Guest Commentary on TNToT — Monte Mills

This is a guest commentary on “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), a book written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author). The announcement post is here.

  • The first commentary, “Framed by a Friend,” is here.
  • The second commentary, “Turning Indian History against Indians,” is here.
  • The third commentary, “Indians are Saudi Arabia, Not Israel (Oh, and Crying Toddlers)” is here.
  • The fourth commentary, “”Indians as Unmotivated, Dependent Victims” is here.

Monte Mills, law prof at Montana Law, was kind enough to respond to my request for comments on TNToT. Here is Professor Mills’ commentary on chapter 1:

Though I’m new to MT and certainly don’t have the context on Crow and Northern Cheyenne that others here do, my sense is that, contrary to TNToT’s depiction, folks at Crow in particular have been active leaders in figuring out economic development solutions. For example, last year, the state legislature passed SB 307, introduced by a Crow member legislator, that allows for registration and recognition of tribal business entities in the state system. Crow also has a fairly detailed commercial and consumer transactions code including a Crow UCC (see p. 7). And, by the way, it would appear there is a way to foreclose on certain property interests at Crow (see Section 2). 

In addition, all of the MT tribes, including Crow and N. Cheyenne, have been active in the State-Tribal Economic Development (STED Commission). As a result of the work of the Commission’s work last year, the State set aside $500,000 for an Indian Collateral Support Program to secure loans for tribal entrepreneurs. The Program is described pages 15 and 16 of the Governor’s annual state-tribal relations report.

On energy development at Crow and Northern Cheyenne, this recent work, Sovereignty for Survival: American Energy Development and Indian Self-Determination, provides a pretty good overview of how the tribes themselves worked through the complicated and challenging social, cultural, environmental, political, and economic decisions regarding coal development and, ultimately, secured passage of the IMDA in 1982 to enhance tribal decision-making and control over such transactions. Again, not victims, not “overly influenced by people concerned about the environmental impact”, but actually governing.

Lastly, we did a field trip course across Indian Country in Montana last spring and I think it’s fair to say that our most powerful and striking visit was to Northern Cheyenne. In the months leading up to our visit, there had been a number of public safety issues there and it was clear to us that the Tribal leaders with whom we met were not lazy, unmotivated, ignorant or passive in trying to figure out solutions to those challenging issues, many of which, by the way, were the result of factors beyond their control. For example, they told us that they have THREE BIA cops to patrol the entire reservation. Rather than simply wringing their hands and shaking their heads about it, they were actively engaged in reviewing and revising their public safety and criminal codes to try and fill the gaps and more effectively enforce their own laws. (BTW, they have a draft UCC too).