#NotYourTribe, Yeti Cycles
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#NotYourTribe is a campaign to end the use of “Yeti tribe” and associated marketing, and to change the name of all the Yeti Cycles events called, “Yeti Tribe Gatherings.”
Although the origins of the term “Tribe” come from European colonization and dehumanization of non-European societies, in the United States, the term “Tribe” is inherently linked to the genocide committed by the United States against the Indigenous communities who pre-date the existence of this country. Tribes have survived hundreds of years of violence and systematic erasure. Therefore, when non-Indigenous people use the term “Tribe” to describe a group of people with a common interest, it belittles the history, experience, and unique status of the Tribal Nations in the United States and contributes to the exotification, cultural appropriation, and cultural erasure of tribal nations.
The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides the following definition:
“Indigenous peoples each have unique and distinctive cultures, languages, legal systems and histories. Most indigenous peoples have a strong connection to the environment and their traditional lands and territories. They also often share legacies of removal from traditional lands and territories, subjugation, destruction of their cultures, discrimination and widespread violations of their human rights. Through centuries, they have suffered from the non-recognition of their own political and cultural institutions and the integrity of their cultures has been undermined. Indigenous peoples are also harmfully impacted by development processes, which pose a grave threat to their continued existence.”
A company or group that simply proclaims themselves as a “tribe” because they share a common interest dismisses the long and violent history of colonization that Indigenous people faced and continue to face in the United States, which is discussed in the following section. It also diminishes and dishonors the unique political status of Indigenous people in the United States as tribal nations, that pre-date the United States and have inherent political sovereignty and the right to self-governance. Further, companies like Yeti Cycles who profit from the use of the term “tribe” as a trend are benefitting from the use of an identity that actual Tribal members have been, and continue to be, systematically oppressed and killed for.
The cruel irony is that Indigenous people survived removal, forced assimilation, attempted genocide, and destruction of our natural resources, culture, and identity only to live in a country that pretends that we no longer exist. Indigenous advocates and cyclists ask for these changes to honor the unique political status of Indigenous people in the United States as tribal nations, and to acknowledge that they are still fighting for sovereignty today.
Tribes as Nations: a violent and political history
Traditional tribal societies existed in the United States long before European contact and have evolved over time. When European settlers came to the U.S., they dealt with tribal nations as sovereign nations. However, how tribes actually experienced sovereignty as the U.S. population grew is a long, complex story, where tribes were seen as a threat to colonization. Below are some of the main periods of the United States government’s policies towards tribes that they utilized to remove this threat:
- The Colonial Period: colonizers relied on the historical Doctrine of Discovery, which provided justification for “civilized” peoples to claim, conquer, and commit atrocities against “uncivilized” peoples, who were regarded as sub-human. In discussing how to dispossess tribes from their land, George Washington stated, “the gradual extension of our settlements will as certainly cause the savage, as the wolf, to retire; both being beasts of prey, though they differ in shape.” Rather than engage in outright warfare with Tribes, which was deemed too costly, the newly formed United States government opted to engage in treaty making. However, tribal nations entered into treaties with the government to exercise their right of self-governance only to have the treaties broken.
- The Removal Period: The federal government then embarked on an aggressive and violent military campaign to remove Indigenous people from their lands. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830, which began the forcible removal of tribes from the Southeast to Oklahoma, now known as the Trail of Tears. During this time period tens of thousands of Indigenous people were murdered. This began the practice of confining Indigenous people to reservations, which were too small to be self-sufficient, creating a reliance on federal food rations and extreme poverty and suffering. It was also during this time that the newly formed Supreme Court decided a series of cases called the Marshall Trilogy, which relied on the Doctrine of Discovery in finding that Tribes were wards of the United States and only had a right of occupancy to their land, rather than full land ownership. But still Indigenous people remained, and so the colonization continued.
- The Allotment & Assimilation Period: The federal government turned to a new form of destruction: the forced assimilation of Natives into mainstream American life through boarding schools. As stated by Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Boarding School which was known for its brutality towards Indigenous children, the motto for this was “kill the Indian, and save the man.” Thousands of Native children were forcibly taken from their families and homelands and forced into an education system that centered around the destruction of their culture, identity, and language. Many were killed by the inhumane conditions in the boarding schools and never returned to their tribal communities. In discussing the Indian boarding schools in 1885, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price stated that "it is cheaper to give them education than to fight them." Additionally, white settlers still desired more land which led to the General Allotment Act of 1887. This Act was designed to end the practice of tribal communal land ownership, instead breaking up tribal lands into allotments to individuals, which could be sold more easily, with “excess” land being sold for pennies to white colonizers. The Act resulted in the United States taking more than 90 million acres — nearly two-thirds of reservation land — from tribal nations, most often without compensation.
- The Reorganization Period: Indigenous peoples’ service to the country in World War 1 grabbed the attention of Congress in 1924 and spurred demands for reform of federal policy. The federal government, under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, ended the discredited policy of allotment. It began to restore tribal lands to tribal nations and attempted to help them reform their governments, but this effort was short-lived.
- The Termination Period to Self-Determination: However, eager to fix the “Indian problem” once and for all, a group of policymakers referred to as “terminationists,” under President Herbert Hoover, sought a return to the policies of assimilation and enacted a new approach they called termination. In the early 1940s, Congress began a new policy era — the termination era that became the greatest threat to tribal sovereignty in the 20th century. The federal government’s goal was to do away with treaty rights and destroy tribal governments. Between 1945 and 1960 Congress decided to terminate federal recognition and assistance to more than 100 tribal nations. The policies during the termination era created economic disaster for many tribal nations and resulted in the loss of millions of acres of valuable natural resource land. During this time period tribal nations, leaders, and citizens gathered in Denver, Colorado to form a powerful coalition in 1944 called the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). During the founding of NCAI, tribal governments promised to never relinquish their inherent sovereignty as America’s first governments. A resurgence of tribal government involvement in federal policy development ended the termination era and prompted the development of a policy of self-determination and self-governance. After much debate, Congress passed the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) in 1974, which began a period of increased autonomy and recognition of the inherent sovereignty of Tribal Nations.
The Fight for Sovereignty Continues Today
By the turn of the century, tribal governments made substantial gains in self-governance. Unfortunately, self-determination and self-governance stated in the ISDEAA policy relies on the approval of Congress to make and fund policies that grant tribal nations the ability to make and implement policy. Therefore, in 2000, President Clinton signed an Executive Order on Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, reaffirming the US Government’s responsibility for continued collaboration and consultation with tribal governments in the development of federal policies that have tribal implications. In 2009, President Obama amended President Clinton’s earlier Executive Order and convened the first-annual White House Tribal Nations Summit, committing the U.S. government to the nation-to-nation relationship. Over the course of the 225 years since the recognition of the inherent sovereignty of “Indian tribes” in the U.S. Constitution — listed alongside foreign nations and state governments — the unique place of tribal nations as members of the American family of governments has been gravely misunderstood. Despite the promise offered to tribal nations, too many times this governmental status has been completely disregarded and legally violated.
Today, self-government is essential if tribal communities are to continue to protect their unique cultures and identities. This is why the fight for sovereignty continues for Indigenous people. There are 574 sovereign tribal nations (variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities, and Native villages). There are 63 state recognized tribes, and more than 400 unrecognized tribes across the United States still fighting for tribal sovereignty. Land is of great spiritual and cultural significance to tribal nations, and many Native communities continue to rely upon the land for subsistence through hunting, fishing and gathering. Land-based production such as agriculture, forestry, mining, oil and gas production, and renewable energy play a prominent role in tribal economies. Tribal nations still fight for their lands and natural resources because tribal lands are critical for the exercise of tribal self-governance and self-determination. From the time of the first interaction with white settlers to the present-day, tribal sovereignty has faced countless assaults by the federal government and still does. We will never stop fighting because the sovereign status of tribal nations is at the heart of nearly every issue that touches Indian Country.
Nowhere in Indigenous history or our story of cultural and political perseverance is “Yeti tribe” mentioned. Help us by signing our petition #NotYourTribe to tear down the barrier of Indigenous erasure, and stand with us in solidarity to proclaim that we are still here and stand as many distinct tribal nations with a unique political status in the United States.
Now You Know...
- When non-Indigenous people use the term “Tribe” to describe a group of people with a common interest, it belittles the history, experience, and unique status of the Tribal Nations in the United States and contributes to the exotification, cultural appropriation, and cultural erasure of tribal nations. The word ‘Nation’ is more appropriate, even if you may see them use the word ‘tribe’ amongst themselves, it doesn’t mean non-Indigenous people can or should.
- Do not use ‘tribe’ as any sort of marketing tool as it is a play on the colonialist word used to oppress Tribal Nations.
- If you’d like to ally yourself, call it out if you see it in the context of appropriating the word in North American culture.
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