MSU 4th Annual Indian Law Conference
A bit tardy, but I wanted to congratulate Matthew Fletcher, Wenona Singel, and the rest of the Michigan State Indigenous Law and Policy Center on a fabulous and informative conference. The theme of the conference was Indian Law and Literature and they put together a wonderful mix of speakers. From linguists to English professors and law professors, the conference was two days of different perspectives into the relationships between law, language, and culture. Those perspectives provided a great deal of food for thought.
As the adage states, "if you have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail." It is easy for law professors (including myself) to become locked into tunnel vision and view everything as solvable with the right statute and/or the right court decision. But law, or more specifically the legal system, does not always hold the answer or the key to solving a problem.
I teach a course called Protection of Minority and Indigenous Cultures, and the theme of the course centers around examining the ways law can be used to solve cultural disputes. Such disputes are often intractable because of the conflict of values and the issues at stake. The class explores topics such as mascots, access to sacred sites, and cultural property.
Although the legal system can and often does reach a "conclusion," that conclusion is not always efficient or the best use of resources or even accepted by the litigants as the "end" of the matter. The fact that the monetary compensation awarded in Sioux v. United States for the wrongful taking of the Black Hills is sitting untouched in the US treasury decades after that decision was handed down illustrates the latter proposition. (Kirsten Matoy Carlson's presentation at the conference on the role of narrative in litigation addressed the social dynamics driving that chain of events).
And sometimes education and community action is more effective than litigation, as illustrated by the controversy over the use of Indians and Indian symbols as sports mascots.
And sometimes bringing everyone to the table to talk it out, as was done with the Final Climbing Management Clan for Devil's Tower.
The broad range of speakers at MSU's conference furthered this trend of incorporating different perspectives and different approaches to problem solving. Congratulations and thanks to MSU for bringing us all together.