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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).

Forced Federalism - Chapter 1: Contemporary Challenges to Indigenous Nationhood

.A critical evaluation of a new era in American Indian policy

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 (1988–present), 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 their nationhood

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-Indians—especially in the wake of the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act.

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.



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Ponca warrior, Wesa-TaGa (Big Snake), giving a Red Power salute during the Ponca delegation's visit to Washington, DC in 1877.  Big Snake was shot to death by US soldiers in 1879 after asserting the self-determining authority of the Ponca Nation, a right which had been upheld in an 1879 court ruling involving his brother, Standing Bear (United States ex rel. Standing Bear v. Crook). Operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut is the largest casino in the world.  The 344,000 square foot casino features 7,374 slots and 311 table games.  It is estimated that over 40,000 people visit Foxwoods each day Anthony Pico, chairman of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, joins Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sacramento, California, at a 2004 ceremony to mark the state's compact with five of 61 gaming nations. Associated Press photo by Rich Pedroncelli