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Megan Bang: 'Indian law is American law'

February 22, 2024
President Calvin Coolidge posed with Indigenous Americans near the White House on Feb. 18, 1925. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Native scholars and law professionals, including School of Education and Social Policy Dean Bryan Brayboy and professor Megan Bang, participated in the conference “100 Years Back, 100 Years Forward: Sovereignty, Community, and Indigenous Futures,” at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Co-hosted by Northwestern’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR), the two-day convening explored the lasting implications of the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, which gave citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S.

Since then, several laws have been implemented to grant rights for Indigenous tribes, including the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 — a law that was enacted to decrease the U.S. government’s control of Native people’s affairs so they may become a self-governed people.

“We hope that people will recognize that Indian law is American law, and there is no law or policy making that should be happening that does not consider Indigenous peoples,” said Bang, professor of learning sciences at the School of Education and Social Policy and director of CNAIR.

Bang moderated a panel, which included Andrew Johnson from the Indian Chamber of Commerce; Gina Roxas, from the Trickster Cultural Center; Aaron Golding, associate director for the University’s Multicultural Student Affairs; and Ellen Williams from the Illinois Department of Child Welfare. The discussion focused on historic legislation passed at the state and federal levels last year and plans for 2024.

In May, Congress passed legislation recognizing the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation’s ownership of 129 acres of land within the Shabehnay Band Reservation in northern Illinois. A few months later, Illinois lawmakers passed a bill allowing students to wear religious clothing in schools — including traditional Indigenous regalia. That same month, HB 1633 was passed, which requires that Native American history be required curricula for public schools in Illinois.

Megan Bang, professor of learning sciences at SESP and director of CNAIR moderates the community panel. 

Bang and her family, including her son Nimkii Curley, and the Native American community helped fight for  both Illinois bills. Bang is also involved with creating curriculum guides and other supports for school districts. “Teachers can't effectively teach about things they never learned, were never required to learn to become educators, or have never had professional development on,” she said. “Leaders can't support their teachers if they don't know either.”

SESP Dean Bryan Brayboy spoke on a panel called Change in the Perspective for the Future with Northwestern sociology professor Beth Redbird; Tiffany Lee, professor of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico; Alex Red Corn, assistant professor of educational leadership at Kansas State University; and Cliff Zimmerman, professor of practice, Pritzker School of Law.

Along with the Law School and CNAIR, the conference was also sponsored by Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for Humanities, Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, Institute for Policy Research, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, School of Education and Social Policy and the Native American Law Students Association.

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