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The (Jewish) Father of Federal Indian Law 0 Comment(s)

We finished our 50th Anniversary Salon Series on a high note December 1, when Dalia Tsuk Mitchell told the story of Felix Cohen, the "Father of Federal Indian Law" (1907-1953).

The program was a collaboration between the Society and the Interior Museum, and took place at the Department of the Interior's magnificent New Deal-era auditorium. We learned about the evolution of Cohen's views on legal pluralism and the place of Native Americans and other minority groups in the United States, and how Cohen's experiences as a Jewish American shaped those views. Cohen is most known for his Handbook of Federal Indian law, still the standard source in its field today.

A diverse group came out on a cold, cloudy day -- including many Interior Department employees, a group from Temple Beth Ami, other people from our and the Interior Museum's mailing lists, and even a man who once worked with Cohen.

At the end of the talk, Professor Mitchell read a famous line that pretty much sums up Cohen's philosophy:

"The Indian plays much the same role in our American society that the Jews played in Germany. Like the miner's canary, the Indian marks the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith."

Special thanks to Diana Ziegler (pictured at left, with me and Professor Mitchell) from the Interior Museum for making this program possible.

Check out Architect of Justice: Felix S. Cohen and the Founding of American Legal Pluralism, Professor Mitchell's award-winning biography, to learn more.