Uncle Sam’s shameful treatment of today's American Indians
One hundred and thirty four years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, the United States is still cruelly punishing the native Americans for their resistance to white encroachment in the lands west of the Mississippi. We treat Iraqis and Afghans better than native Americans.
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The Oglala Sioux who spearheaded resistance in the 1860s and ’70s may feel the punishment worst. Some still live in tar-paper shacks. The White Man’s vengeance is often subtle. We took proud, self-sufficient people and condemned them to a dependent reservation culture. Then we arrogantly ask “Why are they lazy? Why do they drink?”Skip to next paragraph
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A white woman who works at a Sioux school said, “There’s a part of me that asks, ‘How long is this going to go on?’ ”
But if you look more closely, says John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, things are improving, incrementally if not dramatically. A big reason for renewed hope lies with the Obama administration. Like Mr. Adams, Mr. Echohawk calls President Obama the greatest US president for Indians since Richard Nixon.
In July, Mr. Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, giving reservation police more arrest and prosecutorial authority. The Rehnquist Supreme Court did much to tie the hands of tribal police. “There were more than a few complaints [that] US attorneys and the FBI had been slack in prosecuting whites and Hispanics who committed crimes against Indians,” said Adams. When he signed the bill, Obama noted that crime rates in Indian country are more than twice the US average. “When 1 in 3 native American women will be raped in their lifetimes, that is an assault on our national conscience,” he said.
Curse health-care reform all you want, but it makes permanent the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, boosting services on reservations in dire need.
Less encouraging is the congressional deadlock over a $3.4 billion reimbursement for native American claims accumulated over decades. The federal government agreed to pay after a class action lawsuit brought in 1996 highlighted mismanagement, misappropriation, and theft of Indian trust funds. It’s a polite way of saying the Indians got swindled out of money due them for coal, oil, and gas leases; timber; and grazing rights on their land.
The Obama White House has promised to pay, but Senate Republicans, bent on blocking anything with Obama’s imprint, are refusing to pass it. Custer would have been proud of the GOP. But how do these senators tell their children and grandchildren they are party to swindling the Indians again?
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.