New Student Scholarship on Appropriation of Native Culture

Brian Sheets has published “Papers or Plastic: The Difficulty in Protecting Native Spiritual Identity” in the Lewis & Clark Law Review (also SSRN).

Here is the abstract:

Sellers of Native ceremonies offer the opportunity to non-Natives to participate in ceremonial traditions with roots in Native spiritual communities—for a price. These “plastic shamans” have appropriated some Native ceremonies, sometimes with fatal results. Commodifying these spiritual practices removes important communal identities from their sources and furthers the stereotype that Native communities and their cultural practices are relics of the past—a concept reinforced through divorcing cultural practices from vibrant, modern Native societies struggling to maintain an identity. In response to ceremonial appropriation by plastic shamans, some Native spiritual communities have sued operators of botched ceremonies, and have further advocated for legal protection of Native ceremonies in Western legal concepts. However, Western law misses the mark. While spiritual identity is offered protection through exemptions to generally applicable laws, the Western requirement of a bright-line object to represent spiritual identity does not allow for the protection of an intangible ceremony from appropriation. Furthermore, Western concepts of intellectual property are market based, and directly conflict with the intent to protect Native ceremonies from being commodified. These conflicting values demonstrate the tension in protecting spiritual identity. And when Native cultural composition, transformative ceremonial practice, and distributions of ceremonies between Native groups are taken into account, the difficulty becomes even more apparent.

This Comment explores the approach of current Western laws seeking to protect cultural heritage, and then applies one Native proposal through a First Amendment analysis to  demonstrate the difficulty of protecting Native spiritual identity in Western law. Some of the current means of protecting and preserving Native spiritual identity make  appropriation even easier through documentation requirements. While there is a compelling reason to protect Native ceremonies from appropriation, Western courts are limited in their ability to favor one group’s religious practices over another. This Comment concludes that while difficult to protect in law, public awareness is the most likely cure to prevent shopping for spirituality—enlightenment and selfactualization cannot be bought off-the-shelf with the clerk asking at checkout “paper, or plastic?”

Lewis & Clark Law Review Indian Law Symposium


 The Future of International Law in Indigenous Affairs:The Doctrine of Discovery, the United Nations, and the Organization of American States


Robert J. Miller

15 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 847 (2011)

The majority of the non-European world was colonized under an international law that is known as the Doctrine of Discovery. Under this legal principle, European countries claimed superior rights over Indigenous nations. When European explorers planted flags and religious symbols in the lands of native peoples, they were making legal claims of ownership and domination over the lands, assets, and peoples they had “discovered.” These claims were justified by racial, ethnocentric, and religious ideas of the alleged superiority of European Christians. This Article examines the application of Discovery by Spain, Portugal, and England in the settler societies of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, and the United States. The comparative law analysis used in this Article demonstrates that these three colonizing countries applied the elements of the Doctrine in nearly identical ways against Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, the six settler societies analyzed here continue to apply this law today to restrict the human, property, and sovereign rights of Indigenous nations and peoples. This Article concludes that basic fairness and a restoration of the self-determination rights of Indigenous peoples mandates that these countries work to remove the vestiges of the Doctrine of Discovery from their modern day laws and policies.


Rebecca Tsosie

15 Lewis & Clark L. Rev. 923 (2011) Continue reading

Blake Watson on the Doctrine of Discovery and the Elusive Definition of Indian Title

Blake Watson has posted his paper, “The Doctrine of Discovery and the Elusive Definition of Indian Title,” on SSRN. It is forthcoming in the Lewis & Clark Law Review.

Here is the abstract:

This article contends that, pursuant to the discovery doctrine developed and adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Indian tribes retained possession of their lands after European encounter, but no longer owned their land and no longer held unlimited disposition rights. This “limited possessor” definition of Indian title is particularly difficult to justify in view of contemporary norms of international indigenous rights, and should be rejected along with the doctrine of discovery.

Michael Blumm on Why Aboriginal Title is Fee Simple Absolute

Michael Blumm has posted a paper with the title, “Why Aboriginal Title is Fee Simple Absolute” on SSRN. It is forthcoming in the Lewis & Clark Law Review.

Here is the abstract:

The Supreme Court’s 1823 decision in Johnson v. M’Intosh is a foundation case in both Indian Law and American Property Law. But the case is one of the most misunderstood decisions in Anglo-American law. Often cited for the propositions of the plenary power of the U.S. Congress over Indian tribes and the uncompensated takings of Indian title lands, the Marshall Court decision actually is better interpreted to recognize that Indian tribes had fee simple absolute to their ancestral lands. This article explains why the “discovery doctrine” should have been interpreted to be a fee simple absolute subject to the federal government’s right of preemption. Had the doctrinel laid down by Johnson been properly interpreted, its national and international effects today would have been much less pernicious.

New Scholarship on Gaming and Tribal Membership

Suzianne Painter-Thorne has published “If You Build It, They Will Come: Preserving Tribal Sovereignty in the Face of Indian Casinos and the New Face of Tribal Membership” in the Lewis & Clark Law Review.

Here is the abstract:

This Article considers recent disputes over membership decisions made by American Indian tribal governments. Since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, Indian casinos have flourished on some tribal reservations. Some argue that the new wealth brought by casinos has increased fights over membership as tribes seek to expel current members or refuse to admit new members. It is difficult to discern whether there are more disputes over tribal enrollment as a consequence of gaming or whether such disputes are now more public because gaming has brought tribes to the forefront of U.S. culture. What is clear is that enrollment disputes are receiving increased attention, resulting in calls for some change to address what many perceive as a fundamental unfairness in tribal decision making.

Aggrieved members’ attempts to resort to federal or state court are blocked due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction, standing, and because of the tribes’ sovereign immunity. Activists and courts have sought to change this, seeking to curtail the tribes’ sovereign immunity, expand federal court jurisdiction to permit oversight, or otherwise impose U.S. law on tribal membership decisions. Scholars are divided, with some arguing for the abrogation of immunity or sovereignty, while others argue that the tribes’ decisions are sacrosanct. Still others argue over how the tribes should define membership–contending that it should be based on cultural identity, political participation, blood quantity, or even DNA.

This Article argues that the focus should instead be on solutions that come from within the tribes. For too long the tribes have suffered from the imposition of legal and cultural norms that do not reflect their identity or culture. Because a tribe’s right to define its membership lies at the heart of its sovereignty, the solution is more, not less, sovereignty for the tribes. To remedy the impasse, I propose that tribes create separate independent judicial bodies, or an intertribal appellate court that would provide independent review of tribal membership decisions.

Alex Skibine Posts “Tribal Sovereign Interests Beyond the Reservation Borders”

Incl. Electronic Paper Tribal Sovereign Interests Beyond the Reservation Borders
Lewis & Clark Law Review, Utah University Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Research Paper No. 08-21
Alexander Tallchief Skibine
University of Utah – S.J. Quinney College of Law

Abstract here:

In this article, after exploring the evolution of ‘sovereignty’ from a territorially based concept to a more flexible and fluid principle, professor Skibine examines the sovereign interests Indian tribes may have beyond the borders of their reservations.

Lewis and Clark Law Review Symposium on Tribal Economic Development Published

The articles are available here. Authors include Gavin Clarkson, David Haddock, Richard Monette, Alex Skibine, Judy Royster, Bob Miller, and me.

Continue reading

Bob Miller on Intertribal and International Treaties for Economic Development

Bob Miller has posted “Inter-Tribal and International Treaties for American Indian Economic Development,” forthcoming in the Lewis & Clark Law Review. Here is the abstract:

American Indian Tribes and Indigenous peoples around the world are among the poorest groups in their countries. Economic development is an absolutely crucial issue for these governments and their people. Recently, two different efforts have been undertaken to create beneficial development based on treaties between Indigenous groups.

In August 2007, eleven American Indian Nations, Canadian First Nations, New Zealand Maori Iwis, and Australian Aborigine groups signed a treaty to engage in international economic activities. Dozens of other American Tribes and New Zealand Iwis have also signed this treaty or will do so in the next few months. In addition, Pacific Northwest Indian Tribes have drafted an inter-tribal treaty to facilitate the conduct of business on reservations.

This Article dissects these two treaties and addresses some of the unique legal issues that these treaties raise.

Indian Tribal Businesses and the Off-Reservation Market

My submission to the Lewis & Clark Law Review’s symposium issue on tribal economic development, “Indian Tribal Businesses and the Off-Reservation Market” is on SSRN. If it’s not available yet, it will be in a few days. Here’s the abstract:

The pre-American trading centers of the Great Lakes – Sault Ste. Marie, Michilimackinac, and Detroit – developed as natural manifestations of economic activity involving the Indigenous peoples of the region, as well as the French, the British, and lastly the Americans. In many ways, during that period, the Indian people controlled these markets. As history turned against the Indians, the Europeans acquired control of these markets. The federal Indian law and policy manifestation of this control can be explained in the phrase “measured separatism.” While measured separatism had value for Indian and American communities for a time, as well as serious disadvantages, the need Indian law controls over the market has receded to a significant extent. The recent limitations on off-reservation gaming are manifestations of this measured separatism. These controls should be a call for tribal business interests to drop some of their reliance on federal Indian law, which creates some economic advantages, and re-enter the larger economic world.

Judith Royster on Tribal Resources and Economic Development

Judith Royster has posted “Tribal Economic Development: Practical Sovereignty, Political Sovereignty, and the Secretary’s Shrinking Role in Natural Resource Development,” part of the Lewis & Clark Indigenous Economic Development Symposium. Here is the abstract:

One of the primary means of economic development for many Indian tribes is development of the reservation’s natural resources. Despite the extent and economic importance of the resource base, however, tribal control over the development and use of tribal natural resources has historically been limited. In the last few decades, Indian tribes have gained a far greater role in decision-making concerning the use of their natural resources. In part this increased role results from tribes asserting a greater say in what occurs within their territories, and in part from new federal laws that place more of the decision-making power in tribal hands.

The three major natural resources traditionally subject to leasing are agricultural and grazing lands, forests, and minerals. Each has been subject to federal statutes that follow a similar arc – comprehensive federal control and exploitation during the allotment period; a slight loosening of federal control, tribal consent, and concern with tribal revenue streams in the reorganization period; and new approaches focusing more on tribal participation, partnerships, and increased control during the modern era of self-determination. Most recently, Congress has begun to enact a next generation of resource development statutes that authorize tribes, subject to Interior-approved general regulations, to enter into specific development agreements without federal approval. Following a review of the trajectory of tribal resource development statutes, this article explores the most wide-ranging of these new statutes: the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act of 2005.