Susan Montoya Bryan of the Associated Press writes about that very question, here:
Not a Native American (AP photo)
As senators questioned U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, the American Indian community watched with interest, and with a mounting sense of frustration.
While they hoped to glean any insight into Kagan’s views of justice issues in Indian Country, some saw the process as a missed opportunity by President Barack Obama to nominate a qualified American Indian lawyer, law professor or tribal jurist to the nation’s highest court.
Prior to Kagan’s nomination, both the National Native American Bar Association and the National Congress of American Indians sent letters to the White House extolling the qualifications of prominent Natives who they deemed worthy of consideration.
While other ethnic groups and women have made strides in reaching the federal bench, there has never been an American Indian appointed to the Supreme Court or the federal appellate bench, and out of the nation’s more than 860 federal judgeships, not one is currently occupied by an American Indian.
The Federal Judicial Center, the education and research agency for the federal courts, lists only two Native American judges as having served in the nation’s history.
“The time has arrived for President Obama to correct this deficiency,” says Richard Austin, retired Navajo Nation Supreme Court Justice.
Why does it matter?
Because, as Richard Guest, a senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund points out, “There’s just a lack of representation and that lack of representation leads to no voice, no voice whatsoever in the decisions that are being made about Natives.”
Despite some concerns about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, some Indian groups are urging her confirmation and Harvard is defending her record on Native issues.
“Elena Kagan as dean [of Harvard Law School] had such a strong interest in the issues of Indian country and Indian law that she allocated funds from her discretionary funding to support work in that area,” present dean Martha Minow tells Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today, here.
One concern deals with the fact that Kagan failed to appoint someone to Harvard Law’s Oneida Chair,, largely supported by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York with the understanding that a full-time tenured faculty member would be dedicated to Indian law. Still, Capriccioso talks to folks who say that shouldn’t necessarily be a decisive factor in whether to support Kagan:
But Robert Anderson, who was selected after Kagan’s tenure to hold a 5-year guest position as Oneida chair, said her actions were consistent with what she could do in her position.
“It’s not really the dean’s decision to hire a person with tenure; the faculty ultimately has to decide,” said the Minnesota Chippewa tribal citizen who directs the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.
Anderson said he supports Kagan’s high court nomination, given her background and his knowledge of her ideology from when they both served in the Clinton administration. He’s also confident that she met many scholars at Harvard who imparted the importance of understanding Indian law.
Meanwhile, the Native American Rights Fund has circulated a briefing paper that says Kagan “offers another fresh opportunity for Indian country,” and leaders of the United South and Eastern Tribes approved a resolution supporting her.
Navajo comedian Vincent “Muttonman” Craig dies
Family members posted a note on Vincent Craig’s Facebook page thanking friends and family for their support as the legendary Dine comedian and singer-songwriter battled cancer, according to the Navajo Times, here. He was only 59. The note was posted late last night and the Times promises updates.
Supreme Court nominee Kagan falls short on Native issues
That’s the assessment by the legal experts quoted in this story by Indian Country Today’s Rob Capriccioso. He writes that “her positions on tribal and Indian legal issues are unknown, and she has lacked engagement on some major Native topics.” And, he reports, that when Kagan was dean of Harvard Law School, she failed to hire a permanent scholar to fill the Harvard Law School’s Oneida chair, largely funded by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.
Tohono O’odham police arrest 10 in huge bust of alleged coke smuggling ring
Anonymous law enforcement photo of law enforcement officers from Tohono O'odham Police, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI executing warrants at homes in Sells on Saturday morning that resulted in the arrest of 10 people in connection with a cocaine smuggling ring.
It was, according to this Tucson Arizona Star report, the largest drug enforcement operation in the history of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Nine tribal members and one other person were arrested yesterday in an early-morning sweep in Sells, Ariz.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle tells the Star that the arrests marked the culmination of a five-month, multi-agency investigation led by the Tohono O’odham Police Department.
And, it marked the first time tribal police officers have executed federal warrants on the Tohono O’odham Nation. It was part of an effort that saw tribal officers trained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs so they could makes arrest on federal charges, which carry more severe penalties than tribal ones.
Pine Ridge principal on tap for Obama administration post
Robert Cook, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who is principal of Pine Ridge High School, is expected to be appointed to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education, according to this Rapid City Journal story. Cook recently completed a term as president of the National Indian Education Association.
POPcorn No. 5 by Stephen Wood (Heard Museum photo)
Native pop art in new Heard Museum show
Not just niche art is how the Heard Museum is describing its new exhibit by Native American and other pop artists. ” ‘Pop! Popular Culture in American Indian Art,’ ” reminds us, if we need reminding, that Indians also are participants in the culture at large, and that Native American art is not merely a niche art: It is part of the global art conversation,” writes Richard Nilson of the (Phoenix) Arizona Republic, here.
The show features work by iconic pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, but also works by Native artists such as Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon.
In fact, Ryan Singer has a riff on Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup can, with is painting, “Sheep Is Good Food,” of a mutton stew can.
As painter Jaune Quick-to-See Smith says in the exhibit, “I appropriate Pop Art because it is symbolic of the American mainstream culture.”
Seems like every time a U.S. Supreme Court justice retires, somebody wonders wistfully whether it isn’t time for a Native American justice.
This piece by Indian Country Today’s Rob Capriccioso does more than wonder.
Even as President Barack Obama meets today with Senate leaders to talk about a replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, Capriccioso details the efforts to include a Native candidate in the mix:
John Echohawk (Native American Rights Fund photo)
To remedy the situation, some Native American-focused organizations are rallying for an Indian face on the bench. John Echohawk, director of the Native American Rights Fund, has been floated as the most common name, even receiving a nod in The Nation publication, which is influential in some Washington circles.
Richard Guest, a legal expert with NARF, said officials with his organization are soon to have a meeting with White House officials regarding Echohawk’s qualifications, which range from tribal and federal expertise to nonprofit and legal aid issues….
The National Native American Bar Association is also pushing for a Native candidate, sending the White House a letter April 14 to make that case.
The reasons are compelling. As Capriccioso’s story points out, the court has a mixed record on decisions affecting tribes, something that experts attribute largely to lack of knowledge. Those same experts admit a Native justice would be a long shot.
On the plus side, he cites a USA Today poll last year indicating a majority of American people saying they’d like to see an Indian nominated to the court.
Here‘s a worrisome report from the ever-vigilant Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today on the effect that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on campaign finance regulations is likely to hit Indian Country.
The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission removes contribution limits on corporations and unions. Capriccioso writes about the likely fallout on Indian Country:
Tribal observers largely said the outcome could negatively impact tribes, as few have the kinds of influence with lawmakers as corporations and unions have. By lessening restrictions on those groups, many said the court has made it all the more difficult for tribes to be heard in the American political system.
“Native American interests have already been largely ignored in Washington,” said Heather Dawn Thompson, past president of the National Native American Bar Association and partner at the D.C. law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.
“Even before this ruling, it has been an uphill battle for tribes with corporate and union interests active in political contributing, often against tribal interests.”
And Daniel McCool, a political science professor at the University of Utah, says tribes could be outspent in areas particularly important to them, such as health care, banking and gaming. McCool is the co-author of the 2007 book “Native Vote: American Indians, the Voting Rights Act, and the Right to Vote.”
“In general,” he says, “it’s a bad decision for the Democratic process, but particularly for Native Americans.”
The Supreme Court today rejected an appeal by Native Americans that challenged the Washington Redskins’ team name as perpetuating offensive stereotypes, USA Today’s high court reporter Joan Biskupic reports here.
“For almost 40 years the Native American community has sought to retire Pro-Football’s ‘Redskins’ trademark,” the National Congress of American Indians wrote. “The mark is patently offensive, disparaging, and demeaning and perpetrates a centuries-old stereotype.”
The group’s challenge in the Harjo v. Pro Football case noted that “hundreds of high schools and colleges have discontinued their use of Indian names and mascots.”
The NCAI characterized the pro team as a disrespectful holdout, adding, “To many Native Americans, the term ‘Redskins’ is associated with the barbaric practice of scalping,” Biskupic writes.
The dispute over the Washington Redskins name – which TMZ calls “the most offensive team name in professional sports” – has finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This is a derogatory term for Indians that sticks out like an anomaly,” says. Philip Mause, who represents a group of Native Americans in the case known as Susan Harjo v. Pro-Football, Inc.
“No other group still has to deal with this kind of a term being used” in such a public and widespread way, he says.
The case began with a petition in 1992 to cancel the Redskins trademark under the Lanham Act, which bars trademarks that “disparage … persons living or dead … or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” That’s according to this report in the Legal Times blog.
The reporting on this fascinates us. You’ve got the very straightforward Legal Times account, and TMZ’s “most offensive team name” comment.
This NBC report assures readers, “Don’t worry, you probably won’t have to tape over the Redskins’ logo on your favorite jersey anytime soon.”
And the comments, here, on the Talk Back site run by the D.C.-area station WTOP speak for themselves.
The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court photo)
With this poll, that is. It’s by U.S. News & World Report, out just in time for today’s Senate debate on the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, who if confirmed would be the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The poll shows that half of the 1,000 people questioned would like to see a Native American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court if President Obama gets another pick.
(Pause for the blogger’s Dance of Joy.)
Fifty percent doesn’t sound like much? The next-closest response was in favor of an Asian justice, with 19 percent. At which point, the poll starts to make us queasy, given the idea that ethnic and other groups can be ranked in terms of desirability. For instance, only 2 percent of those polled wanted to see a Muslim justice.
We’ll try to avert our eyes from the ickiness of such rankings (just this once, as avoiding ickiness seems to result in herds of elephants hanging around in the room), and concentrate on the positive. Given the incredibly convoluted wrangling surrounding all legal issues Native, and the jaw-dropping length of time it takes to settle such cases – Indian trust funds, anyone? – the idea has merit.
You know what’s got even more merit? The concept that we might, someday, cease to be the sort of place where it takes someone from a certain group sitting on the high court to make for representative justice.
But there goes Buffalo Post, veering off into dreamland again. Silly, silly blogger.