Click here if you don’t see subscription options
The EditorsMay 02, 2018
Samantha Jones of the Sicangu Lakota band of the Rosebud Sioux, left, and Casey Camp of the Ponca Nation are seen in Washington D.C. in this 2014 file photo. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

Since the first treaties between the United States and indigenous tribes were signed during the Revolutionary War, U.S. law has recognized Native American nations as sovereign governments. The fact that treaties with Native American peoples have been broken repeatedly does not change the fact that the governments of Native American tribes have been recognized as distinct legal entities, entitled to certain rights and protections not afforded other U.S. citizens. Among those rights and protections has been the guarantee of health care, provided by the Indian Health Service, based in historic recognition of the government-to-government obligations owed by the federal government to Native American tribes.

The governments of Native American tribes have been recognized as distinct legal entities

This arrangement is now under threat because of the refusal by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services to grant Native American tribes’ request for exemption from new state laws implementing work requirements for Medicaid. The core of the administration’s reasoning is that Native Americans constitute a “racial category” and that granting exemption would constitute racial discrimination (presumably against others). In refusing the exemption, the administration shows a lack of respect for the sovereignty of Native American nations and once again breaks the spirit of the treaties. Considering the ethnic cleansing and social marginalization native peoples have experienced in U.S. history, the status quo is already deeply unjust.

Unemployment on Native American reservations is far above the national average, just one of many symptoms of entrenched racial and economic inequality facing Native Americans. Implementing a work requirement for access to Medicaid will disproportionately hurt those in areas already suffering from lack of economic opportunity. Any reduction in Medicaid funds among Native American tribes could cripple the Indian Health Service. And as the Republican-held Congress eyes further welfare reform and pushes a farm bill that cuts SNAP benefits, the precedent of treating Native Americans simply as a racial category means this most marginalized of groups in the country is likely to go without critically needed aid.

It goes without saying this is not the way to ask forgiveness from native peoples and achieve reconciliation with them. The Trump administration should reverse course and continue to recognize the unique tribal sovereignty of Native American people and work with tribal governments to determine how best to tackle the severe economic, social and public health challenges facing Native Americans.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Paul Jones
4 years 10 months ago

THE EDITORS have absolutely no knowledge of our Constitution. Post passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, there are no more "Indians" within the original meaning of our Constitution...only U.S./State citizens with "Indian ancestry/race" entitled to no more and no less than every other non-Indian U.S./State citizen! Our Constitution makes for no provisions for 'treaties' with Constituency!
This whole “Indian tribal” thing is a plain fraud upon the United States Constitution.
It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for politicians-state and federal-to dumb down as gullible non-Indian U.S./State citizens into believing that they-politicians-can pass common law that regulates from the womb to the tomb the health, welfare, safety, benefits, capacities, metes and boundaries of a select group of U.S./State citizens made distinguishable from all other non-Indian U.S./State citizens because of their "Indian ancestry/race" at the same time the Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s ‘equal protection’ foreclosed the very same politicians from enacting common law regulating from the womb to the tomb the health, welfare, safety, benefits, capacities, metes and boundaries for select group of U.S./State citizens with 'slave ancestry/race' all without a shred of Constitutional authority to do so.

Arlene Bowman
4 years 10 months ago

Thank you for expressing that Indigenous people in US are sovereign Nations. We are. I am not Christian. Catholics are Christians. The Editors of this magazine gets it while Paul Jones does not. It's true Trump who is not my President is not honoring the treaties. It has happened before, broken treaties upon broken treaties. Many of them. Lies upon lies. Genocide. That has gone on too long. Other Presidents like Andrew Jackson were disrespectful of us. I will not go on and on but I could.

Paul Jones
4 years 10 months ago

Really!!! No such thing under our Constitution as "Sovereign Indian nations" you can cite in our Constitution post passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Such mythical nonsense. As of the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, there are no more "Indians" within the original meaning of our Constitution...only U.S./State citizens with "Indian ancestry/race" entitled to no more and no less than every other non-Indian U.S./State citizen. There is no such thing under our Constitution as an "Indian treaty" post 1924 citizenship...no treaties with constituency! The unbiased text affirms our Constitution has no treaties with Constituency. If you believe such treaties exist, provide the Amendment to our Constitution making your post true:
The object of treaties is the regulation of intercourse with foreign nations, and is external."
An especially interesting piece of evidence supporting the conclusion that the Treaty Clause was intended and understood by the Framing and Ratifying Conventions not to authorize the President and Senate, by a treaty, either (a) to override the Constitution, in whole or in part, or (b) to make domestic law (as distinguished from governance of relations with foreign governments),
[Section 52.] "Treaties are legislative acts. A treaty is a law of the land. It differs from other laws only as it must have the consent of a foreign nation, being but a contract with respect to that nation . . . 2. By the general power to make treaties, the Constitution must have intended to comprehend only those objects which are usually regulated by treaty, and cannot be otherwise regulated. 3. It must have meant to except out of these the rights reserved to the States; for surely the President and Senate cannot do by treaty what the whole Government is interdicted from doing in any way."

Another fallacious statement is that a treaty "can override the Constitution;" which defies historical truth, as we have seen. A related and most preposterous allegation is that a treaty "can cut across the rights given the people by the constitutional Bill of Rights"--than which nothing could be further from the truth, partly for two reasons: the Constitution does not authorize any such treaty and, secondly, the people are, of course, given their rights by God and not by themselves through their own creation: the Constitution (including its Bill of Rights, or Bill of Prohibitions, Amendments). The quoted statement is farcical.

The latest from america

Statue of the Blessed Mother with her hands outstretched.
A Reflection for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, by Heather Trotta
Heather TrottaMarch 25, 2023
president donald trump speaks at a podium in front of televised american flag
Former Missouri senator John Danforth said he has revisited his 1999 report since learning about the Trump rally in Waco and noticed similarities between the rhetoric of Mr. Trump and the conspiracy theorists of the 1990s.
Christopher ParkerMarch 24, 2023
Several honduran women hold a large red sign calling for justice for Ana Lizeth Hernández
The protest was organized by women’s advocates and the family, friends and neighbors of Ana Lizeth Hernández, a 33-year-old woman who died of a gunshot wound to the head in her home on March 19.
Kevin ClarkeMarch 24, 2023
A Catholic priest and a man demonstrate the sacrament of confession
Archbishop Listecki said “the false assertions of Father James Connell have caused understandable and widespread unrest among the People of God, causing them to question if the privacy of the confessional can now be violated.”