Navajo President Albert Hale says his threat to close roads across the Navajo Nation for a day at least got people talking about tribal sovereignty.
Since Hale issued the threat two weeks ago, a Navajo tribal council committee rebuked him, an Indian law expert called the idea stupid and the president of the Mescalero Apache Tribe dismissed the proposal as "radicalism."Hale stands firm.
He has said he wanted to spark a discussion about tribes' rights and their willingness to demonstrate their power. He is pleased people are now debating the issue.
He said in a statement he was pursuing "vigorous advocacy" of the privileges conveyed to the Navajo Nation in its treaty with the United States. Hale also has campaigned for a seat in the United Nations for tribes and has asked President Clinton for embassy status.
"In my view, it's not wrong to defend the rights of the Navajo people," he said.
Critics of the road closure proposal say it would invite confrontations with federal, state and local governments that hold right-of-way easements for many roads through reservations.
Mescalero President Wendell Chino, who has waged countless court battles to defend Indian rights, urged other tribes to ignore Hale's suggestion.
Indian leaders "should not resort to radicalism about sovereignty," Chino told the New Mexico Senate.
The Navajo Nation Council's Intergovernment Relations Committee also has declined to side with Hale.
"The negative publicity that these remarks have generated is extremely harmful to the Navajo Nation," spokesman Kelsey Begaye said. "It is neither prudent nor necessary to threaten the world with irrational displays of aggression in an attempt to assert sovereign capacity.
"I want to reassure the public that these so-called `sovereignty roadblocks' will not happen," Begaye said.
Southwestern tribes began to gather to discuss sovereignty after last year's proposals in Congress to erase tribal governments' immunity from being sued and to withhold federal aid from wealthier tribes. Neither measure passed, but tribal governments saw them as evidence their unique legal status was misunderstood.
At its most basic, sovereignty is self-government. However, as it relates to the relations of 500 Indian governments with the federal government, states and municipalities, sovereignty is defined in a labyrinth of federal laws, executive orders, treaties and court decisions.