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Trust Responsibility to Native Americans
We write about tribal disenrollment most often, but this goes deeper, including coverage of health care and all the benefits that should come to ALL Indian people.
As noted Native American attorney Gabe Galanda wrote last year:
Dating back to the Marshall Trilogy, the federal trust relationship has been deemed one of "moral responsibility." Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1 (1831).
The Supreme Court explained it most profoundly in Seminole Nation v. United States, 316 U.S. 286, 296-97 (1942):
Under a humane and self imposed policy which has found expression in many acts of Congress and numerous decisions of this Court, it has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust.
The High Court has even invoked America's honor in reference to the Indian trust responsibility: “Out of its peculiar relation to these dependent peoples sprang obligations to the fulfillment of which the national honor has been committed.” Heckman v. United States, 224 U.S. 443, 437 (1912).
And from the United States' national honor and moral trust responsibility, arises "the duty of protection," towards both tribes and tribal members. Id. Indeed:
In exercising this broad authority, past Secretaries have acknowledged that the Department's relationship with Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries is guided by the trust responsibility and have expressed a paramount commitment to protect their unique rights and ensure their well-being, while respecting tribal sovereignty.”
Throughout Indian Country, Tribal officials have taken actions which have denied and/or stripped ten thousand individual Indians of their citizenship rights and privileges as Tribal members and denied them access to federal benefits and programs in the areas of housing, education, health, voting and public works assistance. In most cases, these rights have been stripped without due process.
If you recall, in President Obama’s State of The Union, he said this: “But rarely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to many. Well it certainly is TRUE in Indian Country, where many of us, who have been disenrolled can no longer vote in tribal elections or on a matter that will affect us.
The United States has a trust responsibility to the thousands of individual Indians whose basic rights have been infringed upon. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has determined that their trust responsibility extends only to the Tribal government and government officials and not to the thousands of individual Indian victims. (h/tip Emilio Reyes )
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