In the very first case to come before the United States Supreme Court involving a significant Native American issue, Chief Justice John Marshall ominously described the American judicial system as “the courts of the conqueror.” — Walter Echo-Hawk
Native Americans have been especially impacted by the decisions of our Judicial system, especially at the level of the U.S. Supreme Court. Often times these decisions were made with all the prevailing prejudices, blind spots, and assumptions of the society at large. Distinguished author and lawyer Walter Echo-Hawk has written a new book, In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, that chronicles the sad pursuit of a legal justification for the denial of human rights, the appropriation of property, and actions that would be described as genocide today.
Echo-Hawk is unflinching in his analysis of past judicial wrongs, but he is also remarkably balanced and forgiving: “Americans are fundamentally fair….They can be relied upon to confront injustice and do the right thing, once educated about pressing indigenous needs.” And he sees great hope in an enlightened judiciary: “The function of the law is to serve a changing society and uphold its values, not to hold it prisoner to an unjust past.”
Walter Echo-Hawk has been a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund for over 35 years, with a special emphasis on religious freedoms, and the repatriation of Native American remains. In addition to litigation, Echo-Hawk worked on major legislation such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and federal religious freedom legislation. He serves as an Associate Justice for the Supreme Court of the Pawnee Nation. Walter Echo-Hawk is also the creator and chairman of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation.
Here are a few more books from the Land Library’s shelves on Native Americans and the legal system:
Conquest by Law: How the Discovery of America Dispossessed Indigenous Peoples of Their Lands by Lindsay Robertson, Braid of Feathers: American Indian Law and Contemporary Tribal Life by Frank Pommersheim, along with Pommersheim’s most recent book, Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution (not pictured), How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the American Frontier by Stuart Banner, Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations by Charles Wilkinson