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In the Courts of the Conqueror: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided Hardcover – June 1, 2010
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"This weighty text serves as a 'tour of the dark side of the law.' Echo-Hawk, who spent more than three decades at the Native American Rights Fund, exhaustively deconstructs the racist and colonial foundations of federal Indian law. Written in a style that conveys a sense of outrage and passion, the cases highlighted are notable because they represent injustice as well as unfinished business." CHOICE
"Echo-Hawk is methodical and elegant in the way he leads us through the history and case law which has brought us to this point." News From Indian Country
As evidenced by his book In the Courts of the Conqueror,” Mr. Echo-Hawk’s experience, achievement, success and perhaps most importantly, his wisdom, not only serve as a touchstone for legal practitioners, but his work has left an indelible mark upon the lives of those who live and work in Indian Country and for every American who truly values the notion of justice.” Oklahoma City Examiner
Echo-Hawk’s book ought to retire the entire debate about judicial activism. It has become a conservative article of faith that judges should narrowly follow the law when deciding cases. But Echo-Hawk methodically picks apart that fiction.” —Mark Trahant, New West
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By: Robert A. Yingst
It is difficult to read In the Courts of the Conqueror; The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided, without being conflicted, especially if you are white. Nevertheless, whether you are Indian, black or white you will be challenged if you read this book. I promise. Having been a white civil rights lawyer in what the author calls the Courts of the Conqueror, I found myself looking at Indian Country in a way which was both enlightening and promising, in spite of being constantly reminded of what the author calls the "darker side of Indian Law."
Attorney Walter R. Echo-Hawk gives lawyers especially, a challenging path as he asks the question - What if it is really true that the bundle of rights we have fought for through the 5th and 14th amendments in the U.S. Constitution were never intended by the "founders" to be applied to Native Americans?
Of the 10 worst cases, Echo-Hawk cites one case in particular for repudiation and rejection from future influence in the law - Johnson v. M'Intosh. A case which continues to define the contours of Indian Law. In 1955 the Supreme Court relying on M'Intosh in Tee-Hit-Ton v. United States takes it as a given that "savage tribes of the continent" were deprived of their land for "trinkets" by the "conqueror's will".
Johnson v. M'Intosh will live on to cause repeated wrongs in Indian Law unless this case is overturned and prevented from carrying future influence argues the the author. It must be overruled in the same way that Plessy v. Ferguson met its demise in Brown v. Board of Education, when segregation was rejected by the Supreme Court, says Echo-Hawk.
The author's approach in describing how we got to this point is artful and interesting to read. It may be that some will chafe as he takes us through some awful times and places to show us that phrases like, "water under the bridge" are not enough to put this past behind us in any responsible way without addressing in the court.
The application of the First Amendment in Native American cases is one example he uses to argue that the Supreme Court does not really deal with Native American religion as religion. The Rehnquist Court was "not up to this task" he says and urges that Lyng v Northwest Indian Cemetery Association must be overturned. The high court failed to protect Indian holy places and produced a "cruelly surreal result" when it pronounced in the words of dissenting Justice Brennan: "Government action that will virtually destroy a religion is nevertheless deemed not to `burden' that religion." Lying is still the law of the land.
Echo-Hawk offers 8 specific reforms as he calls for a new generation of "legal warriors" who have the courage to "..row against the tide of prejudice, racism, dispossession, and oppression of vulnerable minorities."
Robert A. Yingst is a civil rights lawyer from Abrams, Wisconsin
Walter Echo-Hawk is a truly inspirational character. His writing style is academic but on a level that is accessible to non-academics. I highly recommend this book.