Unit 1: Tribal Sovereignty – Alaska

Lesson 1: Sovereignty and the Doctrine of Discovery

Objective 1: Students understand the concept of sovereignty and apply it to their understanding of Native American tribes preexisting the colonization of the Americas and the formation of the United States, and recognize that tribal sovereignty continues to exist today.

Objective 2: Students are familiar with the concept behind the Doctrine of Discovery utilized by Christian European nations in the European colonization of the Americas and the role of Papal Bulls in the creation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Students understand the use of the Doctrine of Discovery by conquering nations as a justification for the claiming of land already occupied by indigenous people.

Objective 3: Students understand each of the 10 Elements of the Doctrine of Discovery outlined in the introduction to “Native America, Discovered and Conquered” by Robert J. Miller:

  1. First Discovery
  2. Actual Occupancy and Current Possession
  3. Preemption/European Title
  4. Indian Title (Aboriginal Title)
  5. Tribal Limited Sovereign and Commercial Rights
  6. Contiguity
  7. Terra Nullius
  8. Christianity
  9. Civilization
  10. Conquest

Objective 4: Students understand that the Doctrine of Discovery remains the basis for many aspects of U.S. law today. Students are familiar with the current movement to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

Lesson Ideas

  • Tribal Sovereignty Class Discussion: Have students write down what they believe sovereignty means, with two or three specific examples. Then have a class discussion about definitions of sovereignty, and students’ questions about sovereignty. Ask students how they believe the concept of sovereignty applies to Native American and Alaska Native tribes and discuss this topic with students. Ask students if they believe tribal sovereignty exists in the United States today and discuss amongst the class. At the end of the class discussion students should understand that tribal sovereignty does exist in the United States, and that they will be learning about how it has evolved over time with tribes’ relationship to the federal government. Use real-life examples to illustrate tribal sovereignty as it exists in the lives of Alaska Natives.
  • Doctrine of Discovery Vocabulary and Concept Exercise/Discussion: Have students become familiar with the following vocabulary words/terms: indigenous peoples, colonization, conquest, Christian European nations (in the context of colonialism), Age of Discovery, Papal Bulls, Doctrine of Discovery. Use an illustrative example to explain the concept of “discovery” to the students. This can be as simple as arranging with one of the students to pretend to steal one of their personal items in front of the class and claiming it as your own. Students will likely protest, and you can argue that you “discovered” the item, so it is yours. This exercise could be a segue into a class discussion about the ideas behind European “discovery” of the “New World,” the indigenous perspective that is generally left out from historical accounts and teachings about this time, and how the conquest and colonization of indigenous lands and peoples was justified through the Doctrine of Discovery.
  • Doctrine of Discovery Exercise: Provide students with definitions of each of the 10 Elements of the Doctrine of Discovery from “Native America, Discovered and Conquered” by Robert J. Miller, and go over the definitions with the students. Prepare a large map to use in the exercise that delineates territories of several indigenous groups in North America prior to colonization. Divide the students into groups that represent the indigenous groups on the map and several Christian European nations. Act out various scenarios with the “nations” that illustrate the elements of the Doctrine of Discovery.
  • Opinion Essay: Have students conduct internet research about the Doctrine of Discovery and efforts to repudiate it. After conducting research, have students write short essays explaining their views on the Doctrine of Discovery and the repudiation efforts.
  • Video: Have students watch some or part of the film “Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” then have a class discussion on the ideas and information presented in the film. A copy of the film can be purchased here: http://www.38plus2productions.com/.

Lesson 2: Marshall Trilogy

Objective 1: Students understand the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) in terms of the incorporation of the Doctrine of Discovery into case law in the United States. Students understand that through this decision, the United States is effectively filling the shoes of Britain as colonizing nation.

Objective 2: Students understand the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) in terms of the relationship between the United States government and Indian tribes. Students are familiar with the Court’s designation of tribes as “domestic dependent nations” and what this means for tribal sovereignty.

Objective 3: Students understand the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Worcester v. Georgia (1832) in terms of recognition of the sovereignty of Native American tribes.

Lesson Ideas

  • Context for the Marshall Trilogy: Provide a background lesson on the historical context in which the Marshall trilogy took place (in the early history of the United States after the Revolutionary War), and who Chief Justice Marshall was.
  • Online Lesson: Have students visit the UAF Tribal Management Program’s webpage on the Marshall Trilogy, read the information presented, and watch the short video clips included on the page.  https://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-1/marshall-trilogy-1823-1832/
  • Marshall Trilogy Group Projects: Separate the class into three groups and assign each group one of the cases in the Marshall Trilogy. Provide each group with the basic facts of the case and the decision of the court and have the groups conduct Internet research to fill in information, or simply assign the cases and have the groups conduct all of the research to determine the facts of the case and the decision. Have each group create a storyboard, video, or skit to illustrate their assigned case. Each production should include an explanation of what the group believes the case means for tribal sovereignty in the United States. Each group will present their production to the class, followed by a class discussion on the group’s interpretation of the rulings and their meanings for tribal sovereignty. This can be separated into three classes, with one group presenting on each day.

Lesson 3: Plenary Powers of Congress

Objective 1: Students are familiar with Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the Commerce Clause, which provides Congress with the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” Students understand how this clause was used to provide Congress with authority over Indian affairs.

Objective 2: Students understand that the power of Congress over Indian affairs was greatly expanded through interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court to become plenary powers.

Objective 3: Students understand the meaning of plenary powers as absolute control over Indian affairs. Students understand what this means in terms of Congressional ability to pass laws concerning tribes and diminished tribal sovereignty.

Lesson Ideas

  • Online Lesson: Have students visit the UAF Tribal Management Program’s webpage on the U.S. Constitution and Congress, read the information presented, and watch the short video clips included on the page. https://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-1/u-s-constitution-and-congress/
  • Research Report: Have students research the United States v. Kagama case and provide a written report on the background/facts of the case, the ruling, and how it illustrates the plenary powers of Congress over Indian tribes.

Lesson 4: Treaties/Indian Reservations/Indian Country

Objective 1: Students are familiar with the role of treaties in dealings between the U.S. government and tribes. Students understand that treaties are legal agreements signed between sovereign entities and are the supreme law of the land.

Objective 2: Students understand what an Indian Reservation is. Students understand that reservations are lands that are reserved by tribes from the federal government, not land granted to tribes by the federal government. Students are familiar with the different circumstances in which reservations were established, some on the traditional lands of tribes, and some involving removal from traditional lands to locations far away.

Objective 3: Students understand the role of treaties in the creation of reservations and some of the common terms involved, such as establishing treaty hunting and fishing rights in certain areas or the relinquishment of aboriginal title.

Objective 4: Students understand what Indian Country is and its importance for the ability of tribes to exercise certain sovereign powers within reservations and other lands considered to be Indian Country.

Lesson Ideas

  • Treaty Exploration: Using an online resource such as this database: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/ntreaty.asp have students select treaties to study between the U.S. Government and a Native American tribe. Have each student write an outline identifying the basic terms of the treaty, then once outlines are complete have a class discussion identifying similar themes among the treaties. Include in the discussion students’ impressions of the treaty language and terms.
  • Informational Posters: Select one Indian Reservation for each student in the class to research (make sure that there is enough information available on the Internet about each reservation to conduct this assignment). Have the students develop posters on their assigned reservation, including a map of the reservation and information on the tribe it is associated with, some history behind the tribe and the reservation (whether or not removal was involved), and information on treaties that may have been signed between the tribe and the federal government. Hang the posters up in the classroom.
  • Class Discussion: After the posters have been completed and students have reviewed each others’ research, have a class discussion to identify some of the common themes students may have noticed about treaty terms they found, such as hunting and fishing rights and relinquishment of aboriginal title. Another topic for discussion/instruction could be the history of the federal government not upholding its treaty obligations to tribes, which students may have found information on in their research.
  • Indian Country Presentations: Introduce the definition of Indian Country provided in the law, and what it means in terms of tribal jurisdiction and the ability of tribes to exercise sovereign powers.  Provide examples of powers that tribes have within Indian Country, including the management of fish and game resources, gaming authority, criminal jurisdiction, etc. Have students divide into groups and conduct research on one of the aspects of the Indian Country definition: reservations (if the class has already covered reservations this can be excluded from this assignment), allotments, dependent Indian communities, and trust land. Have students prepare Power Point presentations on their research findings, including definitions of those terms and the legal context/court cases that helped to define them. Students can present as a group to the class.

Lesson 5: Federal Trust Responsibility

Objective 1: Students understand that the U.S. government has certain trust obligations to tribes and tribal members that arise from court decisions such as Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and treaties that have been signed with tribes over the years.

Objective 2: Students are familiar with the main trust responsibilities of the U.S. government toward tribes, such as protecting Indian trust lands and their rights to use those lands, protecting tribal sovereignty and rights of self-governance, and providing basic social, medical, and educational services for tribes.

Objective 3: Students understand the role of agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service in fulfilling the trust responsibilities of the U.S. to tribes.

Lesson Ideas

  • Review of Trust Obligations to Tribes: Use the term ‘federal trust responsibility’ as a central theme in a class discussion/brainstorming session on what the students have learned about the federal government’s obligations to tribes. Write ideas and examples down on the board as students raise them until most or all of the basic trust obligations covered have been listed. If needed, remind students about the ward/guardian relationship established in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and about other obligations established through treaties such as providing for healthcare and the protection of trust land. Emphasize the underlying idea that these obligations did not arise without reason, but that tribes “paid” to have these protections in place with the relinquishment of most, if not all, of their land to the federal government.
  • Trust Obligations in Action- BIA: Have students conduct Internet research on the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), primarily by browsing the BIA website. Have students also conduct Internet research on BIA programs and services that exist in the students’ community/region specifically. One good resource might be the website of the regional Alaska Native non-profit organization or tribal consortium (for example, in the Bering Straits region this would be Kawerak, Inc.).  While browsing the websites, have students make note of the following: new information they learned about the BIA and its services, questions they have, and information/services listed on the websites that they recognize as having an impact/role in their life or community. After the browsing is complete, go around the room and have students volunteer some of their notes from each category. Another option might be having someone who works for a BIA program in the community or region visit the classroom and present on his/her work and answer questions.
  • Trust Obligations in Action- IHS: Have students conduct Internet research on the Indian Health Service (IHS), primarily by browsing the IHS website. Have the students also conduct Internet research on the Alaska Native healthcare provider for their community/region (for example, in the Bering Straits region this would be the Norton Sound Health Corporation). While browsing the websites, have students make note of the following: new information they learned about the IHS and its services, questions they have about the IHS, and information/services listed on the IHS website that they recognize as having an impact/role in their life or community. After the browsing is complete, go around the room and have students volunteer some of their notes from each category.

Lesson 6: How Is Alaska Different?

Objective 1: Students understand that no treaties were signed between tribes in Alaska and the U.S. government because Congress ceased treaty making with tribes in 1871, four years after the purchase of Alaska by the United States.

Objective 2: Students know the history of reservations in Alaska, with an understanding that while no treaties were signed, reservations were established through such processes as executive order, in Alaska. Students understand that these reservations no longer exist, with the exception of the Annette Island Reserve created by Congress for the Tsimshian community of Metlakatla.

Objective 3: Students understand the significance of the lack of treaties and reservations in Alaska, and are familiar with some of the ways these differences have been used by courts to diminish the sovereignty of Alaskan tribes.

Lesson Ideas

  • Online Lesson: Have students visit the UAF Tribal Management Program’s webpage on Russians in Alaska and U.S. Purchase and read the information presented, and watch the short video clip included on the page. https://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-1/russians-in-alaska-and-u-s-purchase/
  • Online Lesson: Have students visit the UAF Tribal Management Program’s webpage on Early Years in Alaska after Purchase and read the information presented.  https://tm112.community.uaf.edu/unit-1/early-years-in-alaska-after-purchase/
  • Assigned Reading and Discussion: Have students read “What Rights to Land Have Alaska Natives? The Primary Question” by Willie Hensley, available at the Alaskool website: http://www.alaskool.org/projects/ancsa/wlh/WLH66_2.htm. Ask students if there were ideas or themes in the paper that they recognized from previous lessons, or if any patterns in the treatment of Alaska Natives by the federal government after the purchase of Alaska caught their attention. Present the major themes from the paper on how the situation of Alaska Natives in relation to the federal government after the purchase of Alaska was different from the relations between tribes in the lower 48 and the federal government. Include information on the context of Alaska at the time, with little government presence throughout the state other than in Southeast Alaska and less pressure to create space for colonization. Inform the students that reservations no longer exist in Alaska, with the exception of Metlakatla, and discuss the implications of the lack of Indian Country in Alaska for tribes.
  • Alaskan Reservations: Have students create a map of Alaska that displays reservations that have existed in the state, when and how they were created, and when and why they were discontinued. Have each student write a brief description of the stated purpose for the reservation and other pertinent details in a document to be posted in the classroom along with the map.