Final Commentary on TNToT: “Repeating the Mistakes of the Past in “The New Trail of Tears””

Written by: Matthew Fletcher

Primary Source : Turtle Talk, October 23, 2016

The final commentary on TNToT was published in the LA Review of Books.

An excerpt:

Riley’s real interest is to bring unfettered free markets and “property rights” to Indian country. She suggests the disestablishment of tribal land holdings as the solution to imaginary corruption, as well as to all the other problems in Indian country. In other words, corruption and mismanagement starts with sovereignty and collective property, so if we get rid of both Indians will be better off. Unsurprisingly, Riley hearkens back to the allotment policies enshrined under the Dawes Act, a federal program in the 19th century that mandated the confiscation of Indian reservations by the federal government, followed by the liquidation of those assets at pennies on the dollar of their market value and their public sale to non-Indians on the cheap. It was a state-sponsored land grab of unprecedented proportions with negative effects on Indians still felt to this day. What an odd model for a property rights advocate! Allotment meant the dispossession of 100 million acres of Indian lands from 1887–1934 and economic devastation from which most tribes have not, and maybe cannot, recover. The depredations of the Dawes Act are a major reason why federal law and policy was reoriented to protect tribal lands and sovereignty, yet Riley’s ahistorical analysis ignores all of this.

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Matthew Fletcher
Matthew L.M. Fletcher is Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. He is the Chief Justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court and also sits as an appellate judge for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians. He is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, located in Peshawbestown, Michigan. In 2010, Professor Fletcher was elected to the American Law Institute.