Reactions to Louise Erdrich’s Novel, “The Night Watchman”

After a rave review of Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman,” from Luis Alberto Urrea,[1] I was interested in learning more about federal efforts in the 1950s to terminate the legal status of Indians and, therefore, bought and started reading the book.[2]

Immediately, however, I had difficulty. The Table of Contents has a list of  over 100 unnumbered separate sections or scenes, not called chapters, with cursory titles whose significance or meaning becomes clear only after you had read the “chapters.” Moreover, these sections or “chapters” were not  placed into separate titled groups to help the reader. Over the entire list is a heading “September 1953” although it becomes apparent that not everything in all of those sections happens that month. In addition, the Reading Guide by the publisher was not very helpful, in my opinion.

Another difficulty was the large number of characters, many of whom are referred to by their Indian names sometimes and by other names on other occasions. And there is no separate listing of the characters with their different names and relationships with one another that would have helped the reader.

Reading some of the first “chapters” revealed that they are mostly about different facets of life on the reservation of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. This prompted the thought that Erdrich should have broken this book into two books; the first containing these stories and the second the battle over the legislation in Congress in 1953-54. As these reflections suggest, I was interested in the latter, not the former although the previously mentioned Urrea review emphasized the former.

Rather than giving up on the book, however, I re-read Erdrich’s explanations of the book in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning and the “Afterword and Acknowledgements” at the end. I then did some basic research about the federal efforts in 1953-54 to change the legal status of Indian tribes. Next I returned  to the chapter about the congressional hearing about the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes”) and working backwards scanned the previous “chapters” to see whether and how, if at all, this congressional effort had been discussed. I was amazed to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas), all the way back to the fourth “chapter”  (“The Watcher”).

This analysis made me remember that in 1953-54 there were no internet and 24-7 television news programs and think that one of the stories the novel apparently was telling was that even though Congress adopted the Resolution on August 1, 1953, it was not until  the next month (September 1953) that limited information about the Resolution was only gradually discovered by the Night Watchman and eventually prompting him and a committee of the Turtle Mountain Band to organize and mount a (successful) campaign against the applicability of the Resolution to their Band. In the meantime, other members of that Band were engaging in normal events in their lives and implicitly demonstrating the Band was not ready for such termination. However, I confess that I was not interested in these tales.

Here then is my examination of Erdrich’s explanations of the novel, my basic research about the termination issue and the references to that issue in the earlier “chapters” of the book, all causing my re-evaluation of the book.

Erdrich’s Explanation of the Novel

Erdrich’s beginning “Author’s Note” tells us that on August 1,1953, the U.S. Congress “announced ” [adopted] House Concurrent Resolution 108, which would “abrogate nation-to-nation treaties, which had been made with American Indian Nations for ‘as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow,’” for “the eventual termination of all tribes, and the immediate termination of five tribes, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.” That Band  then was chaired by Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau (the night watchman, Thomas Wazhashk, in the novel), who led the Band’s opposition to such termination. The only other parts of the novel that are factual, Erdrich says, are the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant and U.S. Senator Arthur V. Watkins, who was a “relentless pursuer of Native dispossession and the man who interrogated my grandfather.”

Erdrich’s “Afterword and Acknowledgments” says that the mid-1950s were “a time when Jim Crow reigned and American Indians were at the nadir of power—our traditional religions outlawed, our land base continually and illegally seized (even as now) by resource extraction companies, our languages weakened by government boarding schools.[3] Our officials were also answerable to assimilationist government officials: as an example, just look at the ‘advisory committee ‘ in my grandfather’s designation. He and his fellow tribal members had almost no authority. Their purpose was to advise the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], but they seized any opportunity to represent their people. The 1950s were a time when the scraps of land and the rights guaranteed by treaty were easy pickings. With the postwar housing boom, the fabulous Klamath and Menominee forests were especially coveted. It is no coincidence that those tribes were among the first five slated for termination.”

Erdrich also informs the reader that she now possesses her grandfather’s letters from 1953-54 that are “packed with remarkable, funny, stereotype-breaking episodes of reservation life” and reveal a man “of deeply humane intelligence as well as a profoundly religious patriot and family man.” The letters also reveal his “anxieties” as chairman of the advisory committee and his understanding that the Concurrent Resolution was “a new front in the Indian Wars” and “about the worst thing for Indians to come down the pike.” Yet the Turtle Mountain Band “was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail. They altered the trajectory of termination and challenged the juggernaut of the federal push to sever legal, sacred, and immutable promises made in nation-to-nation treaties.” (Emphasis added.)

“In all, 113 tribal nations suffered the disaster of termination; 1.4 million areas of tribal land was lost. Wealth flowed to private corporations, while many people in terminated tribes died early, in poverty. Not one tribe profited. By the end, 78 tribal nations, including the Menominee. . . regained federal recognition; 10 gained state but not federal recognition; 31 tribes are landless; 24 are considered extinct.” Senator Arthur V. Watkins was indeed a pompous racist.” Erdrich also refers to Ada Deer’s Making a Difference: My Fight for Native Rights and Social Justice (Univocal. Press 2019) as “great reading on this subject.”[4]

Although the Afterword says “the Turtle Mountain Band was the first to mount a fierce defense and prevail,” neither that Afterword nor the novel  itself says when and how the Band prevailed. After the last words of the novel’s last chapter, separated only by three dots, however, Erdrich as the author states, “The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was not terminated.” But there were no specifics as to how or when it happened or the title or text of the bill or other measure that made it happen. This important fact, in my opinion, should have been included in the Afterword with more details. Even better, in my opinion, would have been a concluding chapter of the novel that discussed the victory and some kind of celebration by the Band.

“In 1970, Richard Nixon addressed Congress and called for an end to this policy. Five years later, a new era of self-determination for Native people began.”

Research About the Federal Effort To End Status of Indian Tribes[5]

I had not previously known about this congressional action and wanted to know more. Therefore, before reading the novel, I did some basic Internet research and came up with the following.

According to Wikipedia, “On 1 August 1953, the US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 108 which called for the immediate termination of the FlatheadKlamathMenomineePotawatomi, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa, as well as all tribes in the states of CaliforniaNew YorkFlorida, and Texas. Termination of a tribe meant the immediate withdrawal of all federal aid, services, and protection, as well as the end of reservations. Though termination legislation was introduced (Legislation 4. S. 2748, H.R. 7316. 83rd Congress), termination of Federal Supervision over Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), was not implemented. In 1954, at the Congressional hearings for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, tribal Chairman Patrick Gourneau and a delegation testified at a hearing that the tribe was not financially prepared, had high unemployment and poverty, suffered from low education levels, and termination would be devastating to the tribe. Based on their testimony, the Chippewa were dropped from the tribes to be terminated.” (Emphasis added.)

Wikipedia further states, This Resolution “declared it to be the sense of Congress that it should be policy of the United States to abolish federal supervision over American Indian tribes as soon as possible and to subject the Indians to the same laws, privileges, and responsibilities as other U.S. citizens. This includes an end to reservations and tribal sovereignty, integrating Native Americans into mainstream American society.”

Wikipedia also says, “The consequence of HCR-108 was the beginning of an era of termination policy, in which the federally recognized status of many Native American tribes was revoked, ending the government responsibility to tribe members and withdrawing legal protection to territory, culture, and religion.”

Finally, Wikipedia states, “HCR-108 was passed concurrently with Public Law 280, which granted state jurisdiction over civil and criminal offenses committed by or upon Native Americans in Indian Territory in the states of CaliforniaMinnesotaWisconsinOregon, and Nebraska, all of which have large Indigenous populations.” [6]

The New York Times, which is online searchable for 1953-54 (and earlier), revealed the following additional tidbits of information relevant to the novel: [7]

  • The “Bulova Watch Company and the Simpson Electric Company had jointly established a modern industrial plant at Rolla, N.D,.near the Turtle Mountain Reservation that successfully used the Indians’ “manual dexterity and adaptability” developed through beadwork to produce jewels for watches. However, Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Reservation, believes “every effort [should be] made to move as many Indians as possible toward the industrial centers, rather than attempt to bring industry to them.” Farver also “thinks too much money has been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.” More help, he thought, should be provided to the estimated 250 older “full-blooded” Indians of the 4,500 members of the Turtle Mountain tribe. (Emphasis added.) (These statements by Farver, perhaps in a written report to the Congress, is not mentioned in the novel, but the reference to Indians with white blood suggests the basis for the questioning at the March 1, 1954 congressional hearing of the Turtle Mountain people about how much white blood they had, which is mentioned in the novel.)
  • In September 1953, at the direction of President Eisenhower, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, spent the following two months visiting 10 Indian tribes to obtain their views on the proposed termination and discovered that some bitterly opposed the proposal, some favored it and yet others were divided. (Presumably this included a visit to the Turtle Mountain Band, but there was no mention of this in the novel.)
  • On January 30, 1954, it was announced that joint sessions of the Senate and House Indian Affairs Subcommittees would  hold joint sessions during the last of February and the first half of March to consider 10 Administration bills to end federal administration  of roughly 66,000 Indians. The hearing about the bill concerning the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota would be held on March 1. According to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Glenn L. Emmons, these bills “resulted from ‘a rising tide of sentiment that the Indians of the United States are entitled to exactly the same rights and privileges as the rest of us’ in general public opinion as well as in Congress.” Yet the Commissioner also said that it was “impossible to apply the same yardstick “ to all the tribes.
  • On March 25, 1954, the Association of American Indian Affairs warned that “ homeless poverty” was in store for thousands of American Indians if these bills were enacted. The bills “would destroy tribal governments and nullify rights assured by treaties” and are “ill-advised, untimely and off-target.” They are “no answer . . . to the poverty of the Turtle Mountain Chippewas of North Dakota.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)
  • These charges were repeated at the Association’s annual meeting on May 5, 1954. Its president, Oliver LaFarge, said the tribes picked for “termination” included some of the most advanced and some of the most backward. “Even if the tribes concerned were ready for such deprivations, as most of them are not, the bills as drawn up are ill-conceived and objectionable. Commissioner Emmons, who was present, said that education, health and economic opportunity were his primary goals and was trying to persuade legislators “to set termination daters far enough in advance so the tribes would be ready to go on their own.” (No mention of this was made in the novel.)

Another source, “The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa,” says the 1953 congressional decision to terminate the Turtle Mountain Band was based upon reports by  the BIA Superintendent [Peru Farver] that the Tribe members “have always been resourceful.” In 1954, however, “the Turtle Mountain Band raised funds locally to send a delegation to Washington. Tribal Chairperson Patrick Gourneau testified that the Turtle Mountain people were unprepared economically, still living in poverty, and that such a move [termination] would be devastating. Following the testimony of the Turtle Mountain group, the subcommittee decided that the Turtle Mountain Band was not economically self-sufficient, and was dropped from the list.” This decision recognized “that the Chippewa were still poverty-stricken, occupied an extremely limited land base, suffered from low education levels and high unemployment.”[8] (No mention of these reports by the Superintendent was made in the novel.)

The major congressional proponent of the termination of special status for the Indians was U.S. Senator (Rep., UT) Arthur Vivian Watkins (1888-1973). “He equated such action with the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves during the Civil War and asserted that it was backed by the following tenets: (1)To eliminate laws that treated Native Americans as different from other Americans; (2) To dismantle the BIA giving responsibility for their affairs to the tribes themselves, or if necessary transferring some of its duties to other federal and state agencies; (3) To end federal supervision of individual Indians; and (4) To cease federal guardianship responsibilities for Indian tribes and their resources.”

By the time Watkins lost his bid for re-election in 1958, these Indian policies he had pursued “ were proving to have disastrous effects on Native peoples. Tribes were cut off from services for education, health care, housing, sanitation and utility sources, and related resources. Termination directly caused decay within the tribe including poverty, alcoholism, high suicide rates, low educational achievement, disintegration of the family, poor housing, high dropout rates from school, disproportionate numbers in penal institutions, increased infant mortality, decreased life expectancy, and loss of identity. In addition, the era of conformity was moving into the Sixties and its calls for social change and a growing sensitivity to minority rights.”[9]

In 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Watkins to the Indians Claims Commission, becoming its chairman and subsequently its chief commissioner.

All of this research made me want to search for, and examine, the actual congressional materials from 1953-54 about the “termination” campaign, but such an effort is impossible now due to the “shelter in place” pandemic policies in the U.S.

The Novel’s Early References to the Termination Issue

My previously mentioned analysis of the novel started with the “chapter” that clearly focuses on the Concurrent Resolution (# 83 “Termination of Federal Contracts and Promises Made with Certain Tribes of Indians”) and then skimming prior chapters to see if they mentioned the Resolution in any way. I was surprised to discover that there were many such references, often cryptic, usually involving the Night Watchman (Thomas) all the way back to the fourth “chapter”   (“The Watcher”). Here are those references:

“Chapter”

Number

“Chapter”

Title

Reference
      4 The Watcher !. Thomas wrote to North Dakota Republican Senator Milton R. Young and to newspaper columnist Bob Cory requesting meetings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Young

2. At the Jewel Bearing Plant, Thomas read newsletters and other tribes’ newsletters about the passage of “a bill that indicated Congress was fed up with Indians. Again. No hint of strategy. Or panic, but that would come.”

     5 Three Men Moses Montrose (tribal judge) gives Thomas a copy of the bill “that was supposed to emancipate Indians,” but Moses said, “I read it all. They mean to drop us.” (Thomas had not yet seen the bill.).Eddy Mink asked Thomas if he knew about the emancipation. Thomas said yes, but it wasn’t emancipation. Eddy thought it was good idea because then he could sell his 20 acres. He did not care that he would not have a school, clinic, farm agent or government commodities. Thomas:, what about old people who want to keep their land?
     9 Juggie’s Boy Thomas told a Tribesman, “I’m fighting something out of Washington. I don’t know what. But it’s bad.”
    11    Pukkons Thomas tells Biboon (Thomas’ father) government has new plan to take away treaties for all Indians. Dad: Get together with other tribes to oppose.
    13    The Iron Thomas had been trying to understand the papers Moses gave him, to define the unbelievable intent couched in innocuous dry language. The intent was to unmake, unrecognize, erase Indians –all of us invisible and as if we never were here. When the government remembered the Indians, they always tried to solve Indians by getting rid of us. He had no word from the government. He read about it in Minot Daily News. He finally had confirmation that the Turtle Mountain Band was targeted by the U.S. Congress for emancipation. Freed from being Indians, from their land, the treaties that were promised to last forever. The tribal chairman job had turned into a struggle to remain a problem.
    16        A  Bill The Bill: “To provide for the termination of Federal supervision over the property of the Turtle Mountain Band . . in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, and the individual members thereof; for assistance in the orderly relocation of such Indians in areas of greater economic opportunity.” Its author said it was about emancipation, freedom, equality, success. Real purpose was extermination. Another tribal chairman said the author of bill was Arthur V. Watkins, “the most powerful man in Congress” and a Mormon, who wants to change Indians to white.
     17    Who? Thomas thought Indians will be destroyed by “a collection of tedious words.”
     19   2d Who? Thomas: The termination bill. Watkins believed it was for the best. Open the gates of heaven. How could Indians hold themselves apart?
    23 The Old                    Muskrat Biboon (father) tells Thomas: Band got land by forming a delegation and submitting petition. Thomas to take idea to council. Others need to understand contributions of Indians. We are just getting started on our own feet. Have no money for hospitals. Advisory committee met. Thomas suggested petition with signatures and call it The Termination bill.
    26 Louis Pipestone Louis getting signatures on petition.
    30 The Average Woman & Empty Tank Louis getting signatures on petition. Thomas has Juggie preparing tribal newsletter.
    31 The Missionaries Two young Mormons ask Thomas & Noko if they wonder why Indians as ancient people are on this land. Do you want to read Book of Mormon? Thomas asks about Watkins and is told he wrote book about shepherd who learns he is part of secret society. “It was revealed to Joseph Smith that Indians are people of the house of Jacob & children of Lehi.” They gave him a book.
     32 The Beginning Thomas says we need Biboon for Washington fight.
     34 Wild Rooster Driving to Fargo for meeting with BIA to register opposition to Termination Bill.
     35 Arthur V. Watkins Born in 1886 when UT was still territory. Baptized by father (same name), who wrote to Joseph Smith, “We have filed on land on the reservation for us a home” when Ute people & reservation were relieved of 13.8 million acres of land guaranteed by executive orders of Presidents Lincoln & Arthur. Smith & early Mormons tried to murder all Indians in the way. The son was elected to state office & later U.S. Senate. In termination hearing,  he was said to “convey an air of rectitude that was almost terrifying” and “howled in his reedy voice.” He “decided to use the power of his office to finish what the prophet started. He didn’t have to get his hands bloody.”
      38 Metal Blinds 10/19/53 Fargo meeting with BIA officials . Thomas, 45 tribe members & their attorney, John Hail. Thomas: “We are here to discuss the purpose of Concurrent Resolution, which will terminate all federal recognition and support of the [BIA] Turtle Mountain Agency.” The BIA attorney John Cooper read each section of the law. “Disposition of federally owned property to such Indians may be discontinued as no longer necessary—cause such lands to be sold and deposit the proceeds of sale—trust relationship to the affairs of the Band and its members has terminated.” Indians attempting to understand white man reading from sheaf of papers. Thomas asked for comments from other Indians. BIA: it means no “more Indian service for the Turtle Mountains. You will now be equal with whites as far as the government is concerned.” Joyce: This is not equal. Our rights go down. Government is backing out of its agreement. You left us on land too small in size and most cannot be farmed. Government should give more land back, not kick us off the leftovers.” BIA: “you will be relocated to areas of equal opportunity.” Juggie Blue: “We don’t want to leave our homes. We are poor, but even poor people can love their land.. You do not need money to love your home.” Cooper re-read the bill. All 47 Indians voted against the bill. Thomas is told that Millie did research about the Band, maybe that would be useful.
      39    X =? Barnes, the white math teacher & boxing coach talks to Thomas about the Fargo meeting. Barnes thought the bill was good idea; to be regular Americans. Thomas: we cannot be regular Americans. Got right to vote in 1924. We pay taxes, but not on our land.
     41 The Star Powwow Thomas writes to Senator Milton Young & 2 congressmen. Setting up meeting with American Legion to be against bill.
     45 Hay Stack Thomas asks Barnes to set up boxing card to raise money for delegation to go to Washington. We will have a tribal scholar.
     48 Letter to U MN Thomas writes to Millie Cloud at UM for assistance against bill.
     49 The Chippewa Scholar Millie Cloud (the tribal scholar) reads Thomas’ letter at UM.
     53 Battler Royale Thomas worries about testifying in Congress. Reads Mormon books.
     56 The Promotion Thomas explains Bill to Patrice’s Mother.
     59 Good News, Bad News Good news: poor enough to keep & improve status quo; county & state do not want us; sheltered by roofs; we have schools, cure found for TB; we have this report.

Bad news: we are poor; they don’t like us; 97% of roofs by tar paper; many illiterate; many parents died & kids grew up in boarding schools; we have this report.

     64 Two Months Hearing in 2 months (March). Advisory Comm. had to prepare to save tribe. Thomas is scared.
     70 Runner Thomas about to get a county commissioner to write letter of objection. Not sufficient tax base on reservation to care for roads and schools.
    72 The Spirit Duplicator Millie’s report about conditions of tribe printed. To be sent to local & state officials, newspapers, radio announcers. Juggie says erroneous past count of Indians caused reduction of townships form 20 to 2. Mistaken census survey had convinced Congress that Turtle Mountain was prosperous.
     73 Prayer for 1954 Thomas writes to ND’s US Senators Milton R. Young and William “Wild Bill” Langer, the latter favoring termination.
     77 The Lamanites Thomas reads Book of Mormon. Studies text of bill. Writes to Joe Garry, president of National Congress of American Indians for more info on Watkins, who had refused to appropriate funds to relieve Navajo. Book of Mormon explained why he wanted Indians to disappear. Mormons believed they had been divinely gifted of all the land they wanted; Indians were not white and thus had no right to live on the land. Treaties meant nothing.
     79 The Committee Committee was Thomas, Juggie & Millie. Millie worried she could not testify. Moses and Louis don’t want to go. Louis got county & State officials to sign letter of support.
    81 The Journey Train to Mpls/Washington. Thomas read his testimony.
    83 Termination of Federal Contracts & Promises with Indian Tribes March 2-3, 1954 Joint Hearing, Subcommittees of US Congress. Senator Young: ND could not take over; government should fund job-training program on reservation. Thomas: Reservation could not sustain itself without support. Watkins: Indians did not want to farm & leased land to whites. Thomas, I farm. Relocation is ill timed with many difficulties. Watkins: You have to solve most of your problems. Government can’t legislate morality, character or fine virtues. Thomas: I farm & is guard at Plant. Thomas: women at Plant are paid 75 to 90 cents/hr; I take home $38.25/week.  Millie describes her report. Thomas went to Watkins office and thanked him.
     84 The Way Home Thomas recalls every Indian who testified was asked about their degree of Indian blood, and no one knew.[10] (For this reader, these questions were prompted by the previously mentioned prior year’s reports by the Reservation Superintendent that mentioned many of the Turtle Mountain Band had white blood and thus were ready for independence, but this was not mentioned by the novel.) Patrice: Watkins was supercilious with coin-purse mouth, full of sanctimony.
Untitled P.S. by Erdrich Turtle Mountain Band was not terminated.  (However, there was no citation to the name of the bill or other measure that did this or the date on which it happened or the debate (if any) and vote on the measure.)

Conclusion

I am glad that my initial frustrations with this novel did not cause me to abandon the book. The additional efforts at understanding the book and more importantly the congressional efforts to breach U.S. treaties with tribes were rewarded. I also must confess that the stories about the lives of the Indians should make the reader appreciate the courage and imitative of Thomas and the others who went to Washington, D.C. to testify before a congressional committee. I hope this post will encourage others to read the novel and learn about this lamentable facet of U.S. history.[11]

This post has focused on my learning about important aspects of U.S. Native American history after I had retired from practicing law in 2001. I also had learned about another aspect of Native American culture in 1978-79 when as the attorney for the Minneapolis School Board, I sought (unsuccessfully) to persuade the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to modify its school desegregation order to allow the School Board to continue to allow Native American children to attend a new school close to their homes in the Southeast part of the city. That effort also involved the only appeal (also unsuccessful) by the School Board in the many years of that desegregation case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.[12]

====================================

[1] Urrea, a Mexican-American, is a distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. I have enjoyed his novels, Into the Beautiful North and The House of Broken Angels. He also is an entertaining speaker as evidenced by his lecture—”Universal Border: From Tijuana to the World”—at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’ Conference, which I attended. Another positive review of “The Night Watchman” appeared in the Wall Street Journal: Winkler, Louise Erdrich Retells the Story of Her Grandfather and the Chippewa, W.S.J. (Feb. 28, 2020).

[2] The Night Watchman, HarperCollins Publishers (2020); Reading Guide, The Night Watchman; Urrea, Fighting to Save Their Tribe From Termination, N.Y. Times Book Review (Mar. 29, 2020).

[3] Another Erdrich novel, LaRose, involves adults who were “traumatized from their compulsory time spent as students at Indian boarding schools, where students were stripped of their cultural history and forced to assimilate into Western traditions.”   (HaperColllins Publishers, La Rose (2016); LaRose (novel), Wikipedia;.Broida, ‘LaRose’ by Louise Erdrich: brilliant, subtle exploration of tragic histories, Philadelphia Inquirer (May 20, 2016). It also should be mentioned that there is a moving permanent exhibit, “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories” at Phoenix’s Heard Museum, which I have visited and highly recommend.

[4] Because of Erdrich’s reference to this book, I bought it and discovered that it said nothing about the Turtle Mountain Band’s struggle in 1953-54 against termination. Ada Deer, who was a member of the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin, instead has a long discussion of that tribe’s struggle over termination. Subsequently in 1993-97 she was head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

[5] Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Wikipedia; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa IndiansTurtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage CenterHouse concurrent resolutions 108, Wikipedia; Arthur Vivian Watkins, Wikipedia. In order to flesh out this research would require at least examining the Congressional Record for the 83rd Congress ((1/3/53—1/3/55), which is impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would appreciate suggestions on other potential sources on this specific topic.

[6] The resulting complex legal problem of determining jurisdiction (federal or Native American courts) was the subject of another Erdrich novel, The Round House, which was awarded the 2012 National Book Prize for fiction. It concerns the violent rape of a Native woman by a white man on the border of an Indian reservation in North Dakota in 1988. (See The Round House (novel), Wikipedia; ; Personal reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, dwkcommentariese.com Dec. 10, 2012);  Jurisdictional Black Hole for Certain Violent Crimes by Non-Indian Men Against Indian Women on Indian Reservations, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 13, 2013).

[7] Forest to Factory Easy for Indians, N.Y. Times (Aug. 5, 1953); Congress To Get Ten Indian Bills, N.Y. Times (Jan. 31, 1954); Indian Bills Opposed, N.Y. Times (Mar. 26, 1954); Indian Trust Bill Put Under Attack, N.Y. Times (May 6, 1954).

[8] N.D. Dep’t Public Instruction, The History and Culture of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa at 20-21 (1997).

[9] On August 5, 1954, Vice President Ricard Nixon appointed Senator Watkins to chair a bi-partisan committee to review and determine whether censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy was warranted. Its work led to the Senate’s voting, 67 to 22, to condemn McCarthy for (a) his refusal to appear before a Senate subcommittee to answer questions about his personal character and obstruction of its work and (b) his charging three members of a committee of “deliberate deception” and “fraud” and stating to the press that a Senate special session was a “lynch-party.” This blog has published many posts about the preceding Army-McCarty Hearings of 1954 and the role played by Joseph Welch, the attorney for the Army in those hearings. (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1918-2017” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States( HISTORY).

[10] These questions about each Indian’s white-blood were undoubtedly prompted by the previously mentioned comments by Peru Farver, Superintendent of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, about “too much money having been channeled into guardianship of these Indians who have a high percentage of white blood and . . . are well able to look out for themselves.”

[11] Yet another horrible part of the history of U.S. treatment of Native Americans was the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey’s contemporaneous public demand that “The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State;“ and the December 26, 1862, execution by hanging of 38 Dakota men in the town square of Mankato, Minnesota, which is still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil in U.S. history. (Emphasis added.)  (See posts listed in the “U.S. History, 1776-1917” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (HISTORY).

[12] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minneapolis Public School Desegregation/Integration Litigation, 1978-1983 (Sept. 9, 2012); The Impact of the Minneapolis Public Schools Desegregation/Integration Litigation on Native American Children (Sept. 11. 2012); Comment, Larry Leventhal’s Participation in Minneapolis Public Schools’ Desegregation Case (Jan. 19, 2017).

 

 

Professor Orlando Patterson’s Discussion of Affirmative Action

On November 1, 2019, Orlando Patterson, the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, made a presentation about human rights and freedom at a meeting of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights.{1]

Now he has set forth views on the related subject of affirmative action in a New York Times review of a book on that subject—The Affirmative Action Puzzle: A Living History From Reconstruction to Today by Malvin L. Urofsky.[2]

Patterson’s prelude to this review says, “For two and a half centuries America enslaved its black population, whose labor was a critical source of the country’s capitalist modernization and prosperity. Upon the abolition of legal, interpersonal slavery, the exploitation and degradation of blacks continued in the neo-slavery system of Jim Crow, a domestic terrorist regime fully sanctioned by the state and courts of the nation, and including Nazi-like instruments of ritualized human slaughter. Black harms and losses accrued to all whites, both to those directly exploiting them, and indirectly to all enjoying the enhanced prosperity their social exclusion and depressed earnings made possible.” These long years, he suggests, were a period of white-affirmative action. (Emphasis added.)

Patterson then says, “white affirmative action was first developed on a large scale in the New Deal welfare and social programs, and later in the huge state subsidization of suburban housing — a major source of present white wealth — blacks . . . were systematically excluded, to the benefit of the millions of whites whose entitlements would have been less, or whose housing slots would have been given to blacks in any fairly administered system. In this unrelenting history of deprivation, not even the comforting cultural productions of black artists were spared: From Thomas “Daddy” Rice in the early 19th century right down to Elvis Presley, everything of value and beauty that blacks created was promptly appropriated, repackaged and sold to white audiences for the exclusive economic benefit and prestige of white performers, who often added to the injury of cultural confiscation the insult of blackface mockery.” (Italic emphasis in original; bold emphases added.)

Subsequently the nonwhite version of affirmative action, Patterson continues, was begun by “the American state and corporate system” in the middle of the last century to tackle “this inherited patterns racial injustice , and its persisting inequities.” A comprehensive account of this “nonwhite version” is provided in the Urofsky book except for his failure to include the U.S. military, which has the best record of nonwhite racial integration and achievement. Urofsky distinguishes between “soft affirmative action. . . aimed at removing barriers only,” which he favors, and hard affirmative action, which attempts positive actions to make observable betterment of the excluded group” and which he does not favor even though it admittedly does not work. As President Lyndon Johnson said in a 1965 commencement address at Howard University, “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” [3] (Emphases added.)

According to Patterson, Urofsky also points out the success of President Nixon’s Machiavellian “Philadelphia Plan,” which had minority business set-asides and insistence on craft unions acceptance of blacks and which resulted in “major improvements for blacks at all levels of the economy, to the applause of nearly every black leader.” But this Nixon program also was an important part of his Southern strategy “to shatter the bond between white working-class union members and the Democratic Party” and to create a new bond between those workers and the Republican Party.

In conclusion, Patterson says this nonwhite affirmative action “is now an integral part of the moral, cultural, military, political and economic fabric of the nation. Its businesses, educational system and political directorate have largely embraced it and the . . . [Supreme Court] undoes it at the cost of its own legitimacy.” This is so even though it is questionable whether this nonwhite affirmative action “could have solved all or even most of the problems of blacks, women and other disadvantaged groups. That surely must await more fundamental structural and political changes that might address America’s chronic postindustrial inequality and labor precariousness.” 

Conclusion

Characterizing the many decades of slavery and Jim Crow measures as “white affirmative action” was a new labeling for this blogger, but it makes sense. It also provides another justification for the more recent era of nonwhite affirmative action.

This blogger also was not familiar with Presdient Johnson’s commencement address at Howard University, which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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[1] U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Meeting, November 1, 2019), dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 20, 2020); Reactions to U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Meeting, November 1, 2019, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 21, 2020) 

[2] Patterson, Affirmative Action: The Uniquely American Experiment, N.Y. Times Book Review (Feb. 23, 2020) 

Judge David Tatel Honored by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights 

At its 50th Anniversary Gala on October 24, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights granted its Legal Champion Award to Judge David S. Tatel. Here we will review the Gala Co-Chair’s introduction of the Judge, the latter’s response and the Judge’s recent opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upholding a House of Representatives committee’s subpoena to an accounting firm for certain financial records of Donald Trump and some of his companies. This post will conclude with some personal remarks by this blogger.

Co-Chair’s Introduction of Judge Tatel

 Nate Eimer, a Chicago attorney and Co-Chair of the Gala, introduced the Judge with these remarks, “Fifty years ago, [David Tatel,] a brilliant, dedicated, courageous University of Chicago of Law graduate working as an associate at Sidley & Austin decided to leave the firm and join the newly formed Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as its founding Executive Director.”

“[Before then, David Tatel already had begun] his life of dedicated service to the cause of civil rights immediately upon his arrival at Sidley doing pro bono work for the Chicago Urban League. [And in] his first year as Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee [Mr.] Tatel initiated almost 50 projects to advance civil rights in the areas of education, housing, community economic development, employment, and police accountability.”

“In that first year the Committee’s efforts led to the federal investigation and indictment of those responsible for the murder of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.  Another effort, reminiscent of the recent school closings in Chicago, was the Committee’s member firms’ successful representation of a group of parents on the South Side whose cooperative school was abruptly closed by the City of Chicago.”

“On leaving the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, . . . [Mr. Tatel] moved to Washington DC where he joined Sidley’s DC office and then served as the  Executive Director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and later as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights of HEW.”

“In 1994, . . .[David] Tatel was nominated by President Bill Clinton to assume the seat held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit.  This is Judge Tatel’s 25th year on the bench.  His recent opinion in Trump v. Mazar – which upheld the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena for records relating to President, candidate, and private citizen Trump’s financial records – was widely recognized as ‘meticulous and scholarly.’”

The printed Gala program added these words about the Judge’s background: “Judge Tatel earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his J.D. degree from the University of Chicago. [After HEW, he returned to private practice in 1979 to join]. . .  Hogan & Hartson, where he founded and headed the firm’s education practice until his appointment by President Clinton to the D.C. Circuit. Judge Tatel currently co-chairs the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Science, Technology and Law, and serves on the boards of Associated Universities , Inc. and the Federal Judicial Center. Judge Tatel is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Judge Tatel and his wife, Edith, have four children and eight grandchildren.”

 Judge Tatel’s Acceptance Speech

For me, serving as the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s first executive director was one of the most formative experiences of my career. I was only twenty-seven years old, yet through the Lawyers’ Committee, I met and worked with some of the most dedicated and gifted members of the Chicago bar. Two of those lawyers, Dick Babcock, of Ross, Hardies, O’Keefe, Babcock, McDugald & Parsons, now part of McGuire Woods, and Bill Haddad, of Bell, Boyd, Lloyd, Haddad & Burns, now part of K&L Gates, were the true founders of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee. It was they who took the baton from the National Committee and laid the foundation for the success you celebrate today.”

“Like the founders of the National Lawyers’ Committee six years earlier, Babcock and Haddad were not civil rights lawyers—far from it. Bill was a tax lawyer and Dick specialized in municipal zoning, but they were community leaders, ‘lawyer-statesmen,’ as it were, committed to the Constitution and the rule of law.”

“Joined by twelve other lawyers, all senior partners in the city’s major law firms, Babcock and Haddad formed the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee to bring the skills, energy, and prestige of the legal profession to bear on the serious civil rights problems facing this city—problems dramatically highlighted just one year earlier during the devastating riots that swept through the south and west sides in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“The Committee began its work in a small office on the 19th floor of the old Monadnock Building at 53 West Jackson—just me, a secretary, and a used Xerox machine. Member firms quickly took on representations involving education, employment, housing, and community development.”

“And then, on a dark, cold December morning just a few months after the Committee opened its doors, fourteen heavily-armed police officers assigned to a special unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney raided an apartment at 2337 West Monroe. When the raid was over, two leaders of the Black Panther Party lay dead, cut down in a hail of bullets. The State’s Attorney called the raid ‘a fierce gun battle’ and congratulated his officers on their ‘bravery and restraint in the face of the vicious Black Panther attack,’ yet a subsequent investigation found that the apartment’s occupants had fired but two shots. In response, Dick Babcock, Bill Haddad, and ten other members of the Lawyers’ Committee sent a telegram to the Attorney General of the United States calling for the appointment of a special grand jury. They warned that the incident had ‘exacerbated to a critically dangerous level the already tense relations between the black community and the police.’ The telegram concluded with these simple but powerful words that Dick added in his own handwriting just before calling Western Union: ‘None of us is accustomed to petitioning government. That we now do is a measure of the depth of our concern.’”

“In calling for a federal investigation, these prominent attorneys were fulfilling the vision President John F. Kennedy articulated in June 1963 when he called on the nation’s lawyers to play a more active role in the fight for racial equality. Deeply troubled about the South’s violent response to the civil rights movement, especially the assassination of Medgar Evers and the firehosing of demonstrators in Birmingham, and having just federalized the Alabama National Guard to enforce court-ordered desegregation at the University of Alabama, the president told 250 leaders of the bar assembled in the East Room that lawyers have a special responsibility to ensure that civil rights issues are resolved ‘in the courts, not the streets.’ Thus was born the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.”

“Like the lawyers who heeded Kennedy’s call, Babcock, Haddad, and the others who signed the telegram to the Attorney General were acting in the very best tradition of the legal profession. Even though they were committing their names and reputations to defending an organization whose tactics they and most Chicagoans deplored, they demanded, as lawyers and officers of the court, that the city confront the Black Panther Party through the legal system, and that it hold accountable those officials who had taken the law into their own hands. The lawyers who signed the telegram to the Attorney General, like the 250 lawyers listening to President Kennedy in the East Room, were Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. But they had no disagreement about the fundamental proposition that in a nation based on the rule of law, civil rights conflicts must be resolved through the legal process.”

“This bipartisan commitment to the rule of law is the key to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It is what makes the Lawyers’ Committee unique, and now more than ever, it is this precious bipartisan commitment to civil rights that the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee must seek to preserve.”

Judge Tatel’s Opinion in Trump v. Mazars USA LLP [1]

On October 11, just two weeks before this award, Judge Tatel wrote the 2-1 opinion for a panel of the D.C. Circuit upholding the subpoena by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to the accounting firm Mazars, USA LLP for “records related to work performed for President Trump and several of his business entities both before and after he took office.” The opinion started with its conclusion that was explicated in the balance of the opinion: “the Committee possesses authority both under the House Rules and the Constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply.” The opinion then cited many Supreme Court cases and other authorities in the following five sections:

1. The current Congress on January 3, 2019, debated and adopted “a set of rules to govern its proceedings.” It established the previously mentioned Committee, which was charged with “review[ing] and study[ing] on a continuing basis the operation of Government activities at all levels” and which was authorized to “conduct investigations” “at any time . . . of any matter,” “without regard to” other standing committees’ jurisdictions. To “carry[] out . . . [these] functions and duties” the . . . Committee may “require by subpoena or otherwise . . . the production of such . . . documents as it considers necessary.”

The opinion then reviewed the background for this subpoena, including the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and the district court’s opinion in this case that had upheld this subpoena.

2. Next Judge Tatel’s opinion reviewed the history of legislative subpoenas, starting with the English Parliament and U.S. congressional subpoenas before discussing U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the latter (as well as the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in a case over a Senate subpoena to President Nixon). These authorities established the following governing principles: (a) the committee must have been delegated the power to conduct investigations; (b) the congressional power to investigate is broad; Congress, however, may not “usurp the other branches’ constitutionally designated functions nor violate individuals’ constitutionally protected rights” or “conduct itself as a law enforcement agency;” (c) “Congress may investigate only those topics on which it could legislate;” and (d) “congressional committees may subpoena only information ’calculated to’ ‘materially aid[]’ their investigations.”                                                      3. The opinion then reviewed the “public record,” including “several pieces of legislation related to the Committee’s inquiry,” regarding this subpoena and concluded that it “reveals legitimate legislative pursuits, not an impermissible law-enforcement purpose.” Moreover, “this subpoena is a valid exercise of the legislative oversight authority because it seeks information important to determining the fitness of legislation to address potential problems within the Executive Branch and the electoral system; it does not seek to determine the President’s fitness for office.” In short, “the categories of information sought are ‘reasonably relevant’ to the Committee’s legitimate legislative inquiry.”                 4. Next the opinion rejected Mazars’ contention that the full House had not authorized the Committee to issue this subpoena. After all, Mazars had not challenged “the most natural reading of the House Rules [that] the full chamber has authorized the Committee to issue the challenged subpoena” and “the House Rules have no effect whatsoever on the balance between Congress and the President.”                                                                                                                            5.Finally, “the constitutional questions raised here are neither “’[g]rave’” nor “’serious and difficult.’” “We therefore have no cause to invoke the canon of constitutional avoidance.” “It is Mazars, a third-party, that will retrieve and organize the relevant information; the subpoena seeks non-confidential records in which the President has asserted no proprietary or evidentiary protections; and it is Mazars, not the President, [that] risks contempt through non-compliance.”

Conclusion

 This blogger is a University of Chicago Law School classmate and friend of Judge Tatel and at our 50th reunion in May 2016, presented our classmates with a booklet containing his biography and a selected list of 10 of his most significant cases as of that date.[2]

In 1957 David was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder causing loss of vision, which happened for him around 1973. I continue to be amazed at his ability to overcome this disorder and do this difficult and important legal work with such intelligence, diligence and grace. Thank you, Judge Tatel!

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[1] Trump v. Mazars and Committee on Oversight & Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19-5142 (D.C. Cir. Oct. 11, 2019).   The dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Neomi Rao is not discussed in this post.

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com mentioning Judge Tatel: My Years at the University of Chicago Law School (Dec. 27, 2011); The D.C. Circuit’s Decision Upholding the Validity of the Voting Rights Act of 2006 (March 11, 2013); Judging on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (April 11, 2013); Federal Appellate Court Allows Lawsuit by Guantanamo Detainees (March 1, 2014).

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates Discusses the Age of Mass Incarceration

The October 2015 issue of The Atlantic has Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

He starts with an endorsement of the 1965 analysis and conclusion of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a U.S. federal government employee (and later U.S. Senator], that the government was underestimating the damage to black families by “three centuries of [their] unimaginable mistreatment [and by the] racist virus in the American blood stream” and that the government should engage in an all-out assault on the problems that held black families down.

Coates then engages in a discussion of the various reasons why this did not happen and instead why a new assault on the black family occurred and still is occurring with over-criminalization of certain behavior and what is now known as the mass incarceration of black men.[1]

This article, therefore, provides a more systematic background for Coates’ emotional perception that white society in the U.S. has been, and still is, engaged in a systematic assault on the black body and that this assault always stands between the world and Coates as discussed in his book “Between the World and Me,” which was the subject of a prior post.

Chapter VI of the article emphasizes that the adverse impact of mass incarceration is not just on the men and women in prison, but on their family members as well. This unsurprising fact is documented in a new survey by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit group that focuses on racial and economic justice issues. It found that nearly two-thirds of families that have a member in jail or prison struggle to meet their basic needs, including 50 percent that are unable to afford sufficient food and adequate housing. Moreover, as an employee of the Center said, ““Incarceration weakens the social fabric and disrupts the social ecology of entire communities through the way it disrupts families’ economic stability. Often, it leaves it broken beyond repair.”[2]

Here is a rough outline of the Coates’ article:

Chap. Title Contents
Preface Margaret Garner, “ Never marry again in slavery.” Solzhenitsyn, “Wherever the law is, crime can be found.”
I “Lower-class behavior in our cities is shaking them apart” Daniel Patrick Moynihan ‘s 1965 “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” –federal government underestimating damage to black families by “three centuries of unimaginable mistreatment [and] racist virus in the American blood stream.” Black family structure was mutated by white oppressiojn.by oppression of black men. Moynihan’s aim: muster support for all-out government assault on problems that held black families down. Instead white society saw it as reason to give up and imposed mass incarceration of black men as response.
II “We are incarcerating too few criminals” U.S. incarceration rate rose independent of actual crime, but as result of tough-on-crime laws. A 1992 U.S. Justice Dep’t report; “we are incarcerating too few criminals, and public is suffering as result.” But other countries experience says otherwise. Adverse effect on black families. Prisoners are excluded from employment statistics. Parental incarceration is associated with behavior problems & delinquency, esp. among boys. Laws impose adverse consequences after release from prison. Reduction of rehabilitation programs in prisons.
III “You don’t take a shower after 9 o’clock” Horrible life in prisons.
IV “The crime-stained blackness of the Negro” In 1868 white supremacist, society had to defend itself against “crime-stained blackness of the Negro.” Many laws against blacks during slavery. Lynchings continued until just before WWII and not ending until Civil Rights Movement. Even W. E. B. DuBois said Negroes had to correct immorality, crime and laziness. J. Edgar Hoover had same view. To stand up for black rights is often seen as condoning black criminality. Intensifying war on crime associated with white anxiety about social control.
V “The “baddest generation any society has ever known” U.S. has associated black struggle with black villainy. In Nixon 2nd term incarceration rates began historic rise; his subliminal appeal to the antiblack voter. Idea of rehabilitation abandoned with mandatory minimums and alternatives to prison. Prisons often located in all-white rural areas providing jobs to whites. Liberals like Bill Clinton supported these efforts.
VI “It’s like I’m in prison with him” Discretionary parole for lifers is nonexistent. Families of inmates feel like they are in prison with their sons or husbands.
VII “Our value system became surviving versus living” Housing discrimination keeps blacks isolated. “Compounded deprivation.”
VIII “The Negro poor having become more openly violent” Moynihan of 1965 has been proved right. He later became more critical of blacks, which is more accepted today. For African-Americans “unfreedom” is the norm. Slavery for 250 years; then Jim Crow, debt peonage and convict labor.
IX “Now comes the proposition that the Negro is entitled to damages” Now Democrats and Republicans seem to agree that mass incarceration is a problem that needs to be addressed. Herculean task. Poses the issue of reparations.

[1] This is ground already trod by Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Rev. ed. 2010, 2012).

[2] Williams, Report Details Economic Hardships for Inmate Families, N.Y. Times (Sept. 15, 2015).