Rebecca Nagle, citizen of the Cherokee Nation, journalist, activist, and podcast host, recently visited Miami University to present “Tribal Sovereignty 101” where she discussed tribal sovereignty, how U.S. policy impacts the rights of tribes, and how the rights of tribes impact tribal citizens.
Rebecca grew up in Joplin, MO, less than 40 miles from the Miami Tribe’s headquarters in Miami, OK, and currently lives in Tahlequah, OK, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. Much of her career as a journalist and activist has focused on Native American representation and tribal sovereignty.
Rebecca is well-known for her award-winning podcast This Land where she reports on how Supreme Court decisions affect land rights, sovereignty, and Native American communities across the country.
The evening before Rebecca’s presentation, she visited our Myaaamia Heritage class to learn more about Myaamia language revitalization and get to know our Myaamia campus community a little better. Rebecca’s podcast is popular with Myaamia Center staff and she was kind enough to chat about her work with us.
Nearly 200 people attended Rebecca’s presentation in Shideler Hall, with an additional 66 people joining the presentation via live-stream.
While the goal of the presentation was to educate the audience on tribal sovereignty and its importance, Rebecca first explained how the erasure of Native Americans from places like education, news media, and entertainment has contributed to a general lack of knowledge about tribal sovereignty among U.S. citizens.
T.V. shows and movies rarely feature Native people; when they do, it’s often poor representation, Rebecca told us. Most of this representation perpetuates a common idea that Native people are historical groups that no longer exist, rather than real, living communities and governments. She shared eye-opening statistics about the lack of news coverage tribes receive in mainstream news outlets and how this erasure from the media can make it easier to form or reinforce stereotypes.
“In the imagination of a lot of U.S. citizens, I think we [Native Americans] aren’t totally real,” Rebecca said.
These stereotypes aren’t just believed by the general public, either. Public leaders at every level of government hold dangerous stereotypes that Native tribes are insignificant or no longer exist. This means U.S. leaders and lawmakers are often making important, impactful decisions based upon dangerous stereotypes and half-truths about tribal sovereignty.
So, if understanding tribal sovereignty is this important, what is it?
To put it simply, tribal sovereignty is a layer of government just like the other layers of government working within the United States, Rebecca explained.
But tribal sovereignty is more than just a functioning layer of government, it’s a legal obligation made by the federal government to Native nations, creating a legal framework for the collective rights of these Native nations.
While the explicit recognition of these rights, won by generations of Native American lawmakers and activists, can be found written into U.S. law, sovereignty was never “given” to Native Americans. Forces of colonization will try to limit how tribal governments exercise their sovereignty, but Native nations pre-date the United States government, meaning we’ve had sovereignty since time immemorial.
Tribal sovereignty is the inherent right to land, culture, language, self-governance, and self-determination, Rebecca explained.
At the end of her presentation, Rebecca provided a list of Native resources to stay up to date on current issues in Indian Country:
- Indian Country Today
- NDN Collective
- Native News Online
- Native American Journalist Association
If you’d like to learn more about Native American representation in the media, I highly recommend checking out Illuminative, specifically “The Power of Native Representation in Entertainment” guide.
To learn more about sovereignty within the Miami Tribe, check out Myaamia Sovereignty in the 21st Century.
Rebecca Nagle’s presentation was a collaborative effort of The Western Center for Social Impact and Innovation and the Myaamia Center as a part of Miami University’s 2022/2023 Focus Initiative: Tribal Sovereignty.