Forced Federalism: Contemporary
Challenges to Indigenous Nationhood
By Jeff Corntassel with Lindsay G. Robertson,
Richard C. Witmer II.
University of Oklahoma Press, 2008
"Forced Federalism takes a critical look
at the mantra of tribal economic development
and, gaming in particular, as the solution to
the problems besetting American Indian communities.
The vast majority of work in this field hold
out increasing economic development as the bulwark
of tribal sovereignty. This work is important
because it clearly shows, using empirical evidence,
the so-called Harvard Thesis is wrong and that
tribal government engagements in the mainstream
US political system is ultimately a losing strategy
for tribes. The definitions of Indianness and
the very conceptions of indigenous self-determination
that form the foundation of contemporary American
Indian activism today are proven to be flawed."
- Taiaiake Alfred, author of Peace, Power, Righteousness:
An Indigenous Manifesto and Wasase: Indigenous
Pathways of Action and Freedom
“Once thought to be within the exclusive domain of federal power through the trust relationship, Native nations have been subject to state power and jurisdiction and more so, Corntassel and Witmer convincingly argue, since the passage of the Indian Gaming & Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988…In its examination of the different alternatives being explored by Indian nations in the era of forced federalism this book moves us away from assimilationist arguments such as those manifest in the Harvard Project’s model of ‘nationhood’…Corntassel and Witmer have made an empirically sound and critical contribution to scholarly and, one will hope, popular understandings of the new era of indigenous politics today.”
- Audra Simpson, Columbia University (excerpt from book review in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 33:1, 2009)
This book is worthy of substantial consideration by all concerned about where gaming and policy are taking Native nations. My personal concern is that the era of self-determination has become the era of self-assimilation This book asks important questions that can serve as critical questions in the education process. The book provides both theoretical and practical analyses. The evidence is survey, interview, case study, history, and more. This is reflective of indigenous knowledge".
- Michael W. Simpson, American Indian Studies, University of Arizona (excerpt from Wicazo Sa Review, Spring 2010)
“I find the authors’ concern regarding the rise of state-tribal compacting, given the history of state antagonism to Indian interests, to be compelling. But here too the book does a good job walking a fine line: pointing out how tribes have benefited from compacts while also cautioning against conceding regulatory authority on reservations to states in return for short-term economic development. Corntassel and Witmer – drawing on tribes across the U.S. but with an emphasis on Oklahoma Cherokee leaders, language, and challenges – make a convincing case that tribes are in the midst of an era of forced federalism. Even those less troubled by the shift from exclusively tribal-federal dealings to tribal-state relationships should give Forced Federalism careful consideration.”
Ezra Rosser, Washington College of Law, American University (excerpt from book review in Great Plains Research, 19:1, 2009)
“Exceedingly well written and tightly argued, Forced Federalism makes a powerful case…Their present study will be important for years to come.”
- Jace Weaver, Institute of Native American Studies, University of Georgia (excerpt from book review in Chronicles of Oklahoma, 86:3, Fall 2008).
“…this book is a must-read for students and scholars interested in the modern political battles America’s Indians are engaged in.”
- Bradley J. Gills, Grand Valley State University (excerpt from book review in Ethnohistory, 56:2, Spring 2009).
Federalism - Chapter 1: Contemporary Challenges
to Indigenous Nationhood
.A critical evaluation of a new era in American
Over the past twenty years, American Indian
policy has shifted from self-determination to
"forced federalism," as indigenous
nations in the United States have encountered
new threats from state and local governments
over such issues as taxation, gaming, and homeland
security. During the forced federalism era (1988present),
public perceptions of indigenous peoples as
"rich Indians" have been just as damaging
to Native nations as anti-sovereignty legislation.
This book examines how state governments have
manipulated "rich Indian" images when
setting policies targeting indigenous peoples
and discusses how indigenous nations have responded
politically to these contemporary threats to
Drawing on original survey data collected from
Native governments from 1994 to 2000 and on
interviews with Chief Chad Smith of the Cherokee
Nation as well as other indigenous leaders,
Jeff Corntassel and Richard C. Witmer II examine
the power dynamics of the indigenous-state compacting
system, and show how electoral activism among
indigenous peoples has increased their political
power while also giving rise to "rich Indian
racism" among non-Indiansespecially
in the wake of the Indian Gaming and Regulatory
The authors warn that current widespread Native
participation in non-Native politics is undermining
both the political and the cultural foundations
of indigenous nationhood, especially as the
American culture of money gains influence in
Native politics. They also offer specific strategies
for regenerating indigenous communities in order
to meet future challenges to their nationhood.
Jeff Corntassel is Assistant Professor and Graduate
Advisor for the Indigenous Governance Programs
at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
Richard C. Witmer II is Assistant Professor
of Political Science, Creighton University,
Omaha, Nebraska. Lindsay G. Robertson, Orpha
and Maurice Merrill Professor of Law and Faculty
Director of the American Indian Law and Policy
Center at the University of Oklahoma, is author
of Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America
Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands.