Language is a reflection of a thought world. A worldview that has been shaped by place to describe one's identity in space and time does not equate to species relatedness as a default to know one another. In the legal system of the United States, there is acknowledgement of treaties in colonized lands that there are rights granted from the tribes and not to them, and those rights are land-based. Yet, the Indigenous voice is dead before arrival, before it enters the room of science, justice, academe, or otherwise. The exclusion of Indigenous peoples at the table of knowledge and from the power to make decisions within their homelands has proven a detriment to the land, waterways, flora and fauna, and human beings. Nowhere would tribal peoples have agreed to our own destruction, it is and has been a forced hand. This Article explores the changing interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court canon to construe treaties with Native American tribes as the tribe would have understood them, and why mere translation of Native language to English fails to capture a Native understanding. Through the juxtaposition of western legal analysis and the powerful voice of a Native scientist, this Article illustrates how difficult and yet how necessary it will be to bridge that divide if this powerful western nation is to fulfill its sacred promises to Native people. As a contribution to the Issue on the fiftieth anniversary of United States v. Oregon, this Article looks to the future of federal jurisprudence on the interpretation of treaties with American Indians and envisions one in which reconciliation through an understanding of different worldviews is possible.
50 Envtl. L. 415 (2020)