Interview with Fletcher and Rebecca Tsosie on Indian Law

Here, on Prism, is “Supreme Court Rulings Undermine Indian Law.”

An excerpt:

Levy Uyeda: What is sovereignty, and how has its definition changed over time?

Fletcher: Sovereignty, I suspect, is not really an Indigenous principle. It comes from the notion that there is an all powerful sovereign entity like a king that has an absolute monopoly on violence, over lands, and over the people on those lands, who typically are called subjects. By offering individual rights to people in the U.S. we’ve papered over some of the difficult aspects of that understanding of sovereignty. On one hand, when tribes assert sovereignty, it means tribes are saying that there is a hierarchical group of people and an elite that makes decisions for all others beneath them. 

Tsosie: I do agree that the terminology of “sovereignty” is problematic because Anglo-American law and jurisprudence does give that hierarchical meaning that comes out of English tradition. 

I tell my students that the term “property,” which also has that Western meaning, along with “sovereignty,” are both modes of discourse. If you think about these terms in the context of a treaty, the treaty is designed to be a contract between sovereigns.