A Legacy of Conquest

During what Vine Deloria and Clifford M. Lytle, in American Indians, American Justice, described as the fourth of six periods in the history of U.S. government legal relations with American Indians – the period of Reorganization and Self-Government – the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA) enabled Tribes to organize according to federally approved constitutions and bylaws. These constitutions and their resulting governments, generally mirroring, in one form or another, types of U.S. democratic, republican structures, were in almost all instances completely foreign to the Native cultures that were led to adopt them. On a practical level, such governments provided federal officials, and U.S. corporations seeking to be active on Native lands, a familiar decision-making body with which to negotiate.

The imposition of these governmental forms on Tribes was problematic from the outset, and continues to be so. The problems have always been exacerbated by corporate activity and influence, with Tribal dissension over contracts and their lucre and environmental impact a common difficulty.

The Hopi have attempted to split the difference, maintaining a constitutional government while preserving a traditional village Kikmongwi, or chief, in each of the 12 villages of the Hopi Nation. The two forms have tried to work together without success. Now, after a year and a half of escalating conflict, effective December 31, 2008, both the chairman and the vice chairman of the Hopi tribal government have resigned. There is no agreement about who is currently in charge of tribal operations. San Carlos Apache Mary Kim Titla, a recent candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona, reports for Indian Country Today.

Walpi, Hopi Village; Ansel Adams, 1941
Walpi, Hopi Village; Ansel Adams, 1941