land rightsHow have land rights been a continuing theme in White-Native American relations?
The "White-Native American" land rights question was addressed in Cherokee Nation v. State of Ga. Council for the State of Georgia claimed that the Cherokee Nation possessed their land not by right but by benevolence. In other words, at some point in time, under some circumstance it was foreseeable that the Cherokee Nation might lose or forfeit the right to their assigned land and that said land would then automatically return to the full possession of the State and the United States.
Cherokee Nation v. State of Ga.
"Though the Indians are acknowledged to have an unquestionable ... right to the lands they occupy, ... yet it may well be doubted whether those tribes ... can, with strict accuracy, be denominated foreign nations. ... They occupy a territory to which we assert a title independent of their will, which must take effect in point of possession when their right of possession ceases. ..."
One recent issue concerning land rights has been the development of gambling casinos on Native American lands. In the state of Alabama, for instance, casinos have been raided and closed down by state authorities because they are said to violate state law. However, casinos operated by Native Americans have remained open and are flourishing because they are not subject to closure by the state. This is one instance in which Native Americans actually (and finally) have an advantage over their non-native fellow citizens.
And it's not just the land and the use of the surface territory that's at issue. It's also the rights to the water that may flow through the land, although the powers that were when the reservation territories were designated did a good job of trying to ensure that water in the areas where reservations were going to be located ended up being in non-reservation country as much as possible; and the rights to the minerals underneath that land, whether it be gold in the hills of South Dakota or oil in Alaska.
I believe that this issue will always be around. Both groups try to state that they have the right to the lands, but neither will agree with the otter. The Native Americans were the first to occupy the lands, and that should be recognized. Regardless, the greater power (the Whites) simply refuse to accept the fact. They (whites) simply think that all issues were solved when the Native Americans were given the reservations.
This is a permanent issue, because 1) there is no question that the lands of Native Americans were taken from them by the US government, and 2) there is no practical or legal way to reverse that crime. The real question now is do native tribes deserve more federal compensation for those lands, and on existing reservations, what rights and authorities do Natives living there have that non-Natives do not.
I think such issues are going to be around for a long time, especially given the way that the white European settlers took all the land that was fertile and good and left the indigenous peoples with the land that they didn't want. The way in which indigenous groups are therefore isolated from society naturally should lead us to question the way in which land rights is an issue that should be reassessed.
History is always about the conquerors and those who are conquered; of course, the British and other former great powers know all about this subject. Even with the Native-Americans, much of the profits from the casinos and such are not realized by those not within the perimeters of these places. It is the "same old story" of power versus those without.
There has always been disagreement between these two groups as to what constitutes ownership of land. Whites thought that the Indians were not using the land (no permanent farms or villages in many places) and therefore that the Indians had no right to it. The whites saw ownership as exclusive and Indians didn't necessarily see it that way.