In light of today’s NYTs article on tribal membership, we note the curious conclusion to the article, reprinted here:
Citing a 1978 Supreme Court decision written by Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Bureau of Indian Affairs says that tribal governments have sole authority to determine membership — unless a tribal constitution allows intervention by the government. But such provisions are rare.
And some federal officials say that is exactly how it has always been.
“The tribe has historically had the ability to remove people,” said Kevin Bearquiver, the bureau’s deputy director for the Pacific region. “Tolerance is a European thing brought to the country. We never tolerated things. We turned our back on people.”
We really have no idea of the full context of this statement, but it is, to say the least, curious. Some Indian tribes tolerated multiple sexual orientations, criminal “deviance”, religion, and intermarriage. Many American Indians have no tolerance for lactose and diabetes-inducing glucose.
Do Indian tribes not tolerate outsiders, or those relatives within our midst that disagree with us politically? Hmmm.
I have argued before, and argue again here, that Indian tribes can be intolerant. They have a “right” to do so under our current understanding of federal Indian law. Intolerant tribes are weak sovereigns. They’re about exclusion and typically endorse a narrow view of what sovereignty can mean for a tribe. In that regard, perhaps, tribes are intolerant.
But most tribes, and especially the tribes here in Michigan, are not intolerant. They cooperate with the local non-Indian communities, many of their employees and business partners are non-Indians, and they are good public citizens.
I’m pretty sure that either Indian people were not intolerant before the Europeans came but we will never really know for sure, just as I bet Bearquiver regrets making such a broad generalization (or curses the NYTs for quoting him out of context).