Last month, Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton traveled to Israel as part of a bipartisan delegation to the country. The National Association of Secretaries of State delegation trip was sponsored by an American Jewish Committees institute and was carried out in purported effort to further strengthen United States/Israel relations.
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Shortly after returning from the trip, Stapleton shared a strange, meandering post on his website titled, “We Were Here First.” In the post, Stapleton compares the Little Shell tribe of Chippewa in Montana to the Palestinians and draws a parallel between Israeli policies and those of Montana’s government. Stapleton also writes that the tribe has become “somewhat ‘lost'” without a piece of land to call their own.
It’s an interesting idea regarding land: “We were here first” often has a strong legal foundation in civilized courts and governments. But not always. Just because a tribe or nation occupies a certain plot of land hasn’t historically assured its future ownership.
Just days before I ran into Gerald, I was in Israel. And wouldn’t you know it—they’re dealing with the same thing! Kinda.
Several other Secretaries of State, and myself, spent the better part of a week learning about the small nation of Israel and all the nuances of living in a region where different tribes and nations really don’t like each other. Trying to allocate land and property based upon who was there ‘first’ doesn’t always work very well, to say the least.
Both the Jewish people and the Palestinians want to live in the same place. Both sides have claims of ownership going back to the beginning of recorded history. But the creation of the new country of Israel in 1948 on the location of Palestine (as a direct response to the devastating World War II holocaust that ended in 1945) is the rule of the day. Israel is the mandate of the modern world. The Jewish people were given a place of their own.
So, here’s the question: When is it better to blend tribes together, and when is it better to keep them apart?
Both the Jewish and Palestinian leaders agree that a ‘two-state solution’ is the only acceptable course. In other words, they each want to have their own country, and be physically separated from each other. They don’t want to live in the same neighborhoods, have children attend the same schools, intra-marry, or vote in the same elections. They do not want to assimilate cultures.
In Montana, we refer to our Indian reservations as ‘sovereign’ in some regards, but in other situations the tribes are treated just like other citizens of the state and nation. I guess we could call it a ‘softer’ two-state solution.
Later in the piece, Stapleton asserts that Charles Darwin would have believed that the tribes should assimilate in order to survive. However, he concludes, “With our world’s population approaching 8 billion people, I think this question of assimilating tribes versus separating them will not be going away anytime soon. Luckily in Montana, we have lots of land and not many people.”
Stapleton’s post has angered members of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. “It is frustrating because that goes all the way back to boarding schools, with the notion of ‘kill the Indian, save the man,'” tribe member Chris La Tray told The Independent Record, “They wanted to eliminate the Native parts of who we were to make us assimilate as ‘regular Americans.’ We’re under no obligation to do that. Many of us don’t want to do that. I consider myself a U.S. citizen secondary to a citizen of the Little Shell people.”
Stapleton is a Republican and running for the House of Representatives in 2020.