Never Say Never

In 2014 I wrote a column about researching Native American Law. In it I discussed the controversy over sports teams whose names and mascots were perceived as being derogatory and racist. The most egregious of these names was that of the Washington Redskins football team. In 2013 their owner, Dan Snyder told USA Today that “We’ll never change the name.” “NEVER – you can use caps.” To read more about the history of opposition to the name see this Wikipedia entry.

In 2020 never is now. The US is roiling with protests against systemic racism and its symbols. In the effort to alleviate the sting of this history, Confederate monuments are being removed. Schools and highways are being renamed. In Washington, DC, our Mayor, Muriel Bowser changed the name of a section of H Street behind the White House to Black Lives Matter Plaza. And Dan Snyder, under pressure from his sponsors, has dropped the name of his team and is in the process of changing it. These may be only symbolic steps toward turning the words of the Constitution that “all men are created equal” into real progress toward equality, but they are good first steps.

On July 9th a 5-4 opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States made a real step toward justice for Native American tribal rights. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma. This held that the Creek nation still has its original reservation in Oklahoma. This means that the tribe has the authority to try any of its members within that area under tribal law. The opinion establishes that states have no right to diminish a reservation. Gorsuch wrote that “… it’s no matter how many other promises to a tribe the federal government has already broken. If Congress wishes to break the promise of a reservation, it must say so.” In other words, in this case a broken treaty is still a treaty. The SCOTUSblog analysis of this case stated that this is “a stunning reaffirmance of the nation’s obligations to Native Americans”.

I hope that the results of our November presidential elections will result in more progress toward “equal justice under law” for all who live in the United States.

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