Editorial December 5, 2014

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

With the passage of several Native American land bills this week, one that rectifies the taking of 120 acres for a town site on reservation land in 1918, we look back at a 2009 TWIC editorial on Native American involvement in creating the democracy and how the reservation lands fared in that process.

Native American Democracy

June 2009

HJ 40 passed by the House this week, suggesting that Native Americans practiced democracy  and heavily influenced the Framers of the Constitution. Native Americans were accepting of the new Republic’s efforts to create a functioning democracy and came to the Constitutional Convention to explain how they accomplished theirs.

The Framers, looking for a form of government that did not emulate the European monarchies, turned to the political structure of indigenous cultures for guidance. The Haudenosaunee Confederation caught the attention of Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and others. Haudenosaunee was later changed to the French word Iroquois and the Confederation is now a combination of six Native American tribes banned together under a common constitution.

While selection of the Confederation’s leaders only from particular families was not what the Founders were after the decision-making process interested them. Decisions made by tribal leaders were the product of the entire community and had to consider three benchmarks; “the effect of their decision on peace; the effect on the natural world; and the effect on seven generations in the future.”

Females, while in the outer tier of Confederation meetings, were given veto power and were responsible for listening closely to decisions made, remembering the details, and passing them on to future generations. As such, an accurate history of the Confederation’s laws was kept intact for centuries.

The Framers struggled with two perspectives described by Anthropologist, J.N.B. Hewitt, “There are two radically distinct methods of regimentation of people found extant in the world . . . these two methods are known as the tribal system and the national system. The tribal system organizes solely on the basis of blood kinship, real or by legal fiction. The national system organizes solely on the basis of territorial units. So that kinship groups or units are found in tribal society, territorial units in national society.”

Ultimately it was private ownership of those territorial units that prevailed. Each Confederation community was a democracy in and of itself and extended geographically by connecting to other communities. Since the land was from where all things necessary came, the size and location of the communities were based on the sustainability of the land on which they lived. No one owned the land.

Early European-Americans saw it differently; permanent housing was the norm and the land–there was so much of it and it could be privately owned– was to be exploited, not subject to stewarding. Rapid geographic expansion of the US boundaries was the tone of the day. The combination of the two left out the possibility of the extended family or community that served the Native Americans and set up a real estate frenzy that ultimately brought on the demise of the Native American lifestyle being practiced on land that someone else wanted.

One wonders what American life would be like if the Framers had a ‘Dances with Wolves’ moment and took the Nation in the direction of the Confederation. But they were representing the hopes of new residents who had been subject to a lifestyle under monarchist oppression that narrowed what they could earn and own. They had a different idea of what the good life required.

For some time the Confederation saw themselves and the new settlers as people in two canoes, both plying the same river in their own way and for their own reasons with respect for each other’s intentions. Eventually, though, that 24,894,080 acres overseen by the Confederation was just too tempting.

 ##

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Lee H. Hamilton

“Considering all of the time, money and top policy people we have poured into addressing the problems of the Middle East over decades, why is there such widespread hostility toward us?”

Hamilton

Hamilton

At a public meeting I recently attended, a woman stood up and asked me a question that gave me some pause: Why do the Arabs hate us so much?

On its surface, hers was a simple, straightforward question, one that I’m certain many Americans have asked themselves amidst regular reports of brutal terrorist activities by ISIS and other extremist groups in the Middle East.
But when you stop to really think about it, the question is rather complex.
Start with the fact that American foreign policy has been squarely focused on the Middle East for decades now. Indeed, the time we’ve spent deeply intertwined with this troubled region of the world is quite astounding.
During this time, we’ve been deeply engaged economically, politically and militarily with countries that, individually, present formidable problems. Collectively, countries such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen make for a region that is disintegrating before our very eyes.
The mess in the Middle East is more striking when one considers how much time, energy and money our nation has spent there in the name of nation-building and in trying to combat a seemingly endless list of complex issues: the Arab-Israeli conflict, authoritarian and corrupt regimes, energy security, nuclear disarmament, religious and ethnic fighting and, of course, terrorism.
Try as he might to reset American foreign policy focus (see: President Barack Obama’s recent trip to China), no recent U.S. president has been able to disentangle himself from the Middle East. The concerns in the region are just too serious and commanding of our attention.
Which raises the question: Considering all of the time, money and top policy people we have poured into addressing the problems of the Middle East over decades, why is there such widespread hostility toward us?
Why do so many in the Middle East continue to insist that we have “abandoned the region,” a common complaint that seems mindboggling in view of all of our entanglements there?
Why do the Arabs hate us so much?
It’s becoming increasingly hard for Americans, myself included, to comprehend the anger directed toward us. Maybe all of our efforts haven’t been effective. Clearly, many of them haven’t been appreciated. But aren’t we good people, by and large, just trying to do the right thing? How do you explain it?
Again, the answer is complex. A major part of the hostility we feel certainly comes from our continued support of Israel and a perception, right or wrong, among many in the Arab world that the U.S. can no longer have a balanced view on this issue.
Equally strong is the resentment many Arabs feel toward Western dominance and, more specifically, how America and its European allies have largely succeeded in terms of economic growth and modernization while much of the Middle East remains mired in poverty and high unemployment.
Not to be ignored is just how frequently the U.S. has intervened militarily in the Middle East, especially since 9/11. In every instance of this type of engagement, we would argue we had good reasons for our actions. But we cannot escape the reality that we have interceded again and again and again, to a pretty remarkable degree. Fact: Since 1980, the U.S. has bombed, invaded or occupied 14 Islamic countries.
We know, of course, that several of these military actions have been conducted with Arab support and the ultimate goal of bringing peace and stability to the region. But the perception among many others is that we are too quick and willing to drop bombs, launch airstrikes and send in troops.
Indeed, there is a strong sense among many in the Arab World that we over rely on our military might at the expense of doing more in the areas of education, governance and civil society. They’re not impressed by what they view as American incompetence in countries like Iraq and Syria, and they even criticize our rhetoric regarding the advancement of democracy and human rights, citing our past support of oppressive dictators and our treatment of political prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
While I and many other Americans would take issue on a number of fronts with these arguments and perceptions, the fact remains that they exist, are deeply ingrained in the Arab mindset and can no longer be ignored.
At the same time that poll after poll indicate serious Arab resentment toward us, there is no disputing that we will continue to be heavily engaged in the Muslim world for many years to come.
To have a more effective policy and positive posture in this region, we will need to be more sensitive to the Arab world and its perceptions.
We will also have to recognize that we are engaged in a massive struggle for ideas and that our strategy against Islamic extremism must go far beyond flexing our military might.
And we will need to make our message loud and clear to all in the Arab world. We treat people humanely. We abide by the rule of the law. We are a generous and caring people. We offer a vision that will provide for a better future for the world’s children, beginning, first and foremost, with a promise of life over death. We believe deeply in the power of education and economic opportunity. We oppose indiscriminate violence. We strongly encourage political participation and tolerate differing points of view.
The Arab world may not like us and may have a lot of reasons why they don’t — not all accurate or meritorious.
But we must be clear and they must know that our agenda is based in a belief in opportunity for all and an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people all over the world.
Lee H. Hamilton is Professor of Practice, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University. He served as U.S. Representative from Indiana’s 9th Congressional District from 1965-1999.