Megan Wissbaun went into Tuesday’s Constitution Day lecture not expecting much, but walked away pleasantly surprised.
“I’m just here to get extra credit for my government class honestly.” Wissbaun said before the speech. Afterward, Wissbaun, a junior majoring in social work and criminal justice, said “(The speech) was very interesting and informative — I had no idea about the current issues between the government and Indian tribes.”
Tuesday marked the 226th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Dr. Frank Pommersheim, law professor at the University of South Dakota, delivered his “Broken Landscape: Indians, Indian Tribes, and the Constitution” lecture.
The speech addressed relations between Native Americans and the federal government and how the relationship has changed over the last 200 years.
James Petree, a second-year law student, said he was also impressed by the speech.
“I don’t study Indian Law, but now I’m kind of wishing I had,” he said. “It’s cool all the history that goes into this subject.”
During his presentation, Pommersheim, who worked on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation for 10 years before joining the law school teaching staff in 1984, explained the changes that have occurred between Native American tribes and the government from the 1700s to the present day.
When the Constitution was newly adopted, Pommersheim said, it gave Congress the right to regulate trade with the Native American nations. For a while things run relatively smooth, but in the mid to late 1800s America began expanding rapidly.
In order to seize more land, Congress gave the federal government more power over the Native Americans, Pommersheim said. In 1903, Kiowa chief Lone Wolf brought a case to the Supreme Court in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock. Lone Wolf claimed the federal government did not have the right the seize reservation land.
Pommersheim said the courts did not rule in Lone Wolf’s favor, thus setting the precedent that Congress can pass any legislation regarding Native American affairs and it cannot be appealed.
Pommersheim also said Native American tribes today are trying to exercise their rights and maintain some independence. Pommersheim said it is unlikely tribes will achieve the sovereignty they once had.
Years later, the Constitution is still used as the structure for the federal government with only 27 amendments since it was adopted.
In 2004, Congress established Constitution Day to celebrate this document. In addition, all colleges and universities that receive federal funding are required to present an educational event about the Constitution.
Pommersheim earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology from Colgate University, Master of Public Administration from Harvard University and his JD Law degree from Columbia Law School.
In addition, Pommersheim serves on tribal courts such as the Rosebud Sioux Supreme Court and the Cheyenne River Court of Appeals.
Pommersheim has also been nationally recognized for his expertise on Native American law. He has won numerous USD awards for teaching, published numerous academic works and has composed poetry.
A lecture on Native American and state relations will be held Thursday at 3 p.m. in the law school courtroom. An open forum will follow with a panel including Pommersheim and the South Dakota Secretary of Native American Affairs Leroy LaPlante.