Making Sovereignty Mean Something: Native Nations and Creative Adaptation

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Author: Michelle Watts, American Public University System, United States of America
Email: [email protected]
Published: July 14, 2021
https://doi.org/10.22492/ijcs.6.1.01

Citation: Watts, M. (2021). Making Sovereignty Mean Something: Native Nations and Creative Adaptation. IAFOR Journal of Cultural Studies, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijcs.6.1.01


Abstract

Scholarship regarding Native Nations has often focused on the problems of Native Nations caused by a brutal history of genocide, repression and forced assimilation. Relatively little attention has been paid to how Native Nations creatively adapt to their circumstances in a continual process of reinvention. This article provides insights into Native Nations through examples in the lower 48 states and Alaska. This study, based on 16 interviews the author conducted with Native Nations leaders in Alaska and the lower 48 states, demonstrates how Native Nations adapt to their unique circumstances to make sovereignty meaningful, because of and in spite of federal legislation that seeks to govern Nation Nations. Ultimately, I argue that many Native Nations today are purposefully modernizing by creatively adapting to their circumstances, transforming systems of governance, and leveraging economic tools, integrating their own evolving cultural practices. While modernization implies following a Western developmental path, purposeful modernization is driven by the choices of the people. While change was forced upon Native Nations in numerous, often devastating, ways since colonization, they have nevertheless asserted agency and formed governments and economic institutions that reflect and reinforce their own cultural norms. This article highlights examples of how Native Nations and the lower 48 have adapted given the very different circumstances created in part by state and federal policies such as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

Keywords

creative adaptation, economic sovereignty, gaming, governance, Harvard Project on American Indian Development, indigenous, purposeful modernization, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)