North America

Religion in Africa; Agriculture in California

Geocurrents is not usually concerned with touting books or other websites, although requests for such consideration to do come frequently. But some works are so geographically impressive that they do deserve special mention. As a result, today’s posting will consider one website, Eugene Adogla’s Religiously Remapped: Mapping Religious Trends in Africa, and one book, Paul Starrs and Peter Goin’s Field Guide to California Agriculture.

Religiously Remapped shows what can be cartographically achieved with state-level data on religious observation. Eugene Adogla has gathered a tremendous array of statistics on religion in Africa, which he has used to generate a series of innovative maps. Most maps of religion in Africa do little more than separate Muslim from Christian areas. Adogla, however, shows how complex the situation really is, depicting even the distribution of such minor creeds as Rastafarianism and Eckankar. Adogla’s discussions of religious trends are also well considered, and well worth reading. (Disclaimer: Eugene Adogla is one of my former students, and Religiously Remapped was initiated several years ago as project for one of my courses at Stanford University.)

In their Field Guide to California Agriculture, geographer Paul F. Starrs and photographer Peter Goin have devised a new genre of writing. The book’s title hardly does it justice, as the “field guide” that it encompasses is embedded in a comprehensive, erudite, and eloquent disquisition on the history, economics, sociology and – above all – geography of agricultural production in what is arguably the world’s top farming location. It is, in a word, a masterpiece – one that should appeal equally to a broad public audience and to academic experts. The authors have an uncanny ability to hone in on topics of interest and significance, conveying their importance with precision and wit. Their book is both immensely informative and unfailingly entertaining.

This is unusual in a field guide. For geographically inclined readers, the genre is often exasperating. If one turns to traditional field guides with spatial questions in mind—where the range of one tree species begins and another ends, say, or where to find a particular kind of bird—it quickly becomes clear that the work provides little discussion of distribution. The focus is trained on identification, teaching readers to distinguish one species from another. Although I treasure my library’s field guide to North American mammals for its maps, I am perennially disappointed by the fact that it has more information on teeth than on range. How many readers are likely to trap small rodents and pry their mouths open? While marketed to a general audience, the book appears to have been designed for a professional field zoologist.

One could easily imagine a field guide to California agriculture written in the same technical spirit, focusing on diagnostic criteria. Detailed drawings or photographs would accompany bare-bones text, helping readers distinguish one crop from another in the field. For orchard crops, the emphasis would be tree shape, leaf form, and bark pattern, with a sentence or two about the crop itself thrown in for ornamentation. Such a work would be useful for classes in field geography and for curious drivers making excursions across California’s great Central Valley, but would be of limited interest to the general public.

Thanks in good part to the University of California Press, field guides have been evolving into a much more expansive form in recent years. Starrs and Goin, however, have taken the genre to a new completely new level, in both a scholarly and literary sense. To be sure, the book fulfills all of the necessary functions of the traditional field guide, aiding readers in crop and animal identification. Distinguishing features are listed for each entry, and an eight-page “agricultural product identification” guide provides a useful overview. If one is wondering, for example, whether an orchard contains walnut trees, guidelines are provided. As the walnut entry on page 216 puts it: “The utterly distinctive graft line where the English walnut slip was grafted onto a native black walnut rootstock … shows 6 to 24 inches above the ground: an instantaneous sign that this is a walnut…” But as is typical for the book, the key to walnut identification does not conclude so prosaically. Instead, the paragraph ends with an evocative tag: “The cicatrice is signature.” One does not generally turn to field guides for stylistic grace, but Starrs’ writing is at once eloquent and playful. One gets the impression that he had a great deal of fun writing the book, and his enthusiasm can be infectious.

The Field Guide to California Agriculture covers a staggering array of crops and livestock, from bok choi to oysters to cannabis. Each entry covers economic significance, spatial distribution, historical background, and issues of labor demand and farm management. The photos are plentiful and the maps are sharp. California’s share of the national harvest is duly noted for each entry, as is the market value. Obtaining the relevant numbers required considerable sleuthing for some crops. The marijuana entry is one of the most detailed in the book, as befits a crop that may well be worth more than all other California agricultural products combined. It is to Starrs and Goin’s credit that they tackle the issue head-on, writing about it with knowledge and verve.

The Field Guide to California Agriculture is divided into four main sections. The largest is an encyclopedia of crops and livestock, forming the field guide proper. The volume begins with a 70-page historical overview, and concludes with a similarly comprehensive essay on agricultural regions. These book-ends could together form a book on their own. The second section is a luscious photographical gallery aptly titled, “The Paradox and Poetics of Agriculture.” With enlargements and additions, it too could stand alone. Packaged together with the individual crop entries, they add up to a tour de force.

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The Basques of Saint Pierre and Miquelon

The world’s most unlikely center of Basque culture is probably Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a windswept group of islands covering 93 square miles (242 square kilometers) located twelve miles (19 kilometers) off the shore of Newfoundland. The Basque presence on the islands is of long standing, dating back to the first European exploitation of the cod fisheries of the Grand Banks in the 1400s; today, an estimated thirty percent of the archipelago’s 7,000 people are of Basque origin. Every August, Saint Pierre and Miquelon holds a Basque festival. This year’s event was evidently a success, featuring music, dancing, shows of strength, and the Basque national game of eusko pilota. Headlining the show was the musical group Gau-Aïnarak, from Jatxou in the Northern Basque Country of southwestern France.

It is fitting that the musical entertainment at this year’s fete came from the French Basque region, as Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a possession of France. Technically a Territorial Collectivity, the archipelago is a remnant of France’s one-time North American empire. When it lost its mainland holdings after the Seven-Year War in 1763, France was allowed to regain possession of the islands, which it had ceded to Britain in 1713. The return of Saint Pierre and Miquelon was not an insignificant consolation, since it served as a base for the Grand Banks fishery, then the richest in the world. The archipelago passed back and forth between Britain and France during the Napoleonic period, but since 1815 it has remained securely in French hands. World War II saw some drama. The local governor remained loyal to the fascist Vichy regime, leading Canada to threaten action. Instead, Charles De Gaulle took the islands by force. As De Gaulle had not informed the American government of his impending micro-invasion, Franklin Roosevelt was not pleased, contributing to his distrust of the Free French leader.

The fisheries of the Grand Banks once bought prosperity to Saint Pierre and Miquelon. In the 1920s, alcohol smuggling to the United States also proved lucrative. With the end of prohibition and, more recently, the depletion of cod stocks, the economy of Saint Pierre and Miquelon has languished. Per capita GDP in 2001 was a mere $7,000, necessitating heavy French subsidies. France hopes that tourism will boost the economy, but prospects seem dim. Offshore oil drilling is another distant possibility. As shown on the accompanying map, the territory has an oddly shaped exclusive economic zone of maritime territory. France had claimed a much larger slice of sea-space, but international arbitration in 1992 awarded most of the contested area to Canada.

The physical geography of Saint Pierre and Miquelon is also noteworthy. As the map above hints, the larger island of Miquelon was originally three separate islets. In the 1700s, a sand isthmus emerged naturally between the two larger chunks of land, which has subsequently been reinforced through engineering projects. The waters around the islands are perilous, noted for hundreds of shipwrecks. Fishermen refer to the channel separating St. Pierre from Miquelon as “the Mouth of Hell.”

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Beer Consumption and Regional Trends in U.S. Alcohol Use

Our third and final post on the geography of U.S. alcohol consumption begins with beer. The first map, from data provided by the Beer Institute, depicts per capita consumption in 2009. Montana, North Dakota, and New Hampshire come out on top, although in the case of New Hampshire the figure again reflects sales to residents of neighboring states. Overall, regional disparities in beer drinking are not pronounced. Although claims that “As a rule of thumb, the colder the state, the more beer consumption,” no such rule is borne out: compare, for example, Alaska and Hawaii or New York and Mississippi. A vague zone of low consumption is apparent in the Mid-Atlantic region, a region of high consumption is visible in the north center-west, and Utah, as always, is strikingly dry, but that is about all one can say.

The situation in 1970, depicted on the second map, was conspicuously different. At that time, the Southeast was a land of little beer, the Middle Atlantic consumed beer moderately, and the north center-west included both heavy- and light-drinking states. These regions no longer exist; U.S. beer consumption has undergone regional convergence, albeit not to the same extent as wine drinking.

Although climate does not in fact play much of a role in alcohol consumption, religion does. Utah’s consistently low ranking reflects the fact that the majority of its people belong to the tee-totaling Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Yet in the 1970s, Utah’s figures were not appreciably lower than those of the Deep South (excluding Florida and Louisiana). At the time, the residents of Alabama drank less than those of Utah, at least in terms of legal alcohol sales. The Southeast’s formerly dry ways also reflect the geography of religion, as the dominant Protestant sects of the region are historically prohibitionist. Through much of the Southeast, alcohol bans at the local level persist. More than half of the counties in Arkansas are completely “dry,” and alcohol sales are prohibited statewide on Sundays. Evangelical Protestantism also plays a role in the lower drinking rates of the Great Plains states. In the Dakotas, alcohol avoidance was linked to heavy settlement by Norwegian Lutherans, who were far more abstemious than their German counterparts.

If religious beliefs once restrained alcohol use in the Southeast and Great Plains, their effects today are muted. Although this is still the most devout part of the country, religious adherence in the region no longer correlates closely with alcohol avoidance. Alabama and Georgia, as well the Dakotas, have transitioned from very low to moderate levels of consumption. People in the upper South and southern Great Plains still drink less than other Americans, but they imbibe far more than their parents did. The greatest single transformation has been that of beer drinking in South Dakota, which has gone from a light to heavy consumption state.

The transformed drinking patterns of the formerly dry parts of the country might be linked to changing priorities among Protestant leaders. In previous generations, ministers often focused on reforming the sinful ways of their congregation – which often meant drinking, especially for men. Preaching today tends to be more positive and inspirational; as Pastor Jeffrey MacDonald recently complained in a New York Times opinion piece, “churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them.” As a result, the moral compass of Protestant fundamentalism increasingly turns from the behavior of the congregation to that of society at large, emphasizing issues like abortion or gay marriage. One can only speculate about the role that this shift has played in allowing drinking behavior in the Bible Belt to converge toward the national norm. Such conditions do not obtain in Utah, largely because the Latter Day Saints have a much stronger doctrinal prohibition against alcohol use than Southern Baptists, Evangelical Lutherans, or even Pentecostals.

The decline of drinking in the Northeastern, Great Lakes, and Pacific states is more secular in nature. I suspect that it is linked to increasing intolerance for drunk driving and other forms of impaired behavior. Increased competition also plays a role. It is hard to imagine trying to succeed in a New York advertising agency today while quaffing as much as the characters in the television show Mad Men.

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The Regional Convergence of Wine Drinking in the United States

As we saw yesterday, regional disparities in alcohol consumption in the United States have diminished significantly in recent decades. But “alcoholic beverage” is a broad category, and in different parts of the country, people favor different drinks. Have beverage preferences converged as well? Today’s post examines wine consumption in the United States, again pairing maps depicting the situations in 1970 and 2007, derived from data supplied by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.*

The first map, showing consumption in 2007, reveals marked regional differences. Wine drinking is much more prevalent in New England and the far West than it is across the South and in the Great Plains. Residents of Nevada evidently consumed more than six times the amount of wine in 2007 than residents of West Virginia.

But regardless of its current imbalance, wine drinking has undergone pronounced regional convergence. In 1970, as the second map shows, wine was popular in the Northeast and especially the far West; in most of the country, consumption was negligible. In that year, residents of Californians drank more than eleven times more wine than inhabitants of Iowa. Since then, per capita consumption in Iowa has more than doubled, while that in California has dropped. Californians now drink only about three times as much wine as Iowans.

Unlike alcohol consumption in general, wine drinking has been increasing in the United States. The average American drank 0.26 gallons of wine a year in 1934: by 1970 that figure had increased to 1.31, in 1990 it reached 2.05, and in 2009 it stood at 2.5. But California, the undisputed center of the U.S. wine industry, has bucked the trend. Per capita wine consumption in the Golden State dropped by roughly 22 percent from its peak year in 1980 to 2007. Presumably, the influx of Hispanics into the state has been responsible for much of this decline.

*The data set itself is admittedly somewhat suspect, as it places Idaho as tied with New Hampshire as the country’s top wine drinking state. Other sources peg Idaho’s wine drinking at a much lower level; see, for example, the Many Eyes map posted above. Idaho is a relatively rural state with a large Mormon population – not exactly conducive conditions for heavy wine drinking.

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The Convergence of Drinking Habits in the United States, 1970-2007

The United States has experienced a major rifting of its political landscape in recent decades as the Democratic Party has solidified its position in the Northeast and Pacific Coast, and the Republican Party has done the same in the Southeast, Great Plains, and much of the mountain West. Scholars debate the intensity of the divide; some see a disunited country of red and blue blocks, others a mostly purple land of nationally competitive political parties. The United States certainly does not face the threatening electoral splits found in Ukraine, Bolivia, or Pakistan, but its voting patterns are much more geographically skewed than those of a number of other countries, including Chile (see the earlier Geocurrents postings on these countries).

Some writers link political divergence with cultural divergence, contending that the liberal and conservative parts of the country are growing more separate not just in voting behavior but also in the conduct of everyday life. But are the people of the so-called red and blue states truly diverging in regard to what they eat, drink, wear, listen to, watch on television, and so on? Some evidence suggests that the opposite is occurring, and that the politically disparate parts of the country are actually converging in regard to many aspects of daily behavior. This week Geocurrents will examine cultural differentiation in the United States through one lens, that of alcohol consumption. Drinking habits tend to be culturally specific, freighted, and revealing, and in the U.S., the evidence on this front points undeniably toward convergence.

The first map above purports to show alcohol consumption by state per capita (excluding persons under fourteen years of age) in 2007, as measured in gallons of total ethanol. The data on which it is based, however, comes from sales rather than consumption, thus missing the transport of alcohol across state lines. New Hampshire’s top position stems largely from its lack of an alcohol tax, which entices shoppers from Massachusetts and other neighboring states. Number-two Nevada’s figures are themselves inflated by tourism, as much of the drinking in Las Vegas is done by nonresidents. Still, it still seems safe to regard Nevadans as the country’s heaviest drinkers. The difference between their per-capita consumption and those of neighboring Utah, the most abstemious state in the union, is roughly three-fold (4.22 vs. 1.34 gallons). That gap is substantial but not profound; the difference in Europe between the wet Czech Republic and dry Albania is more than six-fold.

Overall, the basic geographical pattern revealed by the map is relatively clear. A zone of light drinking is evident in the upper South* and central Great Plains, while zones of heavier drinking are found to the north and west. Strikingly, however, this divide bears no resemblance to the blue-state/red-state pattern of recent elections. In regard to alcohol consumption, New York looks much like South Carolina, Michigan resembles Alabama, and Texas and California look much the same.

Go back to 1970, however, and the picture looks very different. Forty years ago, Nevadans consumed more than four times as much alcohol as residents of Alabama (5.58 vs. 1.38 gallons). At that time, the Deep South (excluding aberrant Florida) clearly stood out for its low alcohol consumption, whereas the Northeast, Great Lakes region, and West (excluding Utah) had much higher rates of imbibing. At the time, the so-called Bible Belt was clearly evident on the map of alcohol sales. Today the correlation no longer holds.

The final map in this series shows the change in per capita alcohol consumption between 1970 and 2007. For the United States as a whole, drinking has declined, dropping from 2.52 gallons of ethanol per person in 1970 to 2.31 in 2007. In almost half of the states, however, consumption has increased in the same period. States with historically low levels of alcohol use have registered gains, while most states with high levels have seen losses. (Exceptions include increasingly light-drinking Utah and increasingly heavy-drinking Delaware.) The northeast in particular has seen a sharp decline; New York’s per capita consumption dropped by almost a gallon between 1970 and 2007. In contrast, the Southeast, along with some of the Great Plains states, registered major gains. The map that charts these changes, unlike the previous two, does bear a fairly strong resemblance to the “red-and-blue” maps of the 2004 and 2008 U.S. presidential elections. But it does so in an inverted sense: the two regions of the country stand apart precisely because they are coming together.

*The Southeastern Appalachian region is noted as the traditional center of illegal alcohol (“moonshine”) production, which escapes official notice and is thus not included in figures such as those used here. As such, it is likely that alcohol consumption in the upper South is, and has long been, higher than the maps indicate. Even so, it is clear that licit drinking behavior in the United States has substantially converged over the past forty years.

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Tribes and Nations: The Lumbees’ Frustrated Quest for Federal Recognition

U.S. states and recognized Native American tribes are both quasi-sovereign territorial entities subordinate to the federal government, but they remain fundamentally different kinds of units. Whereas the states together constitute the union and are thus arms of “the state” in the larger sense, tribes are vanquished polities that lost all but a few vestiges of their sovereignty. Reservations are thus never called “states,” even though they have many state-like attributes. But while Native Americans lost statehood, most groups retained nationhood. U.S. states are never considered nations, but tribes almost always are. The distinction between the state and the nation underwrites the differences between these two types of semi-sovereign units.

Unfortunately, the difference between nation and state has been muddied in common usage – along with such kindred terms as “country” and “sovereignty.” In everyday parlance, a nation is the same thing as a country as well as a fully sovereign state. Yet the formal definitions, which reflect earlier usage, remain distinctive. A “nation,” the Wikipedia tells is, is “a grouping of people who share real or imagined common history, culture, language or ethnic origin, often possessing or seeking its own government.” The essence of the nation, in this sense, is more cultural than political. Despite the changed meaning in basic usage, underlying connotations persist. If “country” primarily connotes a territory, and “state” primarily connotes a government, “nation” primarily connotes a people.

As subordinate nations, Native American tribes are supposed to have a “common history, culture, language or ethnic origin.” But when the indigenous peoples of the United States were conquered and displaced, remnant populations often amalgamated, creating hybrid societies. Due to their mixed origins and lack of a singular history, such groups may be denied official recognition by the U.S. government. The prime example of such an unacknowledged people are the Lumbee of North Carolina, whose 55,000 members form one of the largest tribes in the eastern United States (see maps above).

The Lumbee probably originated from remnants of several indigenous groups who sought refuge in the swamplands of southeastern North Carolina, where they were joined by escaped or freed slaves as well as a few poor Whites. They have been struggling for recognition for decades. In 1956, Congress acknowledged the Lumbee as American Indians, but it expressly denied the official recognition that would allow them to receive federal services through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Critics argue that the Lumbee do not constitute a genuine nation, as they are of mixed origin and lack a native language. The Lumbee themselves have proposed several different tribes as their main progenitors. Many link their ancestry to the Tuscarora, an Iroquoian group that largely abandoned North Carolina for New York in 1700. The Tuscarora tribal government, however, rejects the connection and has opposed official recognition. Currently, the locally favored theory connects the Lumbee to the Cheraw, a South Carolina tribe that was virtually destroyed by a smallpox epidemic in 1738.

The Lumbee case is once again pending in the U.S. Congress. On June 3, 2009, the House of Representatives voted for full federal recognition, agreeing that descent from the Cheraw gives the Lumbee tribal legitimacy. Whether the tribe is mostly of Cheraw heritage, however, could be said to be beside the point, to the extent that nationhood stems from a range of “real or imagined” commonalities. In the current congressional battle, at any rate, the pressing issues are more economic than historical or cultural. The current bill, which has yet to pass the Senate, couples Lumbee recognition with an explicit prohibition on casino development.

Earlier this year, it looked as if the Lumbee would at long last gain official status. Chances dimmed in March after tribal leaders abruptly fired the lawyer who had led their struggle for twenty years. They turned instead to Lewin International LLC, a gambling consultancy. Lumbee leaders insist that the “no gaming” provision still holds, but if the pending bill becomes law, Lewin will enjoy “exclusive rights to develop and manage hotels, restaurants, retailing and theme parks on tribal land.” Many observers think that the Lumbee are indeed angling for casino development, which may undermine, yet again, their quest for federal recognition.

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The Republic of Lakotah, The Alaskan Independence Party, and the Second Vermont Republic

Many Native Americans are worried about the reduction of tribal sovereignty. A few are so angry at the United States that they have declared independence. In 2007, Russell Means and a few other Lakota (Sioux) activists delivered formal papers of separation in Washington, D.C. They insisted that their self-proclaimed Republic of Lakotah was not seceding from the union but reasserting its own sovereignty. The Lakota, in their view, had signed treaties of dependency as a sovereign nation; as these treaties were not honored by the United States, they were effectively annulled, restoring Lakota independence. The republic’s organizers did say that they would consider entering a Compact of Free Association with the United States, following the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

In practice, the self-proclaimed Republic of Lakotah means little. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has deplored it as a publicity stunt, noting that its core members have no formal positions in tribal government. Few of the elected leaders of the eight reservations in the so-called republic have expressed support. While Russell Means claims that a sizable percentage of the Lakota people favor the declaration, others disagree. Support is even less certain among the non-Lakota Indians of “Lakotah,” and is undoubtedly extremely low among the non-indigenous people – who actually constitute the overwhelming majority of the proclaimed republic’s inhabitants.

Lakotah’s leaders sought international support, requesting recognition from Russia, France, Bolivia, and a few other countries. They have been rebuffed by all, even Venezuela. But the would-be republic has found support from two secessionist movements elsewhere in the United States: the Alaskan Independence Party, and the “Second Vermont Republic.” Such movements seeking to dismember the United States are small, but they are growing rapidly.

Modern secessionist groups in the United States are a diverse lot. Most follow a conservative-populist philosophy with libertarian tendencies – but not all. The Lakota activists are generally regarded as far left, but their politics are actually more complicated. Many of their libertarian platforms mesh well with those of the Alaskan splitters, including their support of the gold standard. The Second Vermont Republic, by contrast—founded by a former Duke University professor—is squarely leftist, “opposed to the tyranny of Corporate America.” But regardless of their divergent views, those who would secede from the union agree on one thing; they want to see the United States dismantled. To that extent, they are natural allies.

Although the Republic of Lakotah has largely been ignored by the media in the three years since it was declared, its leaders remain undeterred. As the group’s website recently announced, “On March 30, 2010, the Republic of Lakotah will repeat its position to the United States, and will transmit its communication to the President of the United States and to the Secretary of State, demanding that the United States cease and desist its activities in Lakotah territory, and insisting that the United States withdraw its presence from our homeland.”

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The Sovereignty of Non-Sovereign Tribes =

The federally recognized Native American groups of the United States are held to possess “tribal sovereignty.” The autonomy they enjoy is obviously limited, as the U.S. government maintains considerable control. But as we saw in yesterday’s post, sovereignty in practice is a divisible bundle of powers, which can be shared between a supreme political authority and its subordinate units. If the fifty U.S. states can be described as sovereign, so too can tribal governments, which usually enjoy more autonomy. (In the interests of precision, “quasi-sovereign” or “sub-sovereign” would perhaps be preferable terms, but one cannot easily change general usage.)

Native American groups were originally recognized as fully sovereign entities, able to sign treaties with other powers. As the U.S. government cemented its authority over the full extent of the territory that it claimed, they were demoted to the position of “dependent nations”: still partially autonomous, but no longer independent.

The extent to which Native American tribes today exercise sovereignty is an intricate issue, with a tangled history of court cases and acts of Congress. Tribal governments officially represent dependent nations directly subordinate to the federal government, and as such remain independent of the states and local branches of government. By a strict reading of their legal status, reservations should perhaps be mapped not as parts of states, but as autonomous territories removed from the fabric of state division.

Tribal freedom from state supervision, however, has gradually been whittled back. If Indian reservations are truly independent of the states in which they are located, then state courts should have no jurisdiction over them. Instead, both criminal and civil matters should be handled by tribal courts at the lower level and federal courts at the higher level. Such conditions obtain over much of the country, but not in the “greater northwest” (see map above). In 1953, Public Law 280 gave the governments of six states authority over certain civil and criminal matters on tribal lands that fell within their boundaries. It also allowed other states to later assume such powers if tribal governments consented. As the second map shows, most Native Americans today live in PL 280 states.

The recent development of reservation gambling was made possible by the limited sovereignty that tribal governments possess, but in practice it has further muddied the concept of tribal sovereignty. The Indian Gaming Regulatory of Act of 1988 forced tribes that wanted casinos to form “compacts” with state governments. At first such compacts were construed as business deals between autonomous and largely equivalent entities. According to the Act, if states refused to negotiate in good faith, tribes could sue in federal court. In 1991, however, the Supreme Court’s decision in Seminole Tribe v. Florida interpreted states’ “sovereign immunity,” as established in the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, as protecting them from legal action by their compact partners.

But tribal governments themselves also possess (limited) sovereign immunity. As battles over new tribal casinos rage, the scope of sovereignty continues to be scrutinized, and many Native American groups fear that their vestiges of sovereign power are being whittled away. The rhetoric can become heated. One American Indian website argued recently that the Attorney General of Connecticut has “waged a war against the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity.”

Gambling is not the only economic issue at play. Tribal governments also benefit from selling low-tax tobacco, a business widely reviled. On March 16, 2010, Indian Country Today described the U.S. Senate as having “handing big tobacco a huge victory” by “attack[ing] tribal sovereignty and economies” when it passed the PACT Act (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking). The Act left the Senate with unanimous consent, yet it could do significant harm to many tribal economies. American Indian leaders are now pinning their hopes on a presidential veto. According to one spokesman, “it comes down to Obama. He is an adopted Crow and he says all the right things, but this is real and not the campaign trail. So it will be interesting to see how he reacts when the rhetoric is tested against the reality of supporting tribes.”

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The Sovereignty of Non-Sovereign States

The concept of sovereignty is a foundation of global politics. The countries that constitute the international system are supposedly defined by their ability to exercise supreme political authority over their entire territorial domains. But sovereignty in practice is often qualified, its limits varying as the context changes. This is particularly true in the United States.

The problem of sovereignty in the U.S. dates back to the foundational debates over whether the new country would be a confederation of independent states or a single federal state. The ratification of the constitution established union, but the degree of national sovereignty remained contested through the early decades of the 1800s. People still spoke of the country in the plural (“the United States are …”), and the federal government remained miniscule, hardly a state at all to many European visitors. It was the Supreme Court’s 1819 decision in McCulloch v. Marylandthat first clearly limited the authority of state governments while granting constitutionally implied powers to Congress. South Carolina’s failure to nullify the federal tariff in 1832 further cemented federal authority, and the defeat of the Confederate States in the Civil War seemingly settled the matter for good.

Yet the notion of state-level sovereignty never completely died, and today it is being revived. Nullification is again in their air as several state legislatures try to exempt their residents from the recent health-care bill. The concept of sovereignty is apparently in play, as voices call for the states to wrestle authority away from the federal government. According to the conservative website Right Side News, “the ‘State Sovereignty Movement’ continues to sweep the nation with well over three-quarters of the fifty states taking action, through their respective state legislatures, re-establishing their ‘sovereignty.’” Wyoming is the newest constitutionally sovereign state, after a bill was signed into law there on March 8, 2010. According to the Tenth Amendment Center, similar bills have been signed by governors in three other states, and have passed both branches of the legislature in an additional seven (see map).

What the Wyoming legislature has claimed, however, is obviously not true “sovereignty” as the word is generally defined. The leaders of the sovereignty movement do not want states to be governed without federal interference of any kind, much less to chart their own foreign policies. What they are seeking is rather extensive autonomy. Their justification stems from a strict reading of the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to the constituent states all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government. And it is unlikely that Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming wants even this limited form of sovereignty; a literal interpretation of the Tenth Amendment would shrivel the U.S. government to a fraction of its current size. Freudenthal, like many other proponents of “state sovereignty,” is likely more interested in making a symbolic statement in favor of states’ rights and against the further expansion of federal power.

The term sovereignty has several meanings. It primarily denotes the authority at the top level of the geopolitical hierarchy: the territorial unit that accepts no higher power. But it can also refer to the powers vested in the highest-order spatial subdivisions of those units, which by definition accept a subordinate political status. This same slippage is evident in the term “state.” A state in standard political discourse is the entity that holds sovereignty: the governmental apparatus that exercises ultimate power. But in the U.S. and a few other countries, states are also the highest order spatial divisions of the state. The origin of such conceptual imprecision dates to the formation of the United States, when the leaders of the breakaway colonies disagreed about whether they should form a federation or a confederation. In the end a federal government was formed, but vestiges of the confederal age were deliberately retained, remaining fixed in our language and ever ready to be deployed in the perennial tussle between Washington and the states.

The fifty United States, however, are not the only units in this country that claim sovereignty. The same is true of most Native American groups, as tomorrow’s post will explore.

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Misleading Historical Maps

Many maps are misleading, but few are as consistently deceptive as the basic historical-political maps that fill the pages of most historical atlases. Such maps usually portray the polities of past, whether smallish kingdoms or vast empires, as if they were clearly bounded entities that exercised full control over their territorial domains. In actuality, most states have had vague boundaries, and many have maintained only partial control even in their core regions. As Lauren Benton argues in her important new book,A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900, “Empire did not cover space evenly but composed a fabric that was full of holes, stitched together out of pieces, a tangle of strings” (p. 2). The end results, she contends, were “not at all consistent with the image produced by monochrome shading of imperial maps” (p. 2).

Among the most misleading maps of empire are those that purport to show Spanish dominion in the Americas. Consider, for example, the Encyclopedia Britannica map reproduced above. Vast expanses of land in central North America are depicted as belonging to Spain, even though most of these lands had never even been visited by Spanish explorers, let alone subjected to actual administration. By placing the label “Viceroyalty of New Spain,” over what is now the center-west of the United States, moreover, the cartographer has effectively marginalized New Spain’s actual core in central Mexico. What the map really shows are not Spain’s territories but its territorial claims, its pretense to power. And even in this regard, the map may mislead by implying that such claims were everywhere of long-standing. In actuality, Spain asserted possession over the western Mississippi basin only between 1763 and 1800. And in regard to California, Spanish authority did not begin to spread until 1769, and it never extended into the northern and eastern reaches of the area that eventually became the American state.

Lauren Benton is by no means the only historian to point out the incompleteness of empire and our misleading cartographic portrayals of the past. But the extent to which such considerations still hold true is less often appreciated. What this blog seeks to demonstrate is the fact that many modern states, “do not cover space evenly, but compose a fabric full of holes, stitched together out of pieces, a tangle of strings.”

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The New State of Coastal California?

In 2009, former California legislator Bill Maze proposed dividing his state, hiving off thirteen counties as Coastal (or Western) California (see map). Maze, a conservative from the agricultural Central Valley, objects to the domination of state politics by the left-leaning Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas. The initial impetus for his proposal was the passage by state voters in 2008 of Proposition 2, requiring larger pens and cages for farm animals. Agricultural interests denounced the measure, arguing that it would increase their costs and threaten their livelihoods. Meanwhile, the state’s on-going water crisis, which largely pits farmers against environmentalists, widens the divide. Unforgiving invective marks both sides of the debate. A post in Politics Daily characterized secessionist farmers as dolts fighting against “liberal Hollywood types [who] don’t understand the importance of torturing animals.” The Downsize California website, on the other side, fulminates against coastal “radicals” who are “infatuated with nature over mankind and are sympathetic to illegals and criminals.”

The desire to divide unwieldy California may be quixotic but it is nothing new; at least 27 divisional schemes have been proposed since statehood in 1850. Most have sought to split the state along north-south lines. In the mid 1800s, southern California secessionists felt marginalized and ill-served by a state government based in the distant Sacramento. By the mid 1900s, the tables had been turned, as northern Californians came to resent the demographically and economically dominant greater Los Angeles (LA) area. The California State Water Project, with its vast pipes snaking over the Tehachapi Mountains, was a particular irritant. As a child growing up in northern California’s Bay Area in the 1960s, I almost never heard positive statements about LA, which was widely condemned as a vast suburban wasteland inhabited by shallow people scheming to “steal our water.” Such naked regional bigotry was spouted by people who would have been ashamed to say anything remotely smacking of racial or religious prejudice.

Economic and political evolution, coupled with substantial immigration and emigration, gradually reduced the tensions between the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas while accentuating the division between urban coastal and interior agricultural regions. But as the 2004 “voter index map” reproduced above shows, the state’s actual political divide is far more complex than that. Close inspection reveals a Democratic voting zone essentially split between coastal northern California and the Los Angeles area, with a few interior outliers in college towns, urban cores, Hispanic rural areas, and mountainous recreation sites.Contrasting to this area is a spatially larger and more contiguous but demographically smaller Republican-voting block covering the rest of the state.

Maze’s scheme places several relatively conservative counties (Ventura, San Luis Obispo) in liberal Coastal California, doing so largely for reasons of geographical contiguity. Less explicable is his exclusion of the left-voting northern coastal countries of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt. These may be relatively rural counties, but where the main crops are wine grapes and marijuana one should not expect conservative voting patterns. Note that certainly highly rural and relatively remote regions have solidly left electoral records, an unusual pattern. These include the Big Sur coast in Monterrey County, with its artistic heritage, and the counter-cultural “hippy” centers of Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties, such as Willits and Garberville.

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The Mendocino Marijuana Economy

As mentioned recently in this blog, organized criminal activity supposedly accounts for seven percent of the total value of goods and services produced annually in Italy. But that figure is nothing compared to the illicit economy of Afghanistan, where a 2007 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report argued claimed that opium accounted for 53 percent of the country’s GDP. Could any place on Earth have a proportionally larger illegal economy? Perhaps. According to an often cited January 22, 2009 MSNBC report, the marijuana crop accounts for two-thirds of the economic activity in Mendocino County, California. There are good reasons to doubt this figure, originally generated by a county-commissioned study: it is impossible to precisely enumerate illegal transactions, local law enforcement agents often exaggerate the value of black market seizures, and the media tend to favor sensational numbers. But whatever the actual figure is, cannabis cultivation is clearly the economic mainstay of Mendocino County, as well as of Humboldt Country to its north.

Much official policy-making rests on the assumption that we know the size of the economy. So what does it mean when vast swaths of economic activity escape governmental oversight, and everyone knows it? Perhaps state power is not as overwhelming as many of us think, or fear, that it is, whether one is in southern Italy, Afghanistan, or northwestern California. Governmental writ in the latter case is also limited by the conflicting legal environment found at different levels of official authority. Even under the Obama administration, the U.S. government so heavily restricts marijuana cultivation that medical researchers can scarcely obtain it, as discussed in today’s New York Times. Yet according to California, cultivation of up to six plants is legal for approved medical purposes, and according to Mendocino County between 2000 and 2008, one could “legally” grow up to 25 plants. (In 2008, Mendocino voters narrowly approved a ballot measure reducing the upper limit to the state norm of six plants.)

The scope of the untaxed marijuana market in the economically besieged state of California has generated calls for legalization, which may be put before the state’s voters next fall. As a result, arguments pro and con are proliferating. One of the more intriguing lines of reasoning in favor of legalization puts the trade in international context: the more cannabis is cultivated locally, the less will be imported from the hyper-violent Mexican drug cartels. According to an October 7, 2009 CBC News report, “Stiff competition from thousands of mom-and-pop marijuana farmers in the United States threatens the bottom line for powerful Mexican drug organizations in a way that decades of arrests and seizures have not, according to law enforcement officials and pot growers in the United States and Mexico” (

Yet as the CBS story goes on show, the distinction between domestic and foreign cannabis is not necessarily clear-cut. Mexican drug gangs grow large amounts of marijuana in California, generally in remote public lands. In Mendocino County as elsewhere, such activity is widely condemned and increasingly targeted by law enforcement agencies. According to the January 13, 2010 issue of the Ukiah Daily, the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team had a record-breaking year in 2009, seizing 541,250 plants weighing 205,044 pounds. The campaign is popular among Mendocino voters – even those who make their livings as small-scale marijuana cultivators. According to country Sheriff Tom Allman, the team’s mandate was to “focus on large commercial marijuana operations and focus on people who are greedy” (

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The Marshall Islands and the U.S.

The Marshall Islands is a sovereign state in the Pacific Ocean, recognized as such by its fellow members of the United Nations. But the Marshall Islands forms an unusual country in several regards. Its population is small (62,000) and its land area meager (70 square miles), yet its tiny atolls spread across a vast swath of the Pacific; if one includes its Exclusive Economic Zone of sea-space, the Marshall Islands is a large country (see map). The sovereignty of the Marshall Islands, however, is less than complete. According to the “Compact of Free Association” signed in 1986 when independence was gained, this former U.S. “Trust Territory” allowed the United States to retain responsibility for its defense. In return, the islands were promised substantial subsidies and other benefits.

Technically speaking, the Marshall Islands is an “associated state,” defined by the Wikipedia as “a minor partner in a formal free relationship” with a larger sovereign country. The United States has two other sovereign associates in the Pacific: Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. A similar compact of free association links New Zealand to the Cook Islands, but the latter is not considered sovereign and does not belong to the United Nations. It supposedly has the right, however, to declare independence if it so chooses.

One perk provided by the Compact of Free Association is the right to travel and work freely in the United States. The American center of Marshallese culture is Springdale Arkansas, home of Tyson Foods—the world’s largest chicken processor. Some 10,000 of Springdale’s 70,000 residents hail from the Marshall Islands. Originally, Marshallese living in the U.S. were eligible for immediate health care coverage under Medicaid, but that provision expired in 1996. The current House of Representatives health care bill would restore Medicaid coverage, but the Senate bill would not. The issue is important because most Marshall islanders in the States work for low wages in chicken abattoirs, an injury-prone environment, and the community has very high rates of diabetes. (The Marshall Islands also has the world’s highest rate of leprosy.)

The Marshall Islands faces long-term economic challenges as well. U.S. subsidies are declining, and in 2024 the major “compact grants” from the American government are set to expire. As a result, on January 4, 2010, Asian Development Bank officials urged the country to start generating surpluses that it could put into a trust fund.

The Marshall Islands play an important role in U.S. military affairs, however, which may lead to continuing subsidy streams. The islands are the primary home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, which covers no less than 750,000 square miles of sea-space. The Reagan Test Site’s main facilities are on the small islets of Kwajalein Atoll, which ring one of the world’s largest coralline lagoons. The lagoon forms, in essence, the world’s largest target, well suited for testing missile accuracy (see map). Understandably, Kwajalein residents are not very happy with the situation. Almost all of them have been forced onto one island, Ebeye. Refugees from nuclear testing in Bikini Atoll were resettled on the same island in the 1950s. Today some 13,000 to 15,000 residents are crowded onto a mere 80 acres of land. Not for nothing is Ebeye called “the Slum of the Pacific.”

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The Country of Greenland

Greenland’s Mineral Resources

There is no single, unambiguous term in the English language to denote the sovereign entities that form the bedrock of the global political system. We often call them “nations,” but strictly speaking a “nation” is a group of people who either have or aspire to have a sovereign entity of their own; thus the Kurds are often called the “world’s largest nation without a state.” We often call them “states,” but of course a state is also the highest order political subdivision of sovereign entities organized on federal lines, such as the United States or India. We often call them “nation-states,” but here we often engage in make believe, pretending, for example, that all the people of the state called Sudan believe themselves to be members of a Sudanese nation. And we often call them countries, but England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all defined as countries, yet none are sovereign; all belong to the sovereign entity called the United Kingdom. Perhaps the hybrid term “sovereign state” is the best we can do.

One of the world’s largest countries, ranking thirteenth in area, almost never appears in country lists of any sort and is often simply forgotten. That place is Greenland, a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland is left off the list largely because it is not a sovereign state, but it does come close. In June of 2009, Greenland became a self-determining political unit with full authority over judicial affairs, internal security, and natural resources. Greenlandic (an Inuit or Eskimo language) is now the country’s sole official language, and Greenlanders are recognized internationally as a separate people. Denmark retains control over defense, foreign affairs, and finances, and it provides annual subsidies that amount to some US $11,000 per Greenlander (of whom there are a mere 57,000).

Greenland may be moving toward full independence, but before it can do so it needs a more secure economic base. Several important lead and zinc mines have been shuttered in recent decades, and the all-important shrimp harvest may be imperiled. But Greenland does have vast mineral deposits, as well as potentially gargantuan hydroelectric resources. Oil drilling is scheduled to begin soon, and several aluminum companies have expressed interest in building smelters to take advantage of potentially cheap electricity.

Northeast Greenland National Park

All such resource initiatives, of course, come with environmental and cultural costs. The most controversial endeavor centers on ruby mining. Greenland apparently has substantial deposits of rubies and sapphires, which are in hot demand due in part to sanctions imposed on Burma (Myanmar), the world’s main source of gem-quality corundum (rubies and sapphires are both varieties of corundum). The Canadian company that is developing the ruby mines has worked with the Greenland government to exclude local residents from small-scale prospecting in the area. This action has infuriated local activists, who now refer to officially mined gemstones as “apartheid rubies” (see

Greenland has, however, made some significant advances in environmental protection. Northeast Greenland National Park, the world’s largest (roughly a hundred times larger than Yellowstone), covers more area than do three-quarters of the world’s sovereign states. While most of the park is covered by the Greenland icecap, it also contains vast ice-free areas along the coast. Here one can find roughly 40 percent of the world’s musk ox, as well as abundant marine life. In an era of global warming, eco-tourism may offer Greenland’s best hope.

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