A great idea... Let's dream big:
[From: "A state for Native Americans?" by Andy Harvey - Jan. 16, 2009, 12 News, Phoenix, Arizona - see video on page, also. ]
Could the United States get a 51st state? That's what a Northern Arizona man is proposing. While living on the Navajo Indian reservation, Mark Charles came up with the idea.
"It was very striking to me how here we were in the middle of the United States, technology, community, government all around us and yet it felt like the country had no idea we were there,” Charles said.
And when the presidential candidates were campaigning, Charles said they didn’t pay attention to the Native American vote, especially since tribes have a unique relationship with the federal government through treaties unlike other minority groups. So that’s when the Navajo man started asking questions on what can be done to give Native Americans a stronger presence in Washington D.C.
"What can we do to take a place at the table where we can make decisions about our own lands and people and history and communities?" Charles said.
He came up with the idea to establish a Native American state.
"It would be a state for people who are enrolled members of tribes," Charles said.
The state would be virtual and wouldn’t involve rearranging any land. It would represent members from over 500 federally recognized tribes. According to the U.S. Census, nearly 4 million people claim to be Native American.
"That would put us, that population in ranking of order of a state somewhere in between 25 and 35 with 1 being the largest," Charles said.
The state would also get electoral votes and congressional leaders.
"Who could go and be a part of congress to have the ability to introduce bills and have the ability to object when things are brought up and funding is being cut from Native American programs," Charles said.
However, creating a new state is a long shot according to ASU law professor Robert Clinton.
"Essentially the state can't be carved out of existing states and all of the Indian reservations now are in existing states," Clinton said.
Clinton, who’s worked with several Native American tribes, said the idea isn’t new. Back in the 19th century, there were talks about establishing such a state by the federal government.
"There were proposals for an Indian state in the Indian territory, but that never happened," Clinton said.
Today, it would take approval of state lawmakers to allow such a state to be formed, but Clinton thinks this would never happen.
"This is one of those ideas that was a terrific idea before the states were admitted. Once they were admitted because of that provision it becomes constitutionally almost impossible to accomplish," Clinton said.
Still, Charles wants to start a dialogue. The Fort Defiance resident plans to travel to different reservations and talk to community members and tribal leaders about his idea. He said he’s already been contact by different members from across the country.
"I want us to think creatively outside the box. What can we do to give ourselves a voice?" he said.
Reservations map can be viewed and/or downloaded. Large file, give it time to load: