EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated and expanded from its original version.
The 1850s in this country were important years of growth, expansion and uncertainty for our county. “Go West, Young Man,” was first expressed in 1851 in the Terre Haute Express and later magnified across the country by journalist, Horace Greeley. By the latter 1800s the United States had acquired all the lands that now host the 48 lower states. Even with a looming Civil War, three major movements were in play – confronting slavery, managing Indian tribes and settling lands west of the Mississippi. These were difficult, competing interests for Congress to address simultaneously.
In 1852 Harriett Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin forced the American public to accept the reality that Black Americans were fully sentient human beings deserving of all the respect and opportunities of every other American. Precipitating the Civil War, Stowe’s book educated the public and furthered dramatic efforts to end slavery.
Managing Indian tribes took the form of establishing Indian reservations through Congressional Acts, Executive Orders or Treaties. The intent here was three-fold: 1) to pay for ancestral Indian lands ceded to the U.S. and establish reservations for the beneficial use and occupancy of Indian tribes; 2) provide Indians with a protected area and resources for their communal living; and 3) keep separations between Indians and settlers arriving in the West. These policies provided American Indians with land, annual funds, blacksmiths, doctors, schools, commodities and other resources, and the protection of the Bureau of Indian affairs that had full jurisdiction over the Indian reservations.
Settlers hearing the call to Go West loaded wagons with whatever they could carry and headed into the unknown lands west of the Mississippi. The federal government, dependent upon citizens to explore and settle the new lands, provided these settlers absolutely nothing but the government’s best wishes. Eventually, in 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, offering settlers the opportunity to stake out some land, establish a homestead and work on the land, and then, after five years, pay for that land at a reduced rate. Nothing was freely provided; everything required the courage, endurance and sweat equity of pioneer families settling the west. These hardy souls built small homes, farms, ranches, local schools, churches and towns, and the West started reflecting the Rugged Individualist that answered the call to Go West. This ultimately led to the building of Seattle, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.
Over time American Individualists and their descendants of all ethnicities built railroads, automobiles, ships, electricity, telephones, aircraft and numerous other inventions for the efficiency of homes, farms, schools and businesses. When Congress determined that a better lifestyle for American Indians would be their right to full citizenship and assimilation it passed the Dawes Act of 1887, opening the Indian reservations to all things created by settlers and for the equal benefit of American Indians.
Today all Americans, including enrolled Indians on reservations may enjoy cars, flat-screen TVs, cell phones, air travel, slot machines, McDonald’s, Walmart and all the other resources of American productivity. This is in addition to the continued annual resources provided by the federal government to tribal governments. Massive funding to tribal governments seldom trickles down to upgrade the quality of life on Indian reservations. Tribal funds primarily disappear into an unaudited sinkhole, unavailable to assist its tribal members.
There is a sharp distinction, however, between attitudes of tribal families across the country that are generally quite separate from the ‘Indian Industry.’ Tribal families are good neighbors and appreciative of modern conveniences. The ‘Indian Industry’ is entirely focused on political power and money, and can be defined in large part as the national gaming industry, national tribal organizations, the legal profession and lobbyists.
It is this national propaganda of the ‘Indian Industry’ megaphone that constantly slathers guilt, shame, and disgust about most everything non-Indian. American productivity is offensive and obviously not working, if one listens to the mantra of the ‘Indian industry’ that proclaims: We Were Here First, You Stole our Land, All of America is Indian Country, We Are Victims of White Supremacy, etc. For example, live on CNN across the world on November 28, 2017, Navajo President Russell Begaye arrogantly announced that “All of America is Indian country; non-Indians are guests and should act like it!”
Apparently, if we are to believe the long-term propaganda goals of national tribal leaders, American Indians would rather return to a hunter/gatherer culture that lives without cell phones, TV’s, slot machines or any life-enhancing productivity provided by American settlers and their descendants. They want all non-Indians to go away from the continent and the United States as a country to disappear. They want their Old Life Ways. Seriously? And what productivity, inventions, conveniences, and practices have tribal governments provided to their members or to the rest of the country? Do tribes really want to return to warring with each other as they did for hundreds of years before and after the first Pilgrims arrived?
By 1924, when Congress passed the Native American Citizen Act, all American Indians were made full citizens. At this point, because the United States does not execute treaties with its citizens, all treaties were de facto nullified. Tribal governments and reservations should have then been dissolved, while American Indians most certainly could have continued their customs and cultures as they desired, wherever they lived, the same as other cultures still do.
What we have as a continuous conundrum for Congress is a special-preference racial entity that annually demands and takes ever-increasing resources from American taxpayers and provides nearly zero in return. This expansion of tribalism in perpetuity is driven by the money and power-mongering Indian Industry that literally purchases elected officials to do their bidding.
Equally as important, tribal nations proudly proclaim the philosophy of far-sighted thinking for Seven Generations. If the incessant demands to undo the United States and its people were to succeed, it is quite possible that less-friendly, less-generous world countries would immediately step into the shoes of the disappeared United States and decimate American Indians within One Generation.
Promises have been amply fulfilled for tribal governments, whether (and generally, not!) this largesse is distributed among tribal families. Promises made to those non-tribal citizens who built this country were almost non-existent, except for those required by our U.S. Constitution. The expansion of resources and power for 567 tribal governments now threatens the republic form of government for all non-Indians residing within Indian reservations as promised by the Homestead Act and Dawes Act. Today’s Rugged Individualists need to pay attention now more than ever and push back on this governing slippage.
So here is a challenge: Perhaps national and local tribal leadership could consider a change of attitude that would include cooperation, appreciation and intentionally sought harmony among all people in this country.
Would a different world government treat tribal governments better? Having received the continuous bounty of this country, and contributed little in return, perhaps a bit of gratitude should be considered. What is wrong with all American citizens mutually respecting one another? Regard for our respective cultures is simply the right thing to do.
Why must taxpayers of every ethnicity annually fund, for “time immemorial,” one ethnicity over all others—an ethnicity whose powerful national voice foments such disparaging of the United States and its citizens?
Elaine Willman, MPA, is the author of Going to Pieces: The Dismantling of the United States of America (2005) and Slumbering Thunder: A Primer for Confronting the Spread of Federal Indian Policy and Tribalism Overwhelming America (2016). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.