Baby Veronica and the Law of Race

While this whole case is a crazy mess, here’s what stands out to me:

1. The attack on Indian self-determination… Each independent band, tribe, or nation has the authority to determine its own members in whatever ways they deem appropriate. In this case, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma requires proof of lineage without blood quantum. There are advantages and disadvantages to this strategy—in my opinion, more of the former than the latter, given that the U.S. government would love to see tribes shrink and ultimately cease to exist rather than build in size and gain political power over time—but determining membership in the Cherokee Nation is a right that belongsĀ exclusively to the Cherokee Nation at this time. Not me, not a bunch of professors, and not the U.S. Supreme Court. Similarly, should the U.S. Supreme Court determine who is a citizen of Canada, or France, or Somalia, or South Korea, or wherever, with the possible exception of nations the U.S. refuses to recognize? But maybe it…

2. …is a thinly veiled attack on tribal sovereignty as a whole. Dismantle the authority of tribal governments and solve all of these pesky problems of who has authority to make decisions, right? This kind of thing has long been an issue with tribal law enforcement—some of you that paid close attention to the VAWA coverage probably noticed that. If the legal protections afforded to tribal governments are slowly stripped away, they will lose authority and independence, potentially leading to their dissolution. Deja vu?

I have other thoughts, particularly about tribal citizenship tests, but I think the two above points capture my “what the what” initial response when reading the column above. I don’t know how to resolve these issues, but I believe that tribal sovereignty should be respected. The issue is complicated, but how would it be resolved if the outside governmental entity was Russia rather than the Cherokee Nation? I would argue that the issue here is not race at all—it is tribal citizenship. Like many nations, that tribal citizenship is based on lineage. Veronica is, effectively, a citizen of two nations, and that balance needs to be respected. That’s what Indian self-determination and tribal sovereignty is all about.

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