The founding principles of U.S. law regarding Native Americans, first articulated in the 1830s, define them as “domestic dependent nations” who retain powers of self-government but who are also in a “state of pupilage” to the federal government, in a relationship like that of a “ward to its guardian.” This ambiguous status has offered cover for the shifting winds of U.S. political sentiment, leading sometimes to calls for the assimilation of Native peoples, sometimes for their rights to self-determination. Despite these shifts, tribes like the Hopi Nation in Arizona persist in their claims to being sovereign nations who nonetheless enjoy a unique trust relationship with the U.S. Since the 1990s, and passage of laws like Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, this relationship has been executed pursuant to rules requiring “meaningful tribal consultation” whenever U.S. agencies or their grantees propose actions that may impact Native peoples and their resources, particularly those of substantial natural and/or cultural significance. Disagreement persists about meaningful tribal consultation and its efficacies however. This talk deploys insights from indigenous studies, and legal and linguistic anthropology to analyze the details of the consultations Richland has observed, since 2012, between Hopi Nation officials and their non-native counterparts in the U.S. Forest Service and the Field Museum of Natural History. Unpacking those interactions in light of Hopi theories of knowledge and authority, through a theory of legal language as juris-diction, Richland argues that these consultations enact Hopi and Anglo-legal norms of “significance” in complex, contradictory ways. He suggests that understanding “meaningful tribal consultation,” and the settler legal status of Native Nations more generally, requires understanding how indigenous nations enact the conditions of their authority through juris-diction and the relations and refusals to settler colonialism this inevitably entails.
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