On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions (American Indian Law and Policy)

By in Indigenous Peoples on March 7, 2013

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A newly discovered document sheds light on Indian self-governance

Felix Cohen (1907–1953) was a leading architect of the Indian New Deal and steadfast champion of American Indian rights. Appointed to the Department of the Interior in 1933, he helped draft the Indian Reorganization Act (1934) and chaired a committee charged with assisting tribes in organizing their governments. His “Basic Memorandum on Drafting of Tribal Constitutions,” submitted in November 1934, provided practical guidelines for that effort.

Largely forgotten until Cohen’s papers were released more than half a century later, the memorandum now receives the attention it has long deserved. David E. Wilkins presents the entire work, edited and introduced with an essay that describes its origins and places it in historical context. Cohen recommended that each tribe consider preserving ancient traditions that offered wisdom to those drafting constitutions. Strongly opposed to “sending out canned constitutions from Washington,” he offered ideas for incorporating Indigenous political, social, and cultural knowledge and structure into new tribal constitutions.

On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions shows that concepts of Indigenous autonomy and self-governance have been vital to Native nations throughout history. As today’s tribal governments undertake reform, Cohen’s memorandum again offers a wealth of insight on how best to amend previous constitutions. It also helps scholars better understand the historic policy shift brought about by the Indian Reorganization Act.

3 thoughts on “On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions (American Indian Law and Policy)

  1. Midwest Book Review
    1
    4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Perfect for college-level collections on Native American or American legal history., June 9, 2007
    By 
    Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA) –

    This review is from: On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions (American Indian Law and Policy) (Hardcover)

    Felix Cohen was a leading creator of the Indian New Deal and a champion of American Indian rights, so there’s no better author than he to cover On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions, reflecting his practical guidelines created in 1934 for tribal constitutional development. The entire work has been edited by David E. Wilkins, includes an essay that describes its origins and background, and is presented with a key to understanding Indigenous autonomy and self-governance efforts: perfect for college-level collections on Native American or American legal history.

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  2. Martha A. Dorsey "poke68"
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    1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions (Am. Indian Law & Policy Series), September 20, 2008
    By 
    Martha A. Dorsey “poke68″ (San Pedro, CA) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions (American Indian Law and Policy) (Hardcover)

    I have been familiar with Mr. Cohen’s various books on Indian Law, just didn’t have the opportunity to own them. I feel very fortunate. As usual, they don’t disappoint.
    Thank You.
    Marty Dorsey

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  3. 3
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Cohen is the man…, October 24, 2012
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    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: On the Drafting of Tribal Constitutions (American Indian Law and Policy) (Hardcover)

    Awesome historical account of an otherwise very dark period of Native American jurisprudence. Highly recommended to gain some greater insight into this great man…

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