The unfortunate history the United States has concerning Native Americans has been becoming more known over the past 20 years. This is great news and a long time coming. It was, after all, way back in 1879 that a major court case ruled Standing Bear, a Ponca chief, was a person under law. These shifts in consciousness are welcome and over 100 years coming.
The significance of someone being identified as a person under law cannot be overstated. These days, when some people are identified as “animals” and “less than animals,” it is important that we include everyone who counts–and be very careful in that counting–as a person under law.
I’m quite sure the following thoughts on this are not original. After all, the significance of being counted as a person under law has more than likely been debated and discussed in journals and other publications. However, it strikingly occurs to me that when one is not considered a person in the eyes of others, many horrific things follow from that, including not being protected in basic ways.
Consider a case of simple theft. In the eyes of an abuser, when one is not considered a person, what property can one really own? It follows, perhaps, in the mind of such a law-breaker, that one cannot be stolen from because one is simply not human.
There are other things that follow from this, as well. As is well-known, the United States holds much land and assets in a fiduciary role for tribes. But when tribal people are not considered human, we end up with major disasters just like we see with the famous Cobell Case.
I don’t typically do philosophy of law, but I want to suggest that everything–all other protections–follow from being considered a person under law. Without that basic consideration, one has nothing.
In this day and age, even though the rights of Native Americans have been becoming more pronounced and rightfully fought for, we need to make sure we include everyone–LGBT folks, African-American folks, people with disabilities, women and immigrants–as people under law for this protection is absolutely crucial and, bottom-line, the most essential protection one can have.