Fightland: “Fighting over Fighting in Indian Country”


An excerpt:

Alex Pearl, a law professor and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma who teaches and writes about Indian tribes, tribal sovereignty, and the interaction between states, tribes, and the federal government, says that in order for standardized regulation to work, its guidelines need to come from within what he calls “Indian country.” As long as tribes feels like outside governmental entities are forcing them to accept sanctioning guidelines without their input—as long as regulating organizations fail to understand what Pearl calls the “nuances of federalism or tribal sovereignty”—those guidelines will always remind members of the Indian community of centuries of broken promises and government overreach.

“This fight has been going on for a century all across this country between tribes and states,” Pearl says. “It’s not anything new under the sun. It seems new in this context because it’s about MMA, and not about whether the state can regulate the amount of fish a tribal member can catch under the Treaty of Point Elliott, [but] this is about whether the state wants to regulate anything.

“An outside entity is telling the tribe, ‘Here’s what you need to do.’ People in Indian country are going to recoil at that. The conflict that’s going on–this problem that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has with the state of Alabama and the ABC trying to work with them–dates back to the Fishing Wars of the Northwest, the hunting rights in the Great Lakes, and water rights in California. Tribes and states, as the Supreme Court has said, are often deadliest enemies. The challenge for MMA is develop an approach to tribal and state relations to overcome these problems.”