A Perpetual Peace: American Indian Treaties and the Environment

Dissertation, Michigan Technological University (2003)

Hasian, Condit, and Lucaites argue that there is "a need for investigating and implementing procedures that would democratize the legal system"i and that the boundaries of the law provide a fruitful site for such investigation. I would argue that one particularly relevant site to recover such procedures is American Indian law. American Indian treaties, although more so in terms of their negotiation rather than their final form, are hybrid documents, combining elements from both indigenous and Western law. Because treaties exist at the boundaries between two systems of law, they are positioned not only to illuminate differences in practice but also to shed light on the balance of power between Indian nations and the U.S. government. Evidence of law's boundaries can be found, for example, in the adherence to, or abandonment of, indigenous practices of law over time. The journals of the proceedings in particular, which recorded the negotiation of the treaties, also documented cultural understandings of power, leadership, human relations, and attitudes toward the land. So if ever there were an opportunity to investigate and implement procedures leading to a more democratized legal system, this would be one. ;Traditional American Indian communication practices were not, and still are not, empty rituals or colorful customs of an exotic culture performed for the entertainment of outsiders. Neither are American Indian law practices the quaint customs of a long-gone past but living traditions still practiced today. I document this continuity in practice by investigating two sites: first, the historical journal of the proceedings from the 1825 Treaty of Prairie du Chien, and then in the contemporary rhetoric of their descendents, Anishinaabe environmental activists. Rhetorical analyses of these texts reveal not only American Indian concepts of law, peace, and kinship but also an environmental ethic, all based upon a rhetoric of responsibility rather than rights. ;Treaties may always be the primary written documents scrutinized in the courts when treaty rights are being asserted or challenged, but if we were serious about democratizing our legal system, then we would do well to implement many of the traditional communication practices rooted in our indigenous heritage. ;iMarouf Hasian, Jr., Celeste Michelle Condit, and John Louis Lucaites, "The Rhetorical Boundaries of 'the Law': A Consideration of the Rhetorical Culture of Legal Practice and the Case of the 'Separate But Equal' Doctrine," Quarterly Journal of Speech 82 , 339
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