Bloody Kansas

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

In the past few months, the southern Great Plains have become something of a flashpoint in US politics, although not with the level of violence seen prior to the US Civil War. Recently, the issue hasn’t been whether Kansas should enter the union as a free or slave state, but rather over whether the validity of indigenous governments and populations in Kansas and Oklahoma supersedes or is subject to the (White-dominated) Kansas and Oklahoma state governments.

In Oklahoma, the issue has come to light as a result of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ joint government choosing to recognize same-gender marriages, leading to three widely reported marriage. Through the sovereign tribal government, the members of those marriages are entitled to federal marital benefits. At least, they should be, but Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern has insisted otherwise, arguing that it is “sad” that the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ laws don’t “recognize what 75 percent of the voters of Oklahoma declared” which conveniently missing the point that as a sovereign tribe, Oklahoman law is moot. Technically speaking those tribes are “domestic dependent nations” which are only subject to regulation by the federal government – as a sort of quasi-vassal to the United States, not Oklahoma or any other US state.

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(The most recent couple to marry under the auspices of the tribe, Jason Pickel [L] and Darren Black Bear [R], from the above link.)

In an odd way, the quarrel isn’t actually about marriage law, since Oklahoma is not (and neither is Kansas) a state that is among those refusing to recognize the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That granted same-gender couples federally-guaranteed marriage rights and at least within US military contexts full-faith-and-credit, meaning that their marriage under (say) Massachusetts law will be recognized in federal offices across the country. Oklahoma is not behaving in the manner seemingly reserved for states that previously attempted to secede (and, Indiana, the odd one out). The matter that Kern is working with to further her heterosexist opinion is her (inaccurate) belief that Oklahoman law should at least to some degree determine the laws of sovereign indigenous governments within the territory of Oklahoma.

This past Spring, something similar rocked Kansas, where Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors, an indigenous woman, responded to anti-immigrant rhetoric by stating that she saw the Whites who dominate Kansas state politics as “illegal immigrants” who had jeopardized the way of life for indigenous people across the continent. In short, she flipped the script and challenged the White, Kansan Secretary of State to prove his validity as a state official within the context of him using devaluing language, like “illegal”.

In the southern Great Plains, it seems that over the course of the past year many prominent political figures have begun challenging the unusual legal status of indigenous governments – both from the perspective that they may be more valid governments than the states set up by (primarily White) settlers as part of American expansionism and from those who view those state governments as more valid than tribal ones. Things may be changing in that corner of the United States in a way that might force all residents of the US to rethink the odd legal status of indigenous peoples and their political rights within our borders.

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