Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dislocations and Relocations

I've been working a lot on nomadic and sedentary cultures of Central Eurasia for a course I've designed (here 'tis, if you're interested--it still has to go through the College approval process, but I'm hoping to offer it in Spring 2012).

As a result, I've gotten interested in a group of interrelated ideas on mobility, identity and community.  I'm also hoping to write a course that focuses on that.

As part of this process, I've been researching The Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation from tribal lands in northern Georgia to territories in eastern Oklahoma during the 1830s. 

Throughout the eighteenth century, the U.S. government had treated the Cherokee Nation as if it were an independent entity, but not a foreign nation, per se.  All agreements between the two had existed in the form of treaties that overtly recognized the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation.

With the establishment of the state of Georgia, however, problems arose: the Cherokee Nation occupied land that the state of Georgia wanted to give to its residents in a land-lottery, to encourage settlement and expansion. 

Georgia claimed that it could exercise the right of discovery, inherited from the time when the territory was a colony of England, to assert jurisdiction over the Cherokee Nation.

According to the agreement between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation, however, the state of Georgia could only acquire land from the Cherokee Nation if it was sold to the U.S. government and then conferred to the state. 

Under the terms of the agreement, the Cherokee Nation had the right to refuse to sell their land to the federal government, and there was no way they could be forced to do so.

The state of Georgia therefore began a process of extensive harassment and coercion, designed to force the Cherokee Nation to voluntarily leave the territory.  The federal government, under Andrew Jackson, did little to stop the state's efforts, and in fact encouraged a policy of removal and relocation, despite the fact that the terms of the treaties between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation stipulated that the federal government was obliged to protect the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation.

By failing to fulfill the U.S. government's responsibilities toward the Cherokee Nation, it could be argued that the President was failing to fulfill his Constitutional obligation to execute the laws and treaties of the United States. 

In 1831, a Cherokee man was arrested by the state of Georgia for the murder of another Cherokee man, a crime committed within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.  The murderer was subsequently convicted under the laws of the state of Georgia and ordered put to death. 

Attorneys for the Cherokee Nation filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, but despite a subpoena requiring his appearance before the bench, the Governor of Georgia convened a special session of the legislature, which decided to ignore the federal subpoena and proceed with the hanging.

Several days after the execution, attorneys for the Cherokee Nation filed the landmark Cherokee Nation v. Georgia.

An interesting point arose in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia: what exactly was the status of the Cherokee Nation?  Was it a "foreign state" as well as a "sovereign nation"?  If so, Georgia had no right to assert jurisdiction over it. 

If not, was it simply subject to the laws of the state of Georgia or was it somehow different, given the terms of the treaties between the U.S. government and the Cherokee Nation?

In delivering the opinion of the Court, Chief Justice John Marshall recognized the dilemma without solving it: he asserted that the Cherokee Nation was a "domestic dependent nation"--a kind of "ward" under the guardianship of the United States government.

I've also been researching Executive Order 9066. 

In case you're unfamiliar with Executive Order 9066, this poster represents its the most effective statement (images may be subject to copyright):


And this image represents its consequences:


Nations define themselves in terms of their borders, but what is particularly interesting to me is what happens when nations define themselves in opposition to groups of individuals (in many cases, actual citizens) residing within their interior--as was the case in the many Native American Relocations and in the Japanese American Incarceration in the 1940s.

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