VAWA and Native Rights at Risk

On Wednesday, Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced a version of the Violence against Women Act bill that she sponsored. The new VAWA bill attempts to significantly erode tribal sovereignty in the name of “defending civil rights” by eliminating the exhaustion of tribal remedies, forcing an over-broad application of the U.S. Constitution in tribal courts, and providing a cause of action for defendants to sue tribes for civil rights violations.
This excerpt from the recent FMC Corp. v.  Shoshone-Bannock Tribes— F.3d —-, 2019 WL 6042469 *22 (9th Cir. 2019), encompasses exactly why this bill is misguided in its attempts to abrogate tribal sovereignty:
“Making good on these due process guarantees, nearly five decades of tribal cases applying ICRA show that tribal courts protect the rights of both member and nonmember litigants in much the same way as do federal and state courts.” Norton, 862 F.3d at 1250. “[T]ribal courts often provide litigants with due process that ‘exceed[s] the protections offered by state and federal courts.’” Id. (second alteration in original) (citing Matthew L.M. Fletcher, American Indian Tribal Law 325 (2011))…[o]ur own experience in reviewing tribal court decisions is consistent with the findings of these studies. Tribal courts, like all courts (including our own), make mistakes. But, contrary to the contention of FMC, tribal courts do not treat nonmembers unfairly.

Keep Life In Perspective

I have recently been aware of how many of my friends are working with their children to complete college applications, get their kids admitted into the “right college” and measure success by some arbitrary college ranking or years of privileged learning.   The Native American community graduates less than 50% of its members and the idea of college is often nothing more than an unrealized dream.  Yet Tribes and tribal communities continue to survive, thrive, and overcome every effort to terminate, exterminate and assimilate them.  In spite of 400 years of control, oppression and cultural misappropriation today Native American tribes are some of the largest employers in every state; garner over 26 Billion in revenue from gaming, construction and other manufacturing sources; and continue to own some of the most prime real estate in the country under which are the largest coal, natural gas, uranium and oil reserves.  So why all the stress over “getting into college”?  It comes from a lack of understanding of life, culture and the relationship between ones life and where you fit in the Universe.
There are three eternal truths:
First, the Universe unfolds as it is intended.  You cannot force it.  You cannot make it take you where you think YOU want to go or be.  Instead you need to remain still and patient and you will find that the Universe places you in the right place at the right time for your life.
Second, tell the people that you love that you love them every chance you get.   Do not live your life in a way where you end and those who helped you, got you where you are, inspired you or otherwise helped make you are not aware of how much they mean to you in your life.
Third, tell the truth every time.   It is not always easy, but when you tell the truth you acknowledge what has actually happened and you accept the consequence, whatever that may be.  That is true ownership of your life, your destiny, your future.   You control how you got to where you are today and you will control where you will be tomorrow.  Lies will never get you there. Truth will make sure that you move forward without regret.
So many worry that they are not good enough; that their life does not matter or that they have no suffered or had anything exciting happen to them.  In reality we are all part of this Universe and our lives, even though they may seem mundane or unexciting, fulfill the Universe’s purpose.  We are all connected.  Sometimes we are fortunate and learn that in the moment.  Sometimes it takes years for us to realize the impact that we have had.
A few weeks ago I flew from Minnesota to Atlanta.  I was lucky to sit in first class.  I watched as three older men boarded and took seats next to me.  They all had long gray hair, were wearing lumberjack shirts and jeans, and all in all appeared to be just regular dudes.  The man next to me was watching the same movie that I watched on the flight.  When it concluded I remarked to him that I could not imagine a world without the Beatles.  He said “neither can I because they inspired a lot of my music”.  I immediately asked him if he was in a band and he said, “yes”.  I asked which band and he said “I play with the band Kansas.”  After catching my breath and trying hard not to lose my mind my seatmate, Billy Greer, and I started talking about life, music and each other.  I told him I rode Harley’s all over the country and he remarked that the band had a good friend that did the same.  I asked him this man’s name and he told me Chief and again I found myself shocked as I knew a biker named Chief who along with me and a host of others founded a group called BACA “Bikers Against Child Abuse” in Utah back in 1995.  Billy told me that my friend was one in the same. 

What are the chances that almost thirty years after putting myself in a position to help others through BACA I would be sitting on a plane from Minnesota to Atlanta connecting with a band that had a major impact on my young life?  Being present, not forcing things to go the way I wanted, finding joy in the moment and in service, allowed me to not only help a number of abused children and women but years later connected me to others in this world.   That is the Universe.  That is what is important.  It is not the College you get into that matters it is what you do at the college that accepts you.   Just as the Universe unfolds and puts you where you should be at the right time and place the college that wants you will accept you.  Not only because you are smart, hit all the right points, or write the perfect essay, but because they see something in you that the college believes makes the college better and that the college believes they can help you develop and be the best you can be.
So where do you go from here?  It is simple.  Tell your truth.  Tell your story.  Do not worry about what it is or how it is received.  It is your truth.  It is about you.  The college that wants you, the college that knows you fit them and that knows they can help you become the best you can be will accept you.  Do not get wrapped up in lists, rankings or other measurable statistics because they are set by people that do not know you and do not care.  Measure yourself by you.   What you have done has value.  What you will do has value.  You may not see it now but the Universe will continue to unfold and in the end, if you let it and are patient, you will find the Universe placing you exactly where you are supposed to be at the exact moment in time you are supposed to be there.

Hoka Hey cried Geronimo as he went into battle.  It means today is a good day to die.  I would amend it to say that today is a good day to live.

NNABA Past President Patty Ferguson Bohnee to Receive ABA Spirit of Excellence Award

2020 Spirit of Excellence Award Recipient Professor Patty Ferguson Bohnee

The ABA Center on Racial and Ethnic Diversity has selected Former NNABA President Patty Ferguson Bohnee to receive the 2020 Spirit of Excellence Award at the upcoming ABA Midyear Meeting in Austin Texas. The Spirit of Excellence Awards celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of lawyers who work to promote a more racially and ethnically diverse legal profession. Awards are presented to the lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national and international level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal professional.

Patty has spent her life leading, guiding and impacting the Native American community as a grassroots leader, professor of law at Arizona State University and Director of the Indian Legal Clinic at ASU.

Remembering the Fallen

Since beginning this journey I have already ridden over Ten Thousand miles on my iron horse. I have traveled through over 30 Tribal nations including the Oklahoma Choctaw, Miccosukee, Creek, Cherokee and Pawnee. I have visited Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo nations and spent time with the Seminole and Miccosukee in Florida as well as my own Tribe the Eastern Cherokee. Each nation is unique in culture and experience but they all have one thing in common, they are actively engaged in protecting their independence and sovereignty and are determined to move their people forward in spite of continual challenges to their way of life and the authority to govern themselves.

The Native American people have been fighting since first contact with the white Europeans. Sometimes they have fought alongside this country but mostly they find themselves defending their beliefs and inherent right to govern themselves and protect their people from threats to their safety and way of life. In the coming weeks I will highlight the missing and murdered Native women and children that continue to go unnoticed and cry for justice from the earth. Today I simply want to remember and remind you that Native warriors have fought and died for this country and for the right to be who they are free from federal intervention and challenges to their governance.

From the revolution to the code talkers of WWII and recent sacrifices in the gulf wars, Native warriors have been a key part of defending the constitution, in spite of the fact that it does not have any application to the reservation. The US Constitution does not apply to Native Americans within the reservation boundaries. Still they have laid their lives down so that this document can continue to be a living, breathing beacon for others. The hope is that they will be able to have the same protections for their way of life within their reservations and lands as others outside of the reservation have enjoyed through their sacrifice.

I stopped in Windowrock, AZ and spent time at the veterans park there. I urge you to go and sit and listen to the wind as it moves through the park. Hear the spirit of those who have sacrificed for your freedoms. See the names of those still lost and missing. Meditate in the silence of this place and reflect on all that you have been given and give thanks for their sacrifice. Then join me and others in fighting to protect the rights of the first Americans.