Native nation constitutions. And if you're interested in it, all it takes is a Google search. You can Google around and start to read Indigenous nations constitutions. I showed you one, that Gitanyow Constitution, I challenge you to read it, it comes with a glossary 'cause much of it is written in Indigenous language.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Yeah, it's... Oh, we'll definitely give it a shot, and it'll be really interesting, I think, certainly to understand some of the concepts that might not be analogous whatsoever, or might not have any analog elsewise. So I think one of the things that you raised is a question of governance as a cultural artifact. And I'm just wondering if you could dive a little bit more into what the cultural work looks like in the constitution and governance design process?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Yeah, so I know that one of the... Well, that you've had a look at a bit at Jean Dennison's work. Jean Dennison is an Osage woman who really took in... Who was asked and then took on board the work of doing a documentation of the constitutional change process at Osage. And they undertook a very standing back from process in terms of saying, you know, our nation, because of the way so many descendants were disenfranchised for so long, has had to figure out a way to sustain our culture and our community separate from our governing structures, which were these imposed structures initially. But then people got used to using those more Western style structures, so that when they went to do a constitutional reform, they decided that that was the way they wanted to do it. What felt culturally legitimate to them was to kind of keep culture separate, and private, and away from their governing structures, and then have a set of governing structures that reflected their contemporary political culture, if you will, which looked more western, or felt more western. Whereas other governments say, "You know what?" Or other Indigenous communities say when they remake or recreate their governing structures, "We actually need to return to other forms that were more comfortable for how we made decisions." And so for instance, we see some nations that are very deliberative across their whole nation, and their governing structure, because they have a culture of, I wouldn't necessarily say consensus, but of accountability and informing, that they might have decisions that will only go to a more central council after they have been discussed thoroughly at lower levels. That's sub-political or sub-national levels, I guess. Political subdivisions, that's the word I'm looking for. So that as political subdivisions discuss the issue, and then it can rise to the level of national discussion and debate before that issue is dealt with through a law or a resolution. So those are in communities where there's a much more consensus type or deliberative democracy kind of structure. So you'll see that baked into their constitutional institutions. You will also see places where there's a desire, and this is not necessarily constitutional, it might be where the constitution empowers the government to create a dispute resolution structure. And that dispute resolution structure may not look like an adversarial western court system. It may look much more like a restorative justice system, and that's because it fits the culture of that community. So you see a lot of cultural variations swinging through Indigenous nation constitutions. And a lot of it, the work we do, is just reminding folks that they have the authority and the power as they're remaking those constitutional orders to bring in those ideas of culture, if they desire to or not. But what they've also really gotta be thinking about is, does this match our political culture of our community and does it work?
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Yeah. Thanks for sharing that, Miriam. Yes, and in my experience working with the is, it was incredible to see the embodiment of the , the words that come before all else in so many different facets of governance within the community, both within the band council and of course in traditional settings. As somebody that's myself an environmentalist and working in that field, I think a lot about environmental governance and then also how many of the environmental challenges that, you know, collectively we're facing, is placing new and differential pressure on governance systems, and I suppose calling for them to be updated to handle the task. And I'm just kind of curious if in your work in supporting nation building and governance design, if any of that is beginning to shift, I suppose, during the Anthropocene with, I suppose, biodiversity collapse and climate change adding to the host of social issues that may already demand a nation's attention and resources?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 So we do find that there are governance strengthening activities, not necessarily constitution level governance strengthening activities, but institution level. So maybe creating new departments of government, creating laws that really stretch the authority and jurisdiction of a Native nation beyond say the boundaries of its reservation to ancestral land beyond those reserve boundaries, as an attempt to say, "Yeah, we actually have this authority and control, and we've got a responsibility to take care of some of this stuff, and by God we're gonna do it, and we're not gonna wait on some other government to take care of this." In part, because Indigenous nations have Indigenous knowledges that oftentimes help address those issues and take better care of the environment, and climate mitigation, and climate adaptation issues. And so exercising that jurisdiction and being in the driver's seat over those kinds of issues is bringing to the fore oftentimes new techniques, new knowledge to westerners, which are old techniques and old knowledge, ancestral knowledge, to Indigenous people. And so there can be governance strengthening work and institution strengthening work in order to support Indigenous nations' efforts to assert those kinds of authorities. Now, that's all very theoretical sounding until I put some, you know, sort of facts on the ground around it. So there has been for 40 years almost now, I think 35, something called the Indian Forest Management Act in place. And every 10 years, there has to be a federal report that's generated by federal foresters and Native foresters in the United States, to follow what's gone on with Indian forest management. And what's been documented over all this time period is that the best managers of any forests in the United States are not the federal government and not private companies, but Indigenous nations, because in part, they have a very long time horizon. They don't have a time horizon that's a corporate time horizon. They don't have a time horizon that's till the next group of people gets in office or is imported to the bureaucracy. Their time horizon is at least seven generations. And oftentimes it's like, if you think about it, they've been around since time immemorial, what's that spanning into the future, you know, to the future unimaginable, in a sense? And so that's the time horizon Indigenous nations are thinking on. So it's not a surprise that they're doing a better job at brush removal, that they're doing a better job at getting rid of monoculture, that they're doing a better job at supporting sustainable forestry, that they're doing a better job at creating forestry enterprises that allow for mixed use of the forest. And so all that's good for the environment. Sure, Indigenous forests still burn, but oftentimes, they burn when those fires have leapt from adjoining private or national forests, And sometimes they're burning because they're contained and controlled burns that are intended to help the forest thrive better using Indigenous knowledge. So that's just one example of where you're supporting the growth of Indigenous institutions and authority that actually is happening because there's Indigenous knowledge and capacity that is gonna help everyone for a better environment.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Yeah. Well, one of the things you mentioned there is, you know, that for, you know, some things, well, Indigenous folks have known since time immemorial and are, I think, beginning to be learned and adopted by non-Indigenous folks. And I'm just kind of curious with that, you know, how is perhaps Indigenous governance transforming western governance, or maybe how should it?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 I've already mentioned one of the ways that it's transforming it, and that's with restorative justice. I did some work supporting the Indian Law and Order Commission several years... Well, a decade ago now. And one of the things that folks engage with, the commission who are non-Indigenous consistently said was this is the kind of stuff that more and more non-Indigenous people need to know about, is the effectiveness of restorative justice approaches as opposed to adversarial justice approaches, especially for juveniles and especially for lower level crimes, so that they don't become highways and freeways into worse criminal behavior and into worse entanglement with the justice system. So that's one way that they're starting to have that kind of change. I think another way is, and we're starting to really feel that it's going back to the environmental set of questions, of when you look at maps that were created in the 1950s under a process that was called the Indian... God, I'm not even remembering it now. It was a process of one of our first land back processes. So there was an attempt to kind of do restitution for the taking of Indian lands, and there are maps that were created of sort of saying, "Okay, you nations out there, you tell us where you were and we'll draw a line, and then we'll decide how much money we're gonna give you for the land claims process." And there were a number of areas, when you look at those maps, and you can, again, find them on Google, where there's cross hatches, cross hatches in many different colors, because it showed that those weren't areas that were like exclusive bright line areas where one Native nation versus another Native nation used that space. There were joint use spaces, and they were acknowledged as joint use spaces, and they were jointly cared for by those nations. And so as we move into an era where we're thinking about better stewardship of, quote unquote, public lands, we're also recognizing that joint stewardship with Native nations over those lands has advantages. And it's reshaping our thinking about what governing those lands looks like. Who's making decisions about those lands? Is there mutuality in those decisions? Who's implementing those decisions on those lands? And that's actually changing the governance of those lands. It's been a hard process for the US government, it's been hard for them to kind of back away and not be the sole decision-maker, but to the extent that that can happen is actually changing government within the entire United States.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Thanks, Miriam. It seems, you know, I think a lot of these questions of governance immediately brings to the fore a lot of the history, and the history of dispossession, the history of relationships that, you know, completely diminish the role of tribes and nations in their own making and doing. And I think this, it's just a history of nations kind of being squeezed from the outside in, and forcing upon them kind of questions or outside concepts, especially of their sovereignty and how they're to constitute themselves. And so I'm just kind of curious, what are some of the maybe unexpected questions being asked and challenges posed as nations define sovereignty on their own terms?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Oh, I'm not sure there are any truly unexpected questions by nations, because I think that they've stored up a lot of questions about how do we get the land back? And how do we get authorities back? But I think that for non-Indigenous governments, some of those questions that they may find unexpected are those questions around, well, why do you do it that way? You know? Why do you think about it that way? Just with the land back movement, for instance, itself, one of the things that some thinking has really started in the non-Indigenous community about is, is our epistemology about what ownership means just wrong? Is that whole concept of ownership wrong? And I think there were probably many people, particularly in the 1960s, that were already kind of on that bandwagon. We just called them hippies and, you know, really left wing crazies, right? Or maybe they'd fit in perfectly at the Swarthmore of the 1960s. But in the more modern area, you know, we've continued to really embrace sort of Lockean ideas of capital and of property. And there was that whole sort of the "Mystery of Capital" book that came outta South America that was so important in development economics. And yet, I think that we can kind of basically say that the land back movement has said, "We need to challenge that, and we probably should be challenging that." How that looks, I don't know, but I think it's really important for us to be raising that question of, are we wrong?
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Mmm-hmm. Yeah, similar to that and maybe I think a little bit of a slant on the question is a question posed by Jack Ferrell in the Q&A. And it's, well, what limits on sovereignty imposed by the US still hold back tribes?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 One of the biggest limits right now that I think a lot of nations thought there was some traction against, but I think it was kind of a flash in the pan, is the limit on prosecuting non-Indigenous people who commit crimes on tribal lands, and the softer limit on prosecuting more felonious crimes on tribal lands, by Indigenous nations themselves. So as far back as the 1800s, the US government removed the opportunity for Indigenous nations to be the primary entity that would take responsibility for following up on felonious crimes. Modern legal thought... And again, this is my disclaimer, I'm not a lawyer. Modern legal thought suggests that there is at least concurrent jurisdiction over those crimes, but a lot of Native nations don't have the governance capacity to follow through because they're not funded in that way, to enforce against those crimes. And so for any felony committed by an Indian or not an Indian, or an Indigenous person or not an Indigenous person, but most crimes committed by non-Indigenous persons on reservations or on tribal lands, the tribe can't do anything about. It has to have mutual aid agreements, it has to rely on the US government or a state government to go after those individuals. And to the extent that the US government or a state government does not, then there's a real gap in safety and in development opportunities in those areas. So that's one of the limitations.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Yeah. So, I'm-
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 I'll say another one. I'll add another one. So that's on the criminal side, on the civil side, Native nations actually are severely limited in their ability to tax, and that's becoming... It's been threatened for a long time and it's increasingly a problem for Native nation governments. You notice, I deliberately use the word public governments when I talked about the Osage having a public government and other Native nations having a public government, they're governments just like a state government, or the federal government, or city government. In fact, they have aspects of all of those, so they're very complex governments, but they have limited abilities to tax because of limits on their sovereignty over taxing their own citizens and non-Indigenous citizens. And so, they oftentimes have to resort to other ways to raise public finance. And the most common kind of public finance mechanism that we know about in the US today, are tribal casinos. And so a lot of people think, you know, Indians are rich because of tribal casinos. Not true. Mostly, those are mechanisms by which they're replacing lost tax income that state and county governments are not allowing them to collect for their own government operations.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 So I'm calling in from the Tiohti:áke and Kanien'kéha or Mooniyang and Anishinabe, otherwise known as Montreal. And, you know, based here in Canada, there is a federal policy and framework for reconciliation, and it's absent in the US context. And I'm just curious, you know, what are some of your, I think, partners and also your colleagues and yourself thinking that a US reconciliation process, what would that resemble?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 I can't say what it would resemble, but I can say I think it's long and coming. The reconciliation process that was followed in Canada was not perfect, right? But it did allow, finally, discussions to be held about the process of taking, and of assimilation, land taking, children taking, language taking, all these takings that occurred, resource taking, and it was triggered of course, by the finding of so many graves of children and other young people who were forced into state-run and church-run residential schools, or boarding schools as we would call them in the United States. Many of those children were essentially stolen from their families for assimilative practices. And that was a reckoning. And I think we need that reckoning in the United States as well. With Deb Haaland's appointment to be the Secretary of the Interior, and the report that she's already made sure that her department produces, at least on the locations of the federal government boarding schools. And I'm just gonna remind anybody who's had a look at that report, that does not show you where the church boarding schools were. And there were many churches involved in mission and boarding schools, and residential schools in the US as well. So it's only kind of half of the story. I think that when the next report comes out that actually starts to identify the numbers of children and families affected, that that conversation may get a lot farther in the US too. These are painful conversations, but they're conversations we have to have. And I think the work of social justice among the non-Indigenous community is particularly to prepare ourselves for those conversations, to be able to learn to listen to not say, "Oh, that was a long time ago. It wasn't me." But to acknowledge that those actions of our own ancestors or our own predecessors, so maybe they're not our ancestors, but they were our predecessors as US citizens, undertook those behaviors that gave us as non-Indigenous people, privilege. And so we need to be prepared to listen to that, and we also have to understand and learn about historical trauma, and to the extent where we can participate with Indigenous peoples in the processes of healing from that trauma.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Yeah, it's... I think we all have work to do and our own process of decolonization, and I completely agree, it's fundamental to any kind of truth and reconciliation process. I think that that answers a bit of the question, what does a good neighbor look like in this context, for folks that are not only living on, you know, all of us are living on Indigenous land, but also folks who are more proximate to reservations and currently in current communities. So I'm just kinda curious like what is it... How can folks, I suppose, apart from continuing this process of decolonization themselves and being good listeners, be also supportive of nations in their sovereignty processes and in reconciliation?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 There's so many things that one could do. And as a non-Indigenous person, I'm not gonna pretend to speak or try to speak for what any given Indigenous nation wants done. I will say that oftentimes, there is locally available information about that. So I think that for myself, one of the things that I would recommend everyone doing though, is learning the land story of where you're at. Whose land is that? Certainly... And remember, I have this non-zero sum game approach to understanding land, that there were people who lived there before Europeans did. What is that story? I currently live in St. Louis, Missouri, which is an amazing place to understand from the standpoint of Indigenous history. 10,000 years ago, a city that we now call Cahokia, was located there at the confluence of the two great North American rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri. So it's been a place of settlement and of trade for a long time. Cahokia was 10,000 people or more, 10,000 years ago. It was bigger than London, it was one of the biggest cities in the world, and it was right there. And so that's part of the Indigenous history of that place. Later, the Illini Confederacy lived in that area. And still later, it was part of the lands of the Osage or the Wazhazhe people, who then were pushed west, and then pushed as we know, down to Oklahoma. But it was with the Osage that Lewis and Clark, under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, communicated about gaining passage to do the journey to the west, the Lewis and Clark trail trip, right? And so these are things about my area that I've learned and I'm trying to continue to learn about where I live, and I think we can all learn that. I think we can also do things as simple as trying to pay attention to the calendars of Native nations that are nearby us, or places that we're going to go visit. And if there are opportunities to engage with those nations through visiting stores, or buying gas, or going to a public event, a dance or a ceremony, especially in New Mexico, there's posted days when you can go visit. I'm not arguing for sort of voyeuristic tourism, but for financial support, realistically. And then just being in other ways, to be a good neighbor, just to remember to acknowledge land and to acknowledge the good work that tribal governments are doing, and to not participate in that damning speech of, "Oh, those poor dirty Indians," which you might not think you say, but I gotta tell you, there are a number of legal cases out there for you lawyers, that cite Indians still as savages, if you trace the history of those cases. So not participating in that, that reinforces racism, and doing your best to kind of understand where those things lie.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Thanks, Miriam. And for folks that are... Don't know the land story, there's a great website out there, nativeland.ca. It'll show you so many, I think, of the places that the nations and Indigenous people's land on where we reside. So I think we just have... Miriam has some great books here, to suggest, "Connected to the Osage", "The Murders," "The Reign of Terror," "The Nation Building" as well, including a few that was referenced during the call. I think maybe if we have time, we can just kind of squeeze in this one question, really about younger Indigenous folk and their interest in the work that you're doing. And I'm just really curious, Pedro has a question here, I'm just curious about the rising interest, potentially.
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Can you just tell me what the question is?
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Oh yeah, sorry. I was just curious about how have you found that younger folks, younger Indigenous people are interested or involved in the work that you're doing? Would you say it's been an increasing, I suppose, interest?
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Yes and yes. I'm pausing there, because there's a pretty big problem that we saw with the descendants issue within Osage, right? Where we talked about you could be left off if you were born after a certain time, or you could be left out if you had a very small fraction. There's a whole version of that that is repeated in a lot of the citizenship provisions, and the old constitutions that were imposed upon Native nations, and it goes by the terrible term blood quantum. And so there are a number of younger Indigenous citizens of the United States, who do not have enough ancestral blood to be citizens of their own nations. And so one of the big constitutional changes is we're confronting right now with a lot of Indigenous nations, and the Indigenous nations themselves are confronting is how do they have that conversation about expanding their rules for citizenship to really embrace the descendants and the people who are attached to and part of those nations? And so that's a conversation that a lot of younger Indigenous people are really engaged in, because they recognize the importance of pan Indigenous movements, which is kind of all they can be part of if they can't currently be a citizen of their nation, but they also wanna be engaged in those national conversations and be part of their nations, because I think there's a strong recognition among younger people about the importance of Indigenous culture and language as being the containers in which that Indigenous knowledge lies. And if you can get access to that cultural teaching, language-based teaching, and learn those things, you actually have an ability to not only participate in your nation as a citizen and as part of that integral cultural community, but you actually start to become part of the solution to a lot of these broader problems that Indigenous nations with governance capacity and knowledge can really help solve for their nation and for other communities.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Thanks so much, Miriam. Yeah, I think it's perfect. Maybe we'll leave it right there, with youth and with the support who end up are so much at the center, I think, of generational thinking by many Indigenous folks. And so I just wanna thank you for taking the time. We'll have this recording up soon, in the next couple of weeks. And yeah, just wanna thank you again, Miriam.
Miriam Jorgensen ’87 Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure. And I see there are so many questions, I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to answer them all. I'm available by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, If you wanna reach out and further chat, happy to do that. And it's great to see so many folks here. Thanks for coming out.
Saba Thackurdeen ’12 Yeah. Thanks, y'all. Have a good one.