The boundary lines for multiple land treaties cross the state of Michigan. The boundary lines for multiple land treaties with native tribes cross the state of Michigan.
It was 1823. The land of Michigan wasn’t yet a state. The indigenous people far outnumbered the white settlers. The Erie Canal hadn’t opened. The flood of European immigrants was yet to arrive.
But the groundwork for their arrival was set in 1823 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case about property rights. The case: Johnson v. M’Intosh.
On the fourth floor of the Michigan State University law school building, on a windowsill that overlooks the campus, Wenona Singel (top photo) keeps her family photos. Singel is a law professor here, and associate director of MSU’s Indigenous Law & Policy Center.
Family is the reason she went to law school, she says.
When she was young, she was separated from her sister in what she says was a coerced adoption. It’s a familiar story in many native families.
“And, in my mind, understanding the operation of our legal system and the development of federal Indian law and policy was absolutely critical,” she says.
So when she got older, she went to law school — at Harvard.
All first-year Harvard law students had to take a class on property law. That is where Singel first heard of the landmark case known as Johnson v M’Intosh.
“The original Johnson of the case was actually a former Supreme Court justice, and a wealthy shareholder in the Illinois and Wabash Land Company,” Singel says. “And this land company had speculated in the purchase of Indian lands.”
It purchased those lands directly from the tribes. At that same time, the U.S. federal government was out trying to get land from tribes. It negotiated treaties with the tribes. Once the government got the land, it would parcel it out to sell to settlers.
So along comes this settler named M’Intosh. He buys from the government. But the land he buys, well it’s already been bought, by the Illinois and Wabash Land Company.
Remember, that’s the group of wealthy investors that buys directly from the tribes. And Johnson is a part of that group. So Johnson bought from the tribe.
M’Intosh bought from the U.S. government.
The question before the Supreme Court: Who really owned the land now — Johnson or M’Intosh?
It’s an easy question if you think the tribe owned its land in the first place. Because if the tribe owned it, it could sell it to the Illinois and Wabash Land Company, Johnson’s group. Johnson wins.
But the real question was whether the tribe owned the land in the first place. Did they even have the power to sell it?
“And, to the surprise of the lawyers and shareholders in the Illinois and Wabash Land Company, Justice Marshall in the Johnson v. M’Intosh case declared that the tribes did not have this power.” Singel says. “And that they only had the power to transfer their property to the federal government.”
That was the official legal ruling for the United States government: that native people did not actually own the land they’d lived on for thousands of years.
M’Intosh won because he had bought from the federal government. Justice Marshall argued the federal government was the true owner of the land all along.
The indigenous people of the U.S. had some rights on their land. They had the right to use and occupy it. But they couldn’t sell it on the open market because they didn’t really own it. That was the official legal ruling for the United States government: that native people did not actually own the land they’d lived on for thousands of years.
And yes, this decision had a huge impact.
If and when native people ever did want to sell their land rights, there was only one buyer they could turn to. That meant the buyer had the upper hand in the negotiations over price.
It was a rigged deal.
Singel learned all of this as a busy, stressed, first-year law student.”In many ways, it’s almost like gaslighting,” Wenona Singel says of the Johnson v. M’Intosh case. “You’re learning about … certain rights that are associated with property rights … knowing all along that these rights have not been respected, and were not enforced for your own ancestors.”
“And then you move on to the next case,” she says. “And there’s no further discussion of the wrong that this perpetuates. And also the flawed reasoning. And also fundamentally misinformed and racist presumptions that our property legal system is based upon.”
And this isn’t some obscure case. It’s foundational in the U.S. legal system. Most law schools teach it to all their students in the first year.
“The tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages, whose occupation was war, and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness.”
This language, and the precedent it established, has never been overturned in America’s legal system. It is valid law today.
“Imagine if Plessy v Ferguson was never overturned,” Singel says. “Imagine if Dred Scott was never overturned … We’ve never had any kind of accounting and justice that has restored those original property rights.”
After Johnson v. M’Intosh, the early white leaders of Michigan drafted a series of treaties with the native people of the area. These documents would have the tribes sign their land over to the federal government.
Lewis Cass was Michigan’s second governor. He negotiated a number of the treaties. In the late 1820s, he advocated the forced removal of the land’s native people. In his argument, he echoed the words of Justice Marshall. He claimed if white people didn’t rule the land, Michigan would be doomed:
“A tribe of wandering hunters, depending upon the chase for support, and deriving it from the forests, and rivers, and lakes, of an immense continent, have a very imperfect possession of the country over which they roam ,” Cass argued. “That they are entitled to such supplies as may be necessary for their subsistence, and as they can procure, no one can justly question. But this right cannot be exclusive, unless the forests which shelter them are doomed to perpetual unproductiveness.”
Cass didn’t get his wish for removal. But he did eventually get treaties.
And the white people did make the land productive, in their way.
The same as they had done in all of the Americas, says Willie Jennings of Yale Divinity School. They did what they believed their God wanted them to do.
“The way they looked at the land, from the very beginning, from Michigan to Maine, from Virginia to Florida, they looked at the land as the world-in-potential that needed development,” Jennings says. “And that development was always tied to what can be taken from the land.”
In Michigan, a land of dense, ancient forests, they could take a lot.
NOTE from Lara: When J. Glenn writes, I post since he does not have a blog. Please read and share. J Glenn will read your comments here, too.
By J. Glenn Evans
This is an essay of thoughts, ideas and personal opinions of the author that may seem arbitrary, but are meant to challenge your thinking about ways and means of making this a better world for us all. As you read this, just think “Why Not? It might work, but here is something better; here is my idea.” The 1% will not save us. Their greed will destroy us all, even themselves if we do not stop them. What we have been doing is not working, so it is time for some radical thoughts that break established rules that no longer work for the people. If you have some ideas please feel free to present them. Perhaps we can use them in an addendum issue, but please indicate whether you wish author credit or to be treated anonymously.
We have serious problems in our country and most of us know it. They are not going to just go away by waiting. To wait will lead to total destruction. The destruction will not be limited to the economic system, but the environment and perhaps elimination of most of life, as we know it here on earth. We have had plenty of warnings; just read the books and articles that are coming out. If there is any life left in the future, many of the folks, now denigrated by the 1% and their media, will be called prophets.
Most of us know; that the corporate greed of banksters and big business have captured control of our government, not only of the legislative, but the executive and as well the judicial branch as high as the Supreme Court. So what can we do about it? First, we must realize that nothing is going to change until we the people have a change in mindset and develop the backbone of determination to break the power of those who are running things. It is awesome, but we must face reality. We cannot expect the governments of the world to make the necessary changes like stopping wars and start taking care of people’s needs. They never have and they never will because there are too many powerful people that find war and conflict profitable. Loss of lives mean little to them. They have no use for people unless they can be used as cheap labor or as profit-making consumers. They create money by manipulating values as has been done on Wall Street, banker dollar manufacturing with compound interest and government-financed cheap interest rates to bankers. Then they stick it to us with debt enslavement and keep us chained to loan pits, rising rents and humbled with economic fear.
Our country started out with ideals of freedom, high hopes and aspirations of opportunities for the good life for all. (See readers comment at the end on this thought.) This has all been hopelessly destroyed by greed and corruption. War crimes take place before our very eyes. Our Constitution has been trashed by unconstitutional laws, such as Homeland Security Act, the Patriot’s Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the NDAA that allows the president to maintain a kill list that even includes American citizens without the benefit of a trial. The present Supreme Court fails to act by condemning such laws as unconstitutional. The system of Fascism, a partnership between big business and government, that we do not openly admit, has crept upon us. The corruption between big business and government has gotten so bad it is beyond repair.
Great wealth is based on exploitation of the indigenous peoples, the laboring and creative people of the world. Thomas Paine called them brigands. Financial manipulators steal from the real creators of wealth. Then with their ill-gotten wealth they outbid everyone else; drive them to the brink of slavery. They buy control of our governments, and then change the laws to make their actions legal. Resources of this world are for all life, not reserved for a few rich grabbers. Why should one person accumulate enough for a thousand lifetimes and a thousand families go hungry and unsheltered. This hogged-up wealth has not been created, but taken from others. Food, shelter, health care, and public education of our young must be brought about for all of our citizens.
To break their power and save our world, we can start by building an alternate economy and bring our food production and processing close to home. If you have some vacant land, grow food. What you don’t need you can sell or give away. We as individuals can start by shopping locally, dealing with locally owned and operated banks, credit unions, co-ops and farmers markets. We must break up the large monoculture firms that are destroying our soil. Put those engaged in parasitical industries to producing goods and services that people really need, as well as rebuilding and repairing the damage that unregulated capitalism has created.
Change will not come easy. The 1%, who rules the world, will not give up without a fight. The only way real change for the betterment of humanity can be made is just like when feudalism was replaced by capitalism, the power of those in control has to be broken. We have all seen how great wealth is used to subvert our democracy. Historically, gross inequality leads to revolutions, most often bloody. We need a massive worldwide equalization tax that will take into public ownership all wealth accumulation that exceeds ten million dollars per individual ownership and tax annual income that exceeds one million dollars at the rate of 95%. If the rich, such as Rockefellers, the CEOs and such can no longer support their mansions, they can always take in boarders. Tax loopholes and shelters are to be eliminated. They make a mockery of a fair and just tax system.
The Supreme Court in allowing unlimited and undisclosed private campaign finance has totally corrupted our election process. On political campaigns and elections all private finance contributions that exceeds $5.00 per person to show public support must be removed from our elections. People who can get 200 signatures of support with a $5.00 donation can draw a small stipend for campaign costs. All media companies that utilize public airwaves must devote 20% of all time slots 30 days prior to election days to free use by qualified candidates as a royalty to the public for use of our airwaves. Unless the Supreme Court withdraws this unlimited private finance of elections, we must tax campaign contributions that exceed $5 at a rate of 50% or higher if necessary and us the proceeds to public finance those qualified candidates who accept no greater campaign contribution then $5 per person or institution. Election days should be declared holidays for those who actually vote. No one serves in the same elected office more than two consecutive times. If they leave public office they are not permitted to serve as lobbyists calling on their former associates prior to 4 years.
All the assets of the briber and all the assets of the public official accepting the bribe shall be taken into public ownership as a penalty for their crimes. All banks must be taken into public ownership and if not, they are to be regulated as public utilities, without musical chairs played between the banking industry and the regulators.
Lobbyists who work to press their agenda on public officials are to be treated like any other private citizen and take their place in line to plead their case with public officials. Bribes and perks offered public officials by lobbyists or any other persons or institutions are treated with the same stringent penalties as any other briber with confiscation of their assets and even jail time.
A thorough re-examination of all people in prison is to be made and those deemed not a danger to society are to be released to halfway houses for rehabilitation to society. When qualified for release, they shall be granted their freedom with full citizenship rights and with assistance in finding satisfactory employment based on their talent and ability. Incarceration is a state responsibility subject to control of elected officials and no longer delegated to private industry to profit on the misery of others. The death penalty is abolished worldwide; the state does not give life, therefore, it shall not take it. Incarceration for crimes shall lean toward rehabilitation rather than vengeance. Except for a modest personal stipend for work expended while incarcerated, value produced shall go for their upkeep and to compensate victims of their crimes.
Why should one owe allegiance to a government that denies their right to vote? Every citizen of legal age shall have a vote, both in and out of prison with severe penalties on those who thwart this right. When laws are made that affect all our lives, voting is a right, not a privilege. If state legislatures and the federal government do not take steps to open up the right to vote for all citizens of legal age, we the people have a right and a duty to organize and elect people’s legislatures and a people’s congress with universal voting right to all citizens of legal age and to make these legislative bodies that have become owned and controlled by the 1% superfluous because they no longer represent the people.
We the peoples of the world shall set up an International Parliament with representatives subject to recall by those who elected them. Representatives in turn shall elect the executives to carry out the laws and functions to protect human rights as called for in the UN’s International Declaration of Human Rights for all people regardless of race or gender, settlement of international conflicts and holding state criminals to account. National sovereignties may not subvert the rulings of this international body, but may request a vote of membership of this international body on the ruling of the executive administration at the next annual meeting of that body. During the meantime they must desist in the outlawed action. All national armies are to be abolished, except for limited national guard for internal emergencies and subject to call by the International Parliament in protection of human rights and maintain international peace when abuses of power come into being. No nation shall maintain weapons of mass destruction. If such weapons exist, they shall come under the ownership and control of all.
World populations must be brought under control or we all will perish from destruction of environment and wars for resources. Peer pressure and taxation should limit offspring to no more than one child per couple during their lifetimes at least until world population declines to a sustainable level. There should no purchase of breeding rights permitted from others who do not produce offspring. If peer pressure and taxation do not work, then more severe measures must be taken. Perhaps draconian, but what can be more severe than war and destruction of all.
Our local police shall be subject to public oversight and police brutality shall become a thing of the past. We must have a highly trained police force that operates with integrity in protecting the citizens and maintaining the peace and laws of the land. We have had presidents assassinated with the complicity of members of government, mass murder by the likes of 9-11, peace and environmental activists prosecuted and criminalized by the present ruling regime and the present system not holding to account those responsible for these crimes.
There is no turning back. We the people must act. We will replace our corporate toadies in office with people who will truly represent the people and bring corrupt officials to justice.
The ruling few along with international Zionism have usurped and used our government to the neglect of our own people for their own private interests and for the benefit of Israel. Remember the USS Liberty, Rachel Corrie and 911 triggering the Iraq war. They have turned our government into an international bully that is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that would be punishable by a Nuremberg type trial if we did not have our present military might. Those who hold dual citizenship of US and Israel or any other country should not be permitted to hold public office here in the US.
Change is an awesome task, but we must not lose hope and we must not shirk the responsibility to our kids and grandkids and those who follow. Again, I repeat, resources of this earth are for all life and not reserved for a few rich grabbers. Why should one person accumulate enough for a thousand lifetimes and a thousand families go hungry and unsheltered? I believe like the Jewish activist, the late Abe Osheroff, often said, “If you believe you are right, even if you know you are going to lose, you keep trying.” Others who come later may pick up the gauntlet and carry on the fight for justice.
Copyleft 2015 J. Glenn Evans (Feel free to copy and distribute as broadly as possible)
J. Glenn Evans: Founder of PoetsWest and Activists for a Better World, hosts PoetsWest at KSER 90.7FM, a nationally syndicated weekly radio show, and is author of four books of poetry: Deadly Mistress,Window in the Sky, Seattle Poems and Buffalo Tracks, author of three novels, BrokerJim, Zeke’s Revenge and Wayfarers with The Last Lumber Baron as a works in process. Evans is a former stockbroker-investment banker. Part Cherokee, native of Oklahoma. Lived in Seattle 54 years and since December of 2014 has resided in Olympia, Washington. Worked in a lumber mill, operated a mining company and co-produced a movie, Christmas Mountain, with Mark Miller and co-starring Slim Pickens. Evans, an award-wining poet and in addition to poetry books and novels, has written numerous political essays and is the author of several local community histories including a history of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Has been published in many literary Journals. Listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.
“Our country started out with ideals of freedom, high hopes and aspirations of opportunities for the good life for all…”
No, this nation did not start out “with ideals of freedom, high hopes and aspirations of opportunities for the good life for all.” It started out by genociding several million indigenous people and stealing their land and enslaving them along with several million Black Africans. Our nation was born in genocide and slavery. Then we stole a good part of Mexico, slaughtered the people of the Philippines, then later in the 20th century A-bombed two civilian populations in Japan (the greatest two terrorist crimes of the war), & not long afterwards slaughtered millions of Koreans and then millions of Vietnamese while we kept murderous dictators as our surrogates in Latin America and Haiti, assisted the genocide of East Timor, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and most recently have destroyed Yugoslavia, the Libyan nation, Afghanistan and Iraq. No, this nation has never in its history been on the side of popular egalitarian democracy. You are living a myth—Anonymous-(did not indicate whether he wished to be identified)
Francisco Gutierrez speaks at Union Square, March 28, 2013. (Photo: Aura Bogado)
One by one, some twenty people—mostly youth—stood under a canopy of butterflies in front of the George Washington statue in New York’s Union Square yesterday, and came out as undocumented. Despite some rain, their allies in the crowd gathered for the fourth annual Coming Out of the Shadows event, a nationwide, month-long push to create a space for people to share their stories with one another. The event took place as undocumented youth have also taken to the internet this week, generating critical conversations about representation in the media, the arts and activism.
On Thursday, the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), an arm of United We Dream, demanded an apology from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). QUIP’s Jerssay Arredondo says he was invited by HRC to speak at the demonstration in front of the Supreme Court this week to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act—but that his speech was censured when he was told by HRC not to reveal his undocumented status. HRC did not respond to a request for an interview about the matter.
Prerna Lal and Tania Unzueta published a piece in The Huffington Post on Thursday, responding to Frank Sharry’s recent essay in The Washington Post. Sharry, a longtime immigrant rights activist who founded America’s Voice, wrote that the immigrant movement was modeled after the mainstream LGBT movement. Lal and Unzueta, however, point out that Sharry’s essay “marginalizes the work and existence of queer immigrants.” The two provide a detailed outline of the ways in which queer undocumented youth have created spaces in which to come out of the shadows—even when their actions were rejected by mainstream activists and politicians.
Undocumented people spoke one by one yesterday, and each story was unique. Some proudly grabbed the megaphone and spoke out about the liberation they felt identifying as undocumented. Others were more timid, fighting tears and nervousness through their stories of depression and suicidal thoughts, brought on by their undocumented status. All garnered the audience’s unwavering understanding and support.
As the muggy sky began to darken on Union Square, 21-year-old Francisco Gutierrez took to the makeshift stage and shared his story. He explained his frustration and embarrassment upon learning he was undocumented when he realized he had no Social Security number with which to apply for a summer course while attended high school in Brooklyn. With the guidance of his school’s counselor, Gutierrez applied and was accepted at Georgetown, where he’s now a senior and continues to work around immigrant rights. Gutierrez explained that as difficult as it was for him to come out as undocumented some years ago, he also came out as gay to his parents last year. “It is in our collective stories that we can make a difference,” Gutierrez told the cheering crowd.
Sonia Guinansaca, who works with the New York State Youth Leadership Council, coordinated yesterday’s event, part of the nationwide call put forward by the Immigrant Youth Justice League. Guinansaca, 23, says that people like Gutierrez and others are deconstructing narratives created by media makers, artists, activists and politicians who are not undocumented. “We are the ones who are experts,” she explained, “because we are the ones who are going through it.”
Exploring if unions can rebound and once again act strongly in the interest of ordinary workers.
On this week’s Moyers & Company, Bill talks to two people who can best answer the question: Stephen Lerner and Bill Fletcher, Jr. The architect of the SEIU’s Justice for Janitors movement, Lerner directed SEIU’s private equity project, which worked to expose a Wall Street feeding frenzy that left the working class in a state of catastrophe. Fletcher took his Harvard degree to the Massachusetts shipyards, and worked as a welder before becoming a labor activist. He served as Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, and is author of the upcoming book “They’re Bankrupting Us!”: And 20 Other Myths about Unions.
I do hope Citizens United is repealed – it’s ignorance in the highest order…Remember: we needed unions to protect children who were miners, employed by the Rockerfellers… Lara/Trace