Mining the ICC: Macroanalysis of the Indian Claims Commission Decisions

Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM
Hampton Room (Omni Shoreham)
Peter Carr Jones, George Mason University
How effective are historical truth commissions? From 1946 until 1978, the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) deliberated over the wrongs done to Indian Country by the United States government from its very first treaties. How do scholars account for such a commission?

As many scholars have shown, the ICC was rigged against Tribal Nations from its origin. Yet it helped galvanize Native Americans to demand their own space outside of the government-administered system. While scholars have noted the connection between ICC claims for justice and movements for self-determination, my macroanalysis points to a particular line of accounting cases and language that reflected a movement apex. My macroanalysis uses likely word groupings or “topics” generated by latent dirichlet allocation assigned to each opinion. The analysis of these topics traces this unsettled history, as the government transitioned from policies of termination towards increased self-determination. This analysis is novel in its ability to strip away the legal jargon from the decisions and reflect the cultural changes in language and strategy that tribes undertook.

Underlying both these cases and the tribal self-determination movement was the concept of an “accounting”- for past wrongs, moral and legal. The analysis highlights the ICC’s central failure: it attempted to provide a monetary solution to moral problems. Scholars can employ this method to sift the colonial archive for evidence of imperial change over time, but analysis without regard to tribal voices is doomed to fail.

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