BEFORE G7 AND CLOSER TO HOME
Last week, Joe Biden met with a Head of State more historically essential to these United States than those he is meeting in Europe this week. When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1789, providing that treaties are the highest law of the land, the sovereign indigenous nations of this continent were included just as much as those across the sea.
In 1866, just as America was struggling to reunite after surviving the ravages of the Civil War, the United States reconfirmed the sovereignty of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Displaced from original homelands in the southeast under the Indian Removal Act by President Andrew Jackson, the Mvskoke people survived the Trail of Tears and continued our ancient culture and language on new lands in Indian Territory.
Surviving the establishment of Oklahoma as the 46th State of the Union, suffering from Indian Boarding Schools and an attempt to deliberately destroy native culture and language, the nation whose Principal Chief met with President Joe Biden at Tulsa Airport in June 2021, has continued to survive and thrive just as Trump-nominated U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma in July 2020:
On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise!
WHY BIDEN’S MEETING WITH HILL IN TULSA WAS SO IMPORTANT
It was just a simple handshake and a photo with a few minutes of dialogue pertaining to the wishes of Muscogee (Creek) Nation for the McGirt decision to be upheld and for no Congressional legislation to attempt to weaken it. But the fact that this meeting was between two sovereigns is the significant factor. Principal Chief David Hill is the elected leader of nearly 90,000 Mvskoke citizens. As dual citizens of the tribe and this country, citizens of Muscogee (Creek) Nation vote in elections of the United States of America and the State of Oklahoma as well as the tribe.
I will take just a moment to explain that Mvskoke is our tribe’s name for ourselves. In English it has been translated as Muscogee or as Muskogee (in the case of the city of that name in Oklahoma). The term Creek is actually one which was bestowed by English colonists prior to the establishment of the United States because our people often lived by streams of water in our original homelands in what is now mostly Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Muscogee citizens have fought in wars throughout American history. My own great-great uncle was a veteran of the Civil War. My uncle was at Bataan in the Philippines prior to the Death March during World War II. I served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era. Today we still have veterans who have served in both Persian Gulf Wars. Though citizens of the sovereign Muscogee Nation, our veterans have also patriotically defended the United States around the world.
The meeting between President Biden and Principal Chief Hill was far more than just a photo op. It would have behooved former President Trump when he had his rally in Tulsa a year ago if he had also met with Chief Hill and acknowledged that he was standing on our land. Conservatives in general need to be far more outgoing and expressive in recognizing native sovereignty and the rights of indigenous peoples.
EMPHASIZING SUBSTANCE OVER APPEARANCE
The nomination by President Biden and confirmation by the U.S. Senate of Deb Haaland as the first indigenous U.S. Secretary of the Interior was a move to be commended. However, she has not yet really proven that this was done in respect for and appreciation of the rights of Native American Nations to self-governance.
Pressure must not be exerted upon American Indian tribes as to whom they recognize as eligible to enroll, historically based upon bloodline. We are not just a race or ethnicity in the cosmopolitan and diverse American society. As the original inhabitants and owners on this continent, such decisions rightfully rest with citizens of each individual tribe. It is important not to think of indigenous peoples as a cultural or linguistic monolith rather than many separate societies that sometimes coexisted peacefully with one another and sometimes waged war against other tribes.
Specifically in the context of the Five Tribes from the southeast that were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory, the American government and the State of Oklahoma must recognize and respect that each tribe speaks for itself. President Biden reportedly also met with Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin on his trip to Oklahoma. Hoskin speaks only for the Cherokee whereas Hill speaks for the Mvskoke.
OKLAHOMA’S DC DELEGATION & NOT-SO-OK STATE GOVERNMENT
Oklahoma’s all-Republican Congressional Delegation, including two Senators and five Representatives, needs to stop thinking about pursuing legislation to undermine the McGirt decision. First, as they are honest with themselves, most of the votes which got them into office did not come from their Native American constituents. But that is their own fault!
Though enrolled as a citizen of Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt shows absolutely no understanding or empathy for native sovereignty, nor does he display respect for the finality of the McGirt ruling. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s. The Treaty of 1866 between the United States of America and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is still in effect and the Muscogee Reservation has never been disestablished.
THAT’S WHY THE HEAD OF STATE MEETING BETWEEN PRESIDENT BIDEN AND CHIEF HILL WAS SUBSTANTIVE RATHER THAN SYMBOLIC
It matters a lot more to you and me what David Hill thinks than it does what opinions are held by Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel or even Vladimir Putin.
They are the leaders of foreign powers. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee Nation leads a sovereign indigenous people who were here before the Europeans arrived. Mvskoke people are both citizens of our tribe and of our country. These two relationships are totally in harmony with one another.
Whereas individual Mvskoke voters cast our ballots both in tribal elections and in national elections, it is important that as Co-Sovereigns with the American President, our Principal Chief David Hill and Second Chief Del Beaver do not engage in partisan politics. If President Trump had extended his hand to Chief Hill, he would have reciprocated. Likewise, a handshake with President Biden is altogether appropriate and fitting.
It has nothing to do with politics. Any President of the United States, regardless of political party, is a welcome ally in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, the national capital of Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The same cannot be said of either Moscow or Beijing. All Americans, both natives and non-natives, must realize that we are all on the same side with mutual respect for one another.
I am proud to be both Mvskoke and American as the two are not mutually exclusive. I hope that in my second career as a journalist, I can help engender that recognition both in Washington DC and in Okmulgee.
I admonish both Democrats and Republicans to work together for national unity. President Biden, before you ask Xi Jinping for his opinion, you would do a lot better to consult David Hill instead. Talk to the Head of State who wants us all to survive and thrive together rather than the one trying to destroy us. You shook the right hand on your recent trip to Oklahoma.
Article cross-posted from David’s blog.
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