NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ793370
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 19
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0161-6463
The Paradox of Sovereignty: Contingencies of Meaning in American Indian Treaty Discourse
Russell, Caskey
American Indian Culture and Research Journal, v32 n1 p1-19 2008
American Indian treaties and treaty law may seem to fall solely within the purview of legal methodology and critical analysis, yet the 367 American Indian treaties signed with the US federal government beg for the type of dissection and analysis generally associated with cultural and literary critical theory. The tools by which texts are dissected can elucidate the mutable nature of treaty discourse and cut to the core of the hierarchical power structures inherent in relations between the US government and American Indian nations. Treaties are discourses that have had, and continue to have, literal real-world impact. Treaties have created a paradoxical situation for American Indians who push for sovereign political autonomy from the United States: treaties grant and deny sovereignty. In this article, the author examines the discourse of American Indian treaties, and subsequent twentieth-century treaty legislation, with a critical eye toward the sociopolitical contingencies, historical and contemporary, that determine how these discourses achieve meaning. Ultimately, he argues that treaties have become "fourth-world" texts that create this paradoxical notion of sovereignty. In understanding the nature of fourth-world texts, current American Indian activists and scholars can effectively influence how treaties create meaning in the twenty-first century. There are two primary texts for this essay. The first is the Treaty of Medicine Creek (1854) signed in western Washington between the US government and nine American Indian nations. It is the first of ten so-called Stevens Treaties, named after then governor Isaac I. Stevens, signed between 1854 and 1855 (the Medicine Creek treaty served as a model for subsequent Stevens Treaties). The second text is Judge George Boldt's 1974 ruling in "U.S. v. Washington," which is known as the "Boldt Decision." Other western Washington Stevens Treaties are lightly touched on in order to emphasize shades of similarity or difference inWashington State treaty history. (Contains 37 notes.)
American Indian Studies Center at UCLA. 3220 Campbell Hall, Box 951548, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1548. Tel: 310-825-7315; Fax: 310-206-7060; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A