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Colloquium: Cooperation without Submission: Jurisdictions of Significance in Native Nation-U.S. Relations, Justin Richland

Justin Richland- UC Irvine
Mon October 23rd 2023, 3:30 - 5:00pm
Event Sponsor
Department of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 50-51A (Colloquium Room)

The founding principles of U.S. law regarding Native Americans, first articulated in the 1830s, define them as “domestic dependent nations” who retain powers of self-government but who are also in a “state of pupilage,” to the federal government in a relationship like that of a “ward to its guardian.” This ambiguous status has offered cover for the shifting winds of U.S. political sentiment, leading sometimes to calls for the assimilation of Native peoples, sometimes for their rights to self-determination. Despite these shifts, Native Nations like the Hopi Tribal Nation in Arizona persist in their claims as sovereign nations who enjoy a government-to-government relationship with the US settler state. Moreover, under laws like The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and others, the U.S. has acknowledged Native Nations' unique status, requiring its relationship to them be executed pursuant to “meaningful tribal consultation” whenever U.S. agencies propose actions that may impact Tribal Nations and their significant cultural interests. While considerable frustration about meaningful tribal consultation and its efficacy abounds among Native Nation advocates and leadership, nonetheless, they persist in engaging their U.S. counterparts in consultation sessions where they continue to mount their claims to sovereign self-determination. 

To understand the stakes of this engagement, this paper deploys insights from indigenous studies, and legal and linguistic anthropology to analyze the details of the consultations I have observed, since 2012, between the Hopi Nation and their non-native counterparts in the U.S. Forest Service and the Field Museum of Natural History. Unpacking those interactions in light of Hopi theories of knowledge and authority through a theory of legal language as juris-diction, I argue that these consultations enact Hopi and Anglo-legal norms of “significance” in complex, contradictory ways. I suggest that understanding “meaningful tribal consultation” and the settler legal status of Native Nations more generally, requires understanding how indigenous nations enact the conditions of their authority and the relations and refusals to settler colonialism their jurisdiction, as juris-dictions, inevitably entail.