I started listening to This Land after a friend recommended it to me last month, which was Native American Heritage Month. It’s so good I binged it over Thanksgiving weekend (which felt like an appropriate way to commemorate the holiday). Y’all, this one is a must-listen.
An 1839 assassination of a Cherokee leader. A 1999 small town murder. Two crimes collide in a Supreme Court case that will decide the fate of one man and nearly half of the land in Oklahoma. Hosted by Rebecca Nagle, Oklahoma journalist and citizen of Cherokee Nation, This Land traces how a cut and dry homicide opened up an investigation into the treaty rights of five Native American tribes. Tune in to Crooked Media’s 8-episode series to find out how this unique case could result in the largest restoration of tribal land in U.S. history.Description from This Land on Spotify
First of all, Rebecca Nagle has the perfect voice for podcasting. She’s so smooth and easy to listen to, so you’re off to a great start from the very first word. But much more importantly, Nagle is a fantastic storyteller. The saga of how Carpenter v. Murphy became a question of land ownership is a convoluted one, and it would have been very easy to get bogged down in the legal details. But Nagle does not. She tells the story clearly, in an easy-to-follow format, repeating details and laying groundwork without taking you out of the action.
After she teaches us how the Carpenter case came to mean so much, Nagle also makes sure to tell the stories within the story, interviewing people who have been affected by the loss of land and jurisdiction. Doing this makes it very clear to the rest of us how much it would mean for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of tribes. Among the interviewees are a Cherokee woman who was adopted into a non-Cherokee family, even though her father had been willing to take her; a woman whose community had been taken over by chicken farms that ruined the land; and Nagle’s own family.
Listening to this is also a good way to learn some basics of modern Native American life. For instance, I knew that the US government recognizes Native American tribes as sovereign. But I didn’t know that being a member of a Native American citizen is essentially the same as having dual citizenship. Tribes are recognized as political groups rather than racial groups, even though the conversation around Native Americans in the US usually involves race more than anything else. Would it be easier to talk about Native American issues if we all understood what being Native American in the 21st entury actually means?
Listeners also learn some basic Cherokee history when Nagle explains the story of John Ridge and Major Ridge, two prominent Cherokee men who were key figures in the negotiations that led to the Trail of Tears. There’s a split within the Cherokee nation on whether they are traitors or saviors of the Cherokee way of life, and I can’t come close to doing that story justice. But Nagle does, and that’s just one more reason to listen.
The Supreme Court made a decision on this issue this summer, after deferring the decision for almost a year. I hadn’t heard of the case before this podcast, and didn’t look it up because I didn’t want to ruin the podcast experience. If that’s you, stop reading here (and go listen). If that’s not you, I’ll tell you that the podcast and the case did get a happy ending. It was really, really nice to hear a story about Native Americans that ended in a win for them, because that too often has not been the case. I HIGHLY recommend this podcast and will be watching for what else Rebecca Nagle puts out.
Featured photo from Crooked Media.