Tag Archives: Law

Busting Reclamation Anvils


September 6, 2014

The Yakama Nation is in the process of reclaiming jurisdiction in five areas of civil and criminal justice. Since 1953 Washington State has held authority over school attendances, public assistance, domestic relations, juvenile delinquency, and motor vehicle operations by way of a federal law known as Public Law 280. In 2012 the Nation filed a petition with the State, which led to then-Governor Gregoire to sign a bill approving a procedure for the Nation to reclaim jurisdiction in those five areas. January of this year saw Governor Inslee issue a proclamation return jurisdiction to the Nation.

When Belinda and I first started looking for land to buy on the reservation in 1999, a number of folk questioned our sanity (That is, after we answered the slew of questions that came along wondering how we could buy land on the reservation in the first place.). They questioned our buying because one day the Yakama Nation might regain total jurisdiction and that might lower land prices. The background question seldom asked was, could you really trust the Tribe to support your best interest?. The second question is a hard one to answer and one to grabble another day. The first one though is much easier.

When Governor Inslee wrote his proclamation, he said jurisdiction could return to the Yakama except for when it involves non-Indians operating motor vehicles on the reservation. The State would retain jurisdiction in these civil cases and well as in criminal cases involving “non-Indian defendants, non-Indian plaintiffs, and non-Indian victims.”

What Inslee withholds in his proclamation is foundational to why non-Indians have little worry (if they are going to worry) about the Yakama regaining total jurisdiction of the land “within the exterior boundaries of the Yakama Reservation (See Proclamation).” Continue reading

When Justice Is On The Back Forty, Is It Justice?


July 29, 2013

When you’re baling at 3am on a Sunday morning and when everything is going right—no breakdowns, no mis-ties, no plug-ups—one has time to think.  With half a moon lighting the morning sky and casting shadows off the hay windrows, I recalled Wednesday’s conversation.  With a dozen folk sitting in the garden, the Reverend Karyn Dix led us in a conversation about the United States women’s prison system.  Having spent years as a chaplain at Oregon State’s Coffee Creek Women’s Prison, Karyn asked us to consider what the modern prison system means to society in general and people of faith in particular.  As bales dropped off the back of the baler one comment kept coming to mind.

Today, much of the United States prison system is no longer a public institution—In other words, today’s prison system is no longer built, organized, and operated by us-the government.  Instead, we have handed over our responsibility of paying attention to those outside of society to private business.  This reality puts an interesting kink in a system we might think of as just.  When prisons are private and ran as businesses, justice is likely to be shuffled off to the back forty while the profit motive entices owners and stockholders to want prisons full inmates, want existing inmates to stay as long as possible, and want to enhance the incoming flow of inmates.  In other words, crime pays for private prison owners and stockholders.  That being the case, should we be surprised private prisons lobby our legislators for harsher sentences, mandatory minimums, and new laws?

Which leads me to Wednesday’s comment.  “California, like other states has a good number of private prisons.  Oregon’s constitution, though, is written in such a manner that it does not allow for private prisons.  That may not have been what the writers had in mind when writing the constitution, but that is the result.  Isn’t it interesting, therefore, that the recidivism rate in California is roughly ninety-seven (97) percent, while in Oregon, where there is no profit incentive to keep inmates in prison, the recidivism rate is around thirty-seven (37) percent?”  Kind of sounds like that when prisons are set up to make a profit, society becomes okay with enhancing retributive justice while weakening the restorative justice which would allow our sisters and brothers to rejoin us as community.  What do you think?

© David B. Bell 2013

Jury Duty


December 08, 2012

Jury Duty.  Two words that place fear into the hearts of the best of us.  Well, maybe that is a bit strong.  Yet, isn’t amazing, most everyone who is called for jury duty has a story.  From getting time off to being questioned by the judge to the time of trial, these stories, told with fear, trembling, and humor, often speak to an individual’s questioning of moral, ethical, and religious issues because they find themselves facing an individual(s) who often looks like themselves, but is in a time of trial and faces the real possibility of prison.  Funny, but in its own weird way, jury duty seems to get many of us to go much deeper and do a bit of self-reflection we would never chance within the walls of, say, a church, a synagogue, or a mosque.

Jury Duty.  Okay, so my turn came around a few weeks ago.  I had hardly opened the mailbox—yep we still have the traditional mailbox on the side of the road, you’ve gotta wonder, with all the different ways of communication we have these days, just how much longer this generational icon is going to be around?—when the notice with JURY DUTY stamped across the front seemed to jump from the box into my hands.  “It can’t be,” I thought.  “Didn’t I just do this?”  It turns out—I went straight home and looked it up on my computer—the last date they (the County Clerk) called me for Jury Duty was exactly one year and one month since the last time I sat in a courtroom answering questions (some I’d prefer not answering) posed by a judge.  Somewhere in the summons there was a note saying they develop the Jury Duty list from voter’s registration and driver’s licenses.  Really?  In all of Yakima County there are only enough people that your Jury Duty card comes up every year and one month?  I doubt it.  But, then, my doubt doesn’t go far to dissuade the County Clerk, so I did what any self-respecting citizen does under the threat of fine and/or jail time; I showed up at the courthouse at the appointed time!

Funny thing, you run through a lot of stuff through your head in a year and a month.  Last time, I didn’t make past the judge’s initial juror questions, one question in particular.  In a year and a month I gave that question a fair amount of thought, and I had my doubts, as I entered the courthouse that this time around it would turn out any different.

Last time, we were about a third of the way through the judge’s questions when the question came up.  Of course, I didn’t know that until this time when the question came up after two and a half hours and the judge said this would be the last question.  In both cases, it seems the question is one that seldom is questioned.  For both times, once the judge raises the question, the pause allowing time for potential jurors to raise their hand because they had an issue with the question was not nearly as long as with the other questions.  Fair enough, for both times the only hand that went up after the judge introduced the question was mine.  And each time it appeared that raising my hand surprised the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney.  Additionally, the courtrooms tenor changed in a way that made it feel that I was no longer bald but rather a skinhead.

I continue to ponder the question weeks later—a year and two months after I first answered it, because I’d like to see hands raised.  Sure, probably narcissistic of me, but I’d like to think more folk think like me!  The dark reality may be though, I’m just a bit out of wack and my rationale is wanting!  Regardless, after two rounds with two different judges, I’ve cut myself a little slack and figure a little preoccupation with the question is a good thing.  After all, what if round three comes up someday?

The job of a juror is to find the facts of the case.  The job of the judge is to give the law of the case.

The Question went something like this, “Your role as jurors is to determine the facts of the case based on what is presented to you.  As the judge I will determine the law which applies to this case and inform you, the jury, about it.  Are there any of you who cannot uphold the law as it is given to you?”

There is a unique feeling that bubbles up when yours is the only hand raised in the courtroom.

The ensuing dialogue went something like this…

Judge:  You feel you cannot uphold the law?

Me:  Well, I the answer is not that easy.  We need to have a conversation to flesh this out.

Judge:  Yes, go ahead.

Me:  Chances are, I am not going to have a problem with the law as you give it to us.  However, I am well aware in the past we have had laws, such as “Sundown Laws” and “Segregation Laws” that today we know as unjust laws.  While I believe you bring a much greater awareness of the law into the room than I, I must allow my own critical thinking to engage about the law in light of the reality that our laws are not always just.

Judge:  While I thank you for believing my education and experience brings much awareness of the law into the room, I do not make the law.  Rather, legislators and the people determine the law.  I bring that law into the courtroom.  As you may know there have been problems with jury nullification.  That being, there are instances when a jury has gone beyond deciding the facts of a case and moved to deciding the law, contrary to instructions given by the judge.  I believe, we live in a society where the law must be upheld, as the system is designed, for without the law there can only be anarchy.  The law and the legal system is that which gives structure and stability to our society.  And it is that Law which must be upheld.

Me:  Yes, I understand we live within a societal structure that is informed by the law.  And I believe chances are, in this case or any other, that my having the insight to understand a law as unjust is slim.  Any more than my White grandfather could have understood the segregation laws of his day being unjust; it is unlikely I am going to recognize a law as unjust today due to the societal lenses I wear.  However, I believe we should bring the whole of ourselves to a decision that may determine guilt, know laws have and can be unjust, and in doing so, should I determine the law given to me is unjust, then I must reserve the right to be critical about it and bring that voice into the room with my peers.

Judge:  So, you are saying that should you feel the law is unjust, even though that is the law I have instructed you to determine the case by, you would not uphold it?

Me:  Yes.

Judge:  District Attorney, do you have a problem dismissing this juror?  “No.”  Defense Attorney, do you have a problem dismissing this juror?  “No.”  Juror 72, thank you for your candid responses, however, I am dismissing you from this case.

As I walked through the courtroom and out the door the Judge continued:  This conversation as in others today is not always easy, but as in the case of every person dismissed today, it is only in your willingness to express your thoughts and convictions that we are better able to provide a system of justice.  After lunch we will return at which time the attorneys will ask you questions much as I have done…

The judge’s words, “better able to provide a system of justice,” remain with me today.  Societal justice is a fluid thing.  Yesterday it was lawful to segregate people of color from White people.  Today we have laws that separate undocumented parents from their documented children.  Tomorrow’s generation may understand our current immigration laws as abhorrent we understand the segregation and slavery laws of our folks before us.  Our “system of justice,” is ever changing and it seems we do well to question when and where our current system serves the mainstream voice of power and causes suffering within the lives of the voiceless and powerless.  I never gave jury nullification much thought before, but I wonder, perhaps jury nullification is a reality we should all be aware of, have a conversation about, and wonder if it is appropriate power to know and use.

Maybe, rather than thinking of jury nullification is a person or people’s way to undermine the law, an argument might be made that juror’s have the ability to bring the whole of him or herself to the courtroom, responsibly, and become critical thinkers of the law.  Our system of justice surely would look different, but might it become a better system because the people are engaged with the law they govern themselves by?  Or perhaps the question we need to ask is, if we were on trial in a time of segregation or a time of slavery, would we want a jury of our peers  critically thinking about the law of which they deliberating to convict us by, or do we want them to “just find the facts?”

© David B. Bell 2012

Between the Ridges: George Tinker Presentation

The Rev. George Tinker preaches during an “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” on April 27 at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

May 10, 2012

Over the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time writing on the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD).  The DoD, while it has yet to have little exposure in our schools or seminaries, drives much of how we think culturally and socially.  In developing my thoughts concerning the DoD, one theologians writing, George Tinker, pushed me to question how Christianity endorsed the subjugation of American land and people and how that subjugation often lead to genocide.

Between the Ridges, a local Ecumenical Collaborative of the Yakama Christian Mission—Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), White Swan and Toppenish United Methodist Churches, and Christ Episcopal Church have had the good fortune to obtain grants and raise monies to have George Tinker bring his gifts and insight to the Yakama reservation.  Below is a Flier/Write-up speaking to opportunities to hear Tinker.

Please join us!

© David B. Bell 2012


Conversations with George Tinker

Between the Ridges, an Ecumenical Collaborative on the Yakama Indian Reservation is sponsoring a day of conversations with George Tinker. 

George E. “Tink” Tinker is a prominent American Indian theologian and scholar, author of many articles and books.  Tinker is professor of American Indian cultures and religious traditions at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he has taught since 1985. He earned his doctorate in Biblical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in 1983. He is also an ordained Lutheran pastor of Living Waters Episcopal/Lutheran Indian Ministry in Denver. Tinker is a member of the Osage Nation, and is also on the leadership council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado and director of the Four Winds Survival Project.

Tinker’s works can be categorized into many areas. Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide critiques how the Christian church and its missionaries, regardless of best intentions, were complicit with the cultural, political, and social genocide of Native Americans. Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation is concerned with eliciting the difference between Native American and White cultures and providing a critique of White categories of thought. A Native American Theology explains how Native American cultural symbols can be used to re-interpret Christianity. Throughout all Tinker’s work he is concerned with the health of the environment, the recognition of communal, not individualistic, values, the importance of being tied to the land, and the interrelatedness with all of Creation that comes with living in a spatial, communal attitude.

Two opportunities are scheduled.   A free will offering will be taken to support these events.

  • Dr. Tinker will preach at Wilbur Memorial United Methodist Church, 90 1st St, White Swan WA.  Sunday May 20 at 10 am.  This event will be followed by a brunch at the church to continue the conversation.
  • A community meal followed by program will also be held at Toppenish United Methodist Church, 210 N Beech St, Sunday Evening May 20 beginning at 5 pm.  Dr Tinker will speak and engage a diversity of voices in the community in conversation. 
  • We are also arranging other small conversations and tours for Monday, May 21.

Dr Tinker will have just led the National United Methodist Church through a season of repentance at their national convention in Florida.  The World Council of Church’s Executive Council has recently repudiated the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, a series of papal bulls and theological statements that justified the 15th Century Age of Discovery and unpins the current legal framework of international property law, tribal treaties and the dominant culture’s relationship with indigenous people.  Also in May the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous People will have the Doctrine of Christian Discovery as the main theme for their international conference.  This is a perfect time to learn more about the history of Christian mission and do the creative work necessary to explore a way forward beyond theologies that justify oppression toward a new vision of the church’s role in standing in solidarity with First Nations here in the US and with indigenous peoples around the world.

For more information and to RSVP Contact: 

David Bell, Yakama Christian Mission dave@yakamamission.org
Derel Olson, White Swan and Toppenish United Methodist Churches derel.olson@gmail.com
David Hacker, Christ Episcopal Church davidhacker916@gmail.com  509-961-4692

How To Censor Voice

January 18, 2012
Yakama Mission

However you might take it, a banning of books or “The books… have been moved to the district storage facility because the classes have been suspended,” what is true is students in Arizona have lost the opportunity to formally, intentionally, and critically engage in conversation concerning ethnic studies.

A year ago a law went into effect as a result of Arizona Superintendent (of) Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruling that would ban “classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, encourage resentment toward a race or a class of people, are designed solely for students of a certain ethnicity and advocate for ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of students as individuals.”  Last summer Huppenthal announced the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) “Mexican American studies program was illegal,” and that he found a number of texts used in the program were troubling.  A few of the troubling books that have been removed from TUSD classrooms are Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow.  Rethinking Columbus gives voice to such writers as Leslie Marmon—”Ceremony,” Suzan Shown Harjo—”We Have No Reason to Celebrate,” and Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday and his “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee.”

When speaking on the Doctrine of Discovery I often mention we need a new way of understanding our history and make a statement something along the lines that “after all, history is written by those who win the war.”  The statement is not new and most people give an affirmative shake of the head.  We get it; we understand that it is those with power who have the opportunity to write history.  What we miss is history is also being written by the subjugated, the oppressed, and the colonized.  However, their voice does not carry far beyond themselves and their supporters because those whom the dominate structure gives power does allow it.  Give it some thought, how many of us who are adults had the opportunity in grade school, high school, or college to become familiar with writers such as Paulo Freire, Leslie Marmon, Suzan Shown Harjo, or N. Scott Momaday?  What we are watching in Arizona could easily become a case study of how dominate culture halts and removes those voices who dare propose another way of understanding history, life, and landscape.

*Censored News: Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights:  http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2012/01/banning-of-books-signals-revolution-in.html?spref=fb
*Tucson Citizen.com:  http://tucsoncitizen.com/arizona-news/2012/01/17/tucson-district-denies-ban-of-mexican-american-books/

© David B. Bell 2012

When Reason Becomes Faith


July 2, 2011

In a few week the Disciples General Assembly begins.  On Wednesday July 13 at 4pm David Bell is offering a workshop on how the Doctrine of Discovery influenced the theology and structure of Disciples of Christ (DOC)and how that theology led to the development of the Yakama Christian Mission.

During the weeks ahead, a conversation at http://justbetweentheridges.wordpress.com/, the Mission’s Journal/Blog site, will occur on the Doctrine of Discovery.  If you have never heard of the Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine), you’re not alone.  Folks in the United States don’t teach about the Doctrine in either the public school system nor in the Christian Church, even though both have been deeply influenced by it—and though these institutions so we have been influenced.  Therefore, the Doctrine is a silent part of all of our U.S. lives, but known more about on reservations than off reservations.

To begin this conversation it is good to say the Doctrine of Discovery is not a document, but rather a series of papal bulls, edicts, Supreme Court decisions, newspaper articles, International government policies, U.S. government policy-legislation-laws, and even DOC resolutions.  There is no clear date on when the Doctrine begins.  Just importantly, there is no ending date, the Doctrine continues to influence DOC polity, decision making of the U.S. government, and our everyday lives.  However, if a start date were assigned to the Doctrine, typically, it would be about a month before Cristóbal Colón (Columbus) returns to Spain in 1493.  Yet, the thought process begins long before that.

Aristotle’s philosophy in the Nature of Man argued man has a unique nature: the soul.  Located within the soul is reason.  Reasoning, guides humans every action.  The human ability to reason, Aristotle argues, is rationality.  Rationality, in turn, is unique to the human soul.

Saint Augustine of Hippo restructures Aristotle’s argument of rational man into a theological construct.  In Confessions, Augustine holds

…a perfect man to be in Christ—not the body of a man only, nor, in the body, an animal soul without a rational one as well, but a true man.  And this man I held to be superior to all others, not only because he was a form of the Truth, but also because of the great excellence and perfection of his human nature, due to his participation in wisdom.

Augustine believed it is humans “participation in wisdom” (or rationality), which places the human soul into relationship with Christ.  Importantly to Augustine is the human rational soul is something very different from that of the animal soul for the rational soul creates the “perfect man…in Christ” who is “superior to all others.”

Saint Thomas Aquinas furthers Augustine’s work of setting the “rational soul” of humans against that of the “animal soul.”  Aquinas holds much of creation has a soul, yet there is clearly a difference between the rational soul of humans and that of, say, a dog.  This standpoint places the rational human soul as better than and therefore above all other created souls.  Thus, Aquinas argues for soul layering where the human rational soul is above all other created souls.  This soul layering argument allowed Christianity to create a structure of belief where not only does the animal soul reside at a level lower than that of the rational human soul, but also, those humans who are not rational have a soul that resides somewhere between that of the rational person and that of a dog.

Aquinas’ soul layering argument matters when word of Cristóbal Colón’s voyage reaches Spain in 1493.

© David B. Bell 2011

Border Conference Engages Youth and Young Adults on Immigration Issues

March 10, 2011

The following is write-up on a Border Conference Katherine attended in February.  Please take a look at what occurred and the power it had on some of the participants.  While the event did not deal with the historical and ongoing problems of the U.S. border concerning American Tribes, who are most often lost in border considerations, the issues and events that were dealt with do have a direct impact on the people of White Swan, Washington!  The article is written by Wanda Bryant Wills of Communication Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).


The reality of border crossings took on a new meaning for Rev. Sammy Robles when he touched a portion of the heavy metal wall that separates Mexico and the United States.

“The memories are still fresh in my mind,” recalled Robles, 31, pastor of Arise Christian Church in Orlando, Fla. “”There was a sense of intimidation and the recognition in that human-made wall.  It seems that there was power and judgment connected to it.  If only it could speak.”

Robles was among 12 young adults and youth who joined with about 60 other participants from  the Disciples and United  Church of Christ to gain new insights into immigration issues and border ministries at a unique four- day conference.  Held Feb. 10-13, the conference, “Turning Walls into Tables,” took place at Iglesia Cristiana Casa De Oracion in San Diego, Calif.  A one-day trip across the border into Tijuana, Mexico on Friday, Feb. 11 provided the opportunity to see first-hand the barriers that now divide the two countries.  It is estimated that about 670 miles of fences, walls and spikes currently exist along the border.

The Tijuana trip also included stops at a number of ministries that help those who have been deported from the United States back to Mexico.  The ministries provide food, health care and other basic needs.

“For the Church of Jesus Christ, understanding the so-called issue of immigration does not need to be complicated,” said David Vargas, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries, whose office was one of the sponsors of the event.  “For us, Disciples, it must be even simpler.  If we are truly a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, welcoming and honoring the foreigner and the stranger shall be at the core of our witness.  “

“In our case, that exercise must begin by recognizing, acknowledging, welcoming and honoring the many “undocumented” children of God who are full members of our Disciples community of faith – many serving as deacons, elders and pastoral leaders, including a significant number of young adults – and who are part of the body of Christ and welcome to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed the rest of us,” added Vargas.

Katherine Bell, 21, from White Swan, Wash. is thankful to be among those who participated in the trip.  For Bell, the experience added a new dimension to her understanding of immigration.  Bell has spent many years at Yakama Christian Mission, a ministry of Disciples located in the Yakama Nation in central Washington State.  About 55 percent of those living at Yakama are Native-American.  Another 45 percent are Hispanic.

“The Hispanics we see are mostly from central Mexico,” said Bell.  “They have worked their way up the California coast harvesting crops, and now have come to Oregon and Washington.  Since I returned from the border conference trip I have talked to other young people about how big this issue is and about how sometimes we don’t want to think about immigrants in our area, particularly if they are undocumented.”

“We are grateful that so many young people were able to be with us on the trip,” said Rev. Jennifer Riggs, director of Refugee and Immigration Ministries within Disciples Home Missions, whose office was also a conference sponsor.  “Immigration is an important issue for the future of our country and our church.  We wanted to involve young people who will be the future leaders of a church that will be very different than it is today, because of immigration.”

A number of speakers at the conference addressed the complex issues that tie together the United States and Mexico, such as geography and immigration.  Those speakers included Dr. Daisy Machado, dean of academic affairs and professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York City; Jen Smyers, associate director for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service and Dr. Carlos Correa Bernier, Director of Centro Romero in San Ysidro, Calif.  Bernier led the trip into Tijuana.

Participants also were reminded that the United States benefits economically in many ways through its relationship with Mexico, not only through cheap labor, but also through the implementation of provisions such as NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Tijuana residents in the Chilpancingo community spoke to participants about ways the NAFTA agreement has led to a host of problems in their area, including more air pollution from trucks hauling cargo to low wages paid in the maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories where workers make an average wage of $56 a week.

Several workshops at the conference further explained the complexity of border issues, looking at such topics as economic justice, race, and hospitality.  Three speakers from Mexico, Rev. Josue Martinez, Rev. Manual Tovar and Miguel Villa Panduro also shared their thoughts about the impact of immigration on their churches, families and community.

Youth and young adults led worship throughout the conference.

“The entire event left a huge impact on me,” said Sydney Merrill, 17, of Indianapolis, Ind., a member of Speedway Christian Church.  “Living and growing up in the Midwest, I was very unaware and blind to the issues involving the border…Now that the conference has ended, I feel that I can do the most by sharing the word of what I learned during the conference.  I have even written a report for one of my classes at school to help spread the word about the poverty, nonprofit organizations, deportation, and poor environmental conditions all revolving around the border.”

One outcome of the conference was a statement calling the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, to among other things, be more welcoming of all migrants by learning more about the borderlands; provide humanitarian assistance to immigrants and speak out against economic practices that disrespect human life.  To read a full review of the conference that includes the statement go to:  http://globalministries.org/news/lac/statement-of-the-participants.html

The conference was jointly sponsored by the Disciples/UCC Global Ministries, Disciples Home Missions, the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries and Disciples Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries.

By Wanda Bryant Wills, Communication Ministries
Found on “Disciples News Service”
of the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)