10 Pages

Reclaiming self-determination from the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975

Given the nature of the relationship between the USA and Indian tribes, one thing is certain: the USA does not have the power to fulfill the educational dreams of indigenous people. Even if the USA increases its financial support of indigenous educational initiatives many times over (which it will not because it cannot), the essential logic of the guardian-to-ward “trust relationship” ensures that the aims of indigenous tribal nations – whether educational, governmental, environmental, and so on – will always remain secondary to the aims of the USA. In the past 30 or 40 years, the USA has addressed this disparity semantically, misusing terms such as “sovereignty” and “self-determination” to describe the goals of tribal nations, while in reality creating policies that only reinforce its position as a suzerain. A particularly egregious example is Public Law 93-638, “The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975,” which begins with the following imperatives:

Even a cursory examination of PL 93-638 shows that the law does not seek “maximum Indian participation” in the government and education of its tribal nation, for that would imply the full freedom for tribes to exercise whatever educational, governmental, or economic initiatives they see fit according to their own beliefs and traditions. Instead, the law makes clear that “maximum Indian participation” actually means constraint, not freedom, within the laws of Congress and the judgment of the Secretary of the Interior.