Clarkson and tribal leaders examine troubled past ­­-- and present -- in Indian Country

Kerry Holton, president of the Delaware Nation, left, Prof. Gavin Clarkson, and Carlos Bullock, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council, discussed some of the problems and solutions facing American Indians in a one-hour presentation that could have been titled Indian Law 101.

Kerry Holton, president of the Delaware Nation, left, Prof. Gavin Clarkson, and Carlos Bullock, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council, discussed some of the problems and solutions facing American Indians in a one-hour presentation that could have been titled Indian Law 101

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Prof. Gavin Clarkson and tribal leaders gave students a quick overview of Indian Law 101 -- and a little history -- during a lunchtime presentation at the Law Center. Clarkson, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, described a convoluted legal history of broken treaties, forgotten promises and “made up” Supreme Court rulings that have resulted in land claims that remain unresolved to this day.  Carlos Bullock, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council, cited how his east Texas tribe has been waiting since 2002 for the federal government to make good on its $270.6 million obligation for rights to land in Conroe and The Woodlands. “We haven’t seen one dollar,” he said.  Kerry Holton, president of the Delaware Nation now based in Anadarko, OK., noted how various treaties and promises signed over the years ultimately failed his tribe, which was forced to move repeatedly from the Delaware River area through the Midwest and South, Texas and even Mexico before finally settling in Oklahoma.

Clarkson and the tribal leaders said they were troubled by the government’s present-day criminal law enforcement and jurisdiction in Indian matters.   The federal government, for example, has sole authority over crimes committed by non-Indians on Indian land.  “Indian Country is the only place in the United States where jurisdiction is based on race,” Clarkson said. With the U.S. attorney’s office preoccupied with terrorism and other crimes, Clarkson said, crime on Indian reservations is not a high priority.  “Non-Indian domestic abusers can abuse with impunity,” he said.   In Indian Country, women and children are 2½ times more likely to become victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse than the general populace, Clarkson said. Bullock said one of his tribe’s goals is to establish a tribal police force with federal training. “The federal government has imposed itself as the primary law enforcement,” Clarkson said.  “And then they dropped the ball.” 

Clarkson also touched on Indian stereotypes and mascots, saying other racial and ethnic groups would not tolerate caricatures such as “Chief Wahoo” of the Cleveland Indians.  Teams such as Cleveland and the Washington Redskins may claim they honor Indian heritage, but Clarkson is not buying it.  “Nobody is honored by a racist epithet,” he declared flatly.

Clarkson, the nation’s leading scholar on tribal finance, said unemployment on some reservations runs as high as 80 percent. He outlined several areas of opportunity, warning that casino gambling “is not the end-all and be-all.” With a nod to the Delaware Nation president, Clarkson said, “Anadarko, Oklahoma, is not exactly Las Vegas” – implying that casinos represent a farfetched option for the tribe’s economic development.   Clarkson does work with tribes that operate casinos, and he noted how he is trying to help them diversify through development of natural resources, entrepreneurial ventures and municipal finance.

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