Captured nations and citizens
Story Published: Jun 25, 2010
American Indian communities are sometimes called captive nations. The Cherokee sociologist Matthew Snipp has published a couple articles about captive Indian nations. Indian nations are captive nations because they are substantially subject to United States law and administration.
American Indians might also be called captive citizens. Most American Indians were legislatively decreed citizens of the United States. While some American Indians were agreeable to accepting citizenship, many were not. Most American Indians were not consensual citizens. During the Termination period of the 1950s, American Indians were agreeable to accepting full U.S. citizenship, but did not want to give up tribal and treaty rights. By definition, citizens of nation states are citizens by their own agreement or consent.
In the academic policy field, many economists talk about captured public goods or services. In such cases, some interested groups seek to turn policy to their own benefit at the expense of the general community. Such cases happen when professional groups like medical doctors or veterinarians restrict the number of students to their field, or when farmers lobby for tariffs or restrictions on the import of foreign agricultural goods.
U.S. policy-makers assume that U.S. citizens share common values and visions of participation and achievement. However, while American Indians are willing to participate as U.S. citizens, they do not always share common values, institutions and ways of living as other U.S. citizens. Carrying significant portions of non-Western culture places American Indians at a severe disadvantage in U.S. policy-making.
American Indian nations and citizens are in a condition of capture in part because Indians do not share all the cultural and institutional values of other citizens. U.S. policy is about maximizing the well-being of U.S. society and citizens, but when goals and values of society are not shared, the cultural minority can be held hostage to the majority. The captivity of Indian nations and citizens has focused on control over land and resources, and still continues that legacy.
U.S. citizens and policy-makers have values about community, land use, and social and cultural relations that they seek to protect and extend. U.S. policy-makers and the U.S. community are primarily interested in expressing and realizing their culture and values in their actions, law and dealings with other citizens. Since all citizens are at least formally equal, according to U.S. law and views, then each citizen has equal rights and opportunities.
The contradictions of American Indian dual citizenship in U.S. society and tribal society are laid bare in many aspects of contemporary policy. For policy reasons, Indians are treated as consensual citizens and are assumed to have equal rights. While Indians are willing to participate as citizens, they want to maintain tribal identities, values, and communities that are in many aspects culturally alien and often incompatible with U.S. values, and hence, policy directions and values.
Consequently, although often well-intended, many U.S. policies have been detrimental to the long-term interests and opportunities of American Indian communities. American Indians want to approach the contemporary world from their own cultures, and live as Indian peoples in the future. Nevertheless, as captive citizens and nations, U.S. policy assumptions and values have predominated over tribal communities.
The consequences of captive nation and captive citizen status are extremely significant. Tribal communities must work within cultural, economic, and political constraints that serve the external U.S. community. Indian communities are not entirely free to pursue their own values and goals. The cultural, political, and economic constraints of U.S. society limit and sometimes prevent the natural development of tribal communities.
While most Indian leaders and communities realize that American Indians must work within the constraints of the contemporary world, tribal goals and values would be much more attainable if U.S. policy-makers were more aware of and took into account the cultural diversity of the hundreds of American Indian communities. Freedom and progress for American Indian peoples will arise from the realization of their own goals and cultures, and not necessarily from the realization of U.S. cultural values.
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