Enrichment Assimilation, part 2
DIRECTIONAL ACCULTURATION THROUGH THE LEGAL SYSTEM
All cultures change. The key questions and concerns surrounding acculturation involve pace and power. Few want a government, religion, societal majority, or some other force telling them how to change and when. Gradual, voluntary change is what most people seek. They’ll adopt the new and modify the old when they see fit, and thus acculturation occurs peaceably. Boarding schools, the Dawes Act, and other measures of forced acculturation were disastrous for Indian people in the United States.¹ But previously, many of those same people had gladly adopted use of the horse, iron cooking implements, firearms, sheep herding, manufacturing of silver jewelry, and other “introduced” cultural phenomenon. Ethnic Studies people in and around academia tend to focus exclusively upon the forced acculturation — but that does injustice to a broader story. As often is the case in such matters, the truth is more complicated, more interesting, and in some cases, quite a bit more optimistic.
Perhaps the most profound reflection of pro-Indian culture in recent decades has been native people “re-acquiring” millions of acres of land. This entails far more than what Anglo-American law refers to as “real property.” Land was inseparable from pre-Contact native culture and religion.² Land continues to offer some economic return, though Indian interactions with land have naturally changed a great deal compared to earlier eras — as has been the case for American society at large. After all, today’s flora and fauna configurations alone are practically unrecognizable compared to 500 years ago — but sometimes in surprising ways. For example, the bison are almost completely missing from the Plains, but white-tailed deer in the eastern forests are more numerous than ever recorded (largely due to missing prehistoric predators, especially mountain lions and wolves). We’ve lost the American chestnut forests and all the food and other resources these massive woodland once provided for indigenous peoples. On the other hand, some tribes are engaged in modern forest stewardship,³ and not just the Menominee tribe, famous for its woodland stewardship. This in itself an expression of hybrid culture, since German silviculture primarily influenced the pre-clearcut practices of American forestry.
A return of acreage to native peoples facilitates culturally important activities such as hunting, fishing, foraging, religious ceremonies, and obviously just a sense of freedom and privacy from the busy world of “mainstream” culture. From my own point of view, there is little that is more profound or more important than a sense of home. And from home, much culture arises.
In any case, the return of land is remarkable! The largest return (40 million acres) accompanied the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.⁴ During the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of thousands of additional acres went back to tribes, usually in the western states, but also in Maine (300,000 acres).⁵ Nearly two million acres went back under the Obama administration alone.⁶ This is important. Identity politics players like to dwell upon the horrible tragedies that accompanied the Euroamerican invasion of the western hemisphere. No one should ever deny or downplay those tragedies. But as Wilcomb E. Washburn (a scholar sympathetic with Indians) wrote, we should remember to credit Anglo-American law and its precedents for providing the formal legal machinery for such land returns.⁷ Only telling the admittedly horrific accounts of racism, murder, discrimination, and forced acculturation — involving seizure of Native American children, forced boarding school attendance, loss of lands, forced relocations, unfair treaties made with non-representatives of tribes — omits these lesser-told stories of optimism and redress.
An acculturation dynamic from Nashville will illustrate another interesting interplay of minority and mainstream forces. The Geier v. University of Tennessee case began in 1968 when Rita Sanders filed suit seeking an injunction to prevent University of Tennessee-Nashville from expanding and absorbing traditionally-black Tennessee State University (TSU). The expansion, the suit alleged, would perpetuate a segregated dual system of higher education in which TSU would remain subordinated.⁸ Soon a group called Tennesseans for Justice in Higher Education (TJHE) observed that the plan harmed black institutions by (basically) making integration a one-way acculturation phenomenon that ignored traditionally black institutions, their staff, faculty, and students.⁹ In some ways, African Americans had held these concerns ever since the Brown ruling in 1954.¹⁰ The TJHE writers insisted upon a direct counterbalance of segregation’s legacy by creating “proportionate representation of blacks at all levels of higher education in Tennessee, including students, faculty, administrators and governing boards.”¹¹
The federal circuit court in Geier ruled that University of Tennessee surrender its Nashville campus to TSU. It was, attorney Avon Williams reflected, “the first time in America that a significant white institution of higher learning was ordered to be absorbed by a predominantly black institution of higher education under the leadership and guidance of the black President and his predominantly black faculty and staff.”¹² In 1984, in the final decision on the merger, Judge Thomas A. Wiseman, Jr. wrote that the goal was equality, not racial quotas.¹³ Two years later officials changed the name of the TSU downtown campus, and today it bears the name of its most prominent legal advocate, as the Avon Williams Campus of Tennessee State University.
Such an example is admittedly rare in American history, and it was probably nonexistent before the Civil Rights Era. But the fact that it could happen at all has to offer some testament to the nation’s legal foundations. From my point of view, lawyers were among the under-sung heroes of the Civil Rights movement, fighting injustice from within the legal system.¹⁴ Some continue this effort, often with little or no remuneration for themselves.
See my List, “Enrichment Assimilation” for other installments in this series of excerpts from my unpublished book, Enrichment Assimilation: A Lingering American Dream, Copyright © 2019, 2022 Will Sarvis. All rights reserved.
 Felix S. Cohen, Handbook of Federal Indian Law (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, GPO, 1942), 208, 211, 237.
 Nell Jessup Newton, editor in chief, Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law (Newark, NJ: LexisNexis, 2005), 965. Also see Jack Campisi, “The Trade and Intercourse Acts: Land Claims on the Eastern Seaboard,” in Irredeemable America: the Indians’ Estate and Land Claims, Imre Sutton, ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Pr., 1985), 360.
 Brian Bull, “Native American Tribes Gaining Recognition For Timber And Forestry Practices,” (Eugene, OR: KLCC Radio, Jan. 30, 2019).
 David H. Getches, “Alternative Approaches to Land Claims: Alaska and Hawaii,” in Irredeemable America: the Indians’ Estate and Land Claims, Imre Sutton, ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Pr., 1985), 301, 306.
 Arrell M. Gibson, “Indian Land Transfers,” in Handbook of North American Indians, vol.4, Wilcomb Washburn, ed., (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1988), 227, 228, 229.
 Kevin K. Washburn, “U.S. Restores Millions of Acres to Native Americans,” Albuquerque Journal (March 2, 2016).
 Wilcomb E. Washburn, “Land Claims in the Mainstream of Indian / White Land History,” in Irredeemable America: the Indians’ Estate and Land Claims, Imre Sutton, ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Pr., 1985), 21, 22–23, 26, 27, 30–31.
 Geier v. University of Tennessee, et al (1979), 597 F.2d 1056.
 Tennesseans for Justice in Higher Education, “Position Paper on TSU Case,” circa February 1972, page 1, in the Kelly Miller Smith papers (Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee), box 96, file 7.
 One of many early examples involved Whitney Young, Sr., and his efforts to preserve the Lincoln Institute located near Simpsonville, Kentucky. See Dennis C. Dickerson, Militant Mediator: Whitney M. Young, Jr. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), 16–18.
 Tennesseans for Justice in Higher Education, “Position Paper on TSU Case,” page 4 (Kelly Miller Smith papers, box 96, file 7).
 Avon Williams autobiography, early 1980s, kindly loaned to the author by Avon N. Williams, III. This document is comprised of a series of transcripts made from tape recordings. Also included in this document is the entire transcript of the Bob Allen-Avon Williams interview, ca. 1979, an edited portion of which was published in an unidentified issue of the Nashville Magazine.
 Geier v. University of Tennessee, et al (1984), 593 F. Supp. 1263.
 I told a small part of this story in Will Sarvis, “Leaders in the Court and the Community: Z. Alexander Looby, Avon N. Williams, Jr., and the Legal Fight for Civil Rights in Tennessee, 1940–1970,” Journal of African American History 88:1 (Winter 2003): 42–58.