What is “National American Indian Heritage Month” for, to look at the past, or the present, or the future? If it’s truly for national recognition, then non-Indian people are going to look at Indian people. This troubles me.
Do Indians need help? Are Indians welfare recipients? Are we dependent on the charity of the United States government? Many people believe so. Like General William “Tecumseh” Sherman said in 1868, they think Indians “have all to be killed, or be maintained as a species of paupers.”
Actually, the question of help and the question of welfare are two entirely different questions. It is especially important at this point in Indian history to sharply distinguish between the two.
If you ask Indian women at large, they will almost all say, Yes, we need help. This is from the point of view of poverty-stricken mothers, with dysfunctional families plagued with violence, physical abuse and substance abuse, together with the highest rates of diabetes and youth suicide. Republican Jeff Johnson, candidate for Minnesota’s Attorney General, ran an ad using a stereotypical American Indian as a stereotypical criminal—for identity theft, of all things.
The Indian social image is not very good.
Tribal leaders are apparently unable to stay the tides of social ills inundating Indian country. The cost of dealing with the problems far exceeds tribal funds. (Note the conspicuous absence of Indian casino fantasy money in this calculation.) Indian women leaders have sought assistance from non-Indian women’s organizations, private and public (state and federal).
There isn’t any question that Indian people need to change. If we can’t change on our own, then I think it is accurate to say we need help.
But how then shall we assess the matter of government ‘welfare’ to Indian people? First of all, Indians are not on government aid or welfare. This is an inaccurate stereotype derived from the Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” started in the 1960’s, or perhaps from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in the 1930’s. Welfare is basically the government taking care of people who can’t (or won’t) take care of themselves. This is wholly unrelated to the history of American Indians.
Secondly, the government made treaties with Indians. The United States government was at war with Indian tribes. It is so written in the Declaration of Independence. America’s first international treaties were with Indians. It is so written in the Constitution of the United States. Through the treaties, Indians maintained land and were promised subsistence. The government was trying to end the wars by compromise.
In other words, whatever Indians get from the government was bought with blood, forever. This is not welfare. It is completely distinct, historically and ideologically. Indian treaty provisions, however paltry, shamefully meager, and oft denied, are not handouts.
Yes, today numerous groups of non-Indian people manipulate their identity to obtain “federal recognition”—in the dishonorable effort to secure casino rights. They’re trying to cash in on the honors earned by the blood of others. (Talk about identity theft!)
The American Indian image has also been usurped by anti-American leftists, and associated with radical social agenda, as in the case of the Soros-funded “Sundance” Institute, or the Leftist-funded American Indian Movement, starring Ward Churchill. This works against Indians. The Indian as preferred protester against all things American sets the Indians awry, and averse to our social environment. This makes it impossible for Indians to take a positive, pro-active role in American society. This leftist political use of Indians is one of our biggest problems. Some Indians may think we’re using them, riding above the waves, but we’re not. Others are in charge. Our sovereignty is token, and also in great jeopardy.
So, yes, I believe we need change. I’m trying to offer an alternative view for Indian country. I’m trying to circumvent the irremeable effects of historical tragedy. I say Indians should rather see America as our adopted son, for everything he’s worth. Indians should be very proud of America. He is, after all, our doing. He was shaped by his dealings with us, in the most profound psychological and sociological ways. We should take a deep ownership, with a fatherly sense of responsibility.
The alternative is but a protracted resentment, an abject protest—the very kind of psychological disposition that creates depression, dysfunction, and all other social ills. Indian leaders need to consider the long-range effect of such negative thinking on Indian youth. It is a great error to set ourselves against America. Rather, we should save America.
Reprinted from FrontPage, November 8, 2006