Student Research Topics

Law of Indigenous Peoples Paper Topic: Krista Thompson

The Fort McDowell Yavapai people are a federally recognized tribe living in central Arizona, amongst saguaro cactuses and along the Verde River. Yavapai people call themselves Abaa’jaa’ or “People of the Sun.” Historically, there were four bands of Yavapai, and the band living in Fort McDowell are known as the southern band or “Kwevkapaya.” Today, there are only three bands, each federally recognized, while the fourth split and joined neighboring bands. My paper addresses how the Kwevkapaya people have taken specific cultural aspects of Yavapai life and codified them into a written exclusion code. The purpose of codifying the code was to protect the integrity of their culture and land from outsiders.

The paper is divided into two parts, the first describes Kwevkapaya culture and history and the second is an analysis of the current tribal exclusion order. Within the first section, I describe internal Abaa’jaa’ social structure, traditional allies and enemies, Kwevkapaya crimes and punishment, and the purpose of traditional law in the contemporary Fort McDowell. Although I have chosen to include legal authorities and well documented points in history, I’ve also included the voices elders who have witnessed the changes of jurisprudence during their lifetime. Although Arizona is home to many other tribes, Yavapai culture remains distinct and this paper describes how the exclusion code was implemented to ensure the Kwevkapaya remain protected from outside threats. 

The second section is a legal analysis of how the current Kwevkapaya governance is shaped to deter outsiders from interfering with our way of life. The first subsection begins with a historical description of governance, tribal jurisdiction and the implemented of enacted law. The second subsection is described as maximizing tribal sovereignty by emphasizing Kwevkapaya jurisprudence. The primary point of analysis is spent distinguishing the differences between the Violence Against Women Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2262 – Interstate Violation of a Protection Order, and the tribal exclusion code. Each of these statutes provide a framework for federally recognized tribes to implement for the protection of themselves from unwanted intruders who pose a threat to their tribal members. During the research process, I consulted with the Fort McDowell chief prosecutor who was very helpful in explaining the administrative process of exclusion, due process issues, confidentiality, and community involvement. This section concludes by determining that Fort McDowell is one tribe who has maximized a simple, yet powerful property right – the power to exclude.

My paper analyzes various aspects of Kwevkapaya jurisprudence and focuses on describing why traditional jurisprudence continues to be practiced in an adversarial setting. The paper cites to various legal authorities and documented points in history, however is organized and written from the perspective of a Kwevkapaya woman. This paper was originally intended to educate non-Yavapai people about the strength of my ancestors and today’s leaders, however I see that the paper could serve as a possible model for other tribes to protect their people from outsiders. Just as the exclusion code was written to protect the integrity of our culture, land, language and people, other tribes may have already chosen to do the same through other ways.

After growing up in Fort McDowell, reading the congressional testimonies of my elders and relearning the history of my own people, the process of writing this paper was an emotional challenge. As law students, we learn to recite facts and rules of law from old cases and various jurisdictions. In this case, I read and analyzed racist descriptions about my people. I’ve cited to history books that included pictures of the bones of my great-great-great grandparents who died in the Skeleton Cave Massacre. I read a Congressional dialogue between my late-grandfather and Senator Ted Kennedy. Lastly, I learned how the Indian Claims Commission quieted title to Yavapai lands for a mere $5 million dollars, which includes some of the most scenic lands in Arizona. Although this paper discusses an exclusion mechanism, most importantly the paper was an eye-opening experience for myself as a Kwevkapaya woman entering the field of law.

By Tribal Law Journal Blog

The Tribal Law Journal was established in fall 1998 for the purpose of promoting indigenous self-determination by facilitating discussion of the internal law of the world’s indigenous nations. The internal law of indigenous nations encompasses traditional law, western law adopted by indigenous nations, and a blend of western and indigenous law. Underscoring this purpose is the recognition that traditional law is a source of law.

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