Friday, January 27, 2006

Separate and Very Unequal

John J. Miller has an article up at calling for the elimination of something I've always thought was a bad historical error, Indian reservations. The creation of Indian reservations effectively ended the chance for Indians to become full and equal citizens of the United states. Shoving them on reservations not only treated them as lesser people who could be stowed wherever the rest of the populace found them less inconvenient, but it prevented them from becoming participating members of society. It prevented assimilation. You can say maybe they didn't want to assimilate, but I think that should have been left up to the individuals to decide; Irish, Italian, and other immigrant groups got the chance to decide how far they wished to assimilate into the dominant US culture, why not the indigenous American Indians? Instead, it was determined that their future would be decided by government fiat and that their future would be one where they had, not even second-class citizenship, but a kind of non-citizenship thrust upon them. They count for nothing in American political life; they aren't even counted in voting statistics, last I heard. They have been kept separate from the rest of the country and hampered at every turn from pursuing the American dreams of self-determination, owning your own home, and making a better life for your children. It's a national shame, and it's one that is fueled by racism--the obvious, "hard" racism of the past and the "softer" racism of recent times that says Indians are different, their noble traditions won't permit them to function as citizens of a modern society, and what's more they don't want to do so, so we help them when we keep them separate. I think all people, Indian or non-Indian, can do without that kind of "help".

I guess some might defend the creation of reservations on the grounds some Indians fought the U.S. government and white settlers in their areas. Yes, some American Indians did that but so what? The Confederates rebelled against the whole United States, declared themselves a separate entity, and fought a full scale, bloody war against the US. They were accepted back into the Union and, after a relatively short time of transition, they were once again able to count themselves full citizens. Their descendants are free to do all the things any other American can do. It's long past time Indians were accepted into the national life of American.

I confess I have absolutely no idea how the reservation system could be ended, though. I wonder if Mr. Miller does. All I can imagine is a big old mess.

Oh, and do note I say American Indian, not "Native American". That latter term is the biggest load of bull I have ever heard. I am a native American--white skin, green eyes, freckled face, and all. I had ancestors here when there were just American Indians and various colonists, and every one of my ancestors who was born here was a native American. Until every English speaker develops the miraculous ability to speak in initial capitals so that "native American" is distinguishable from "Native American", I'm going to continue to say this is the stupidest bit of PC nonsense I've ever heard and I'm going to continue to say Indian (or tribal name, such as Choctaw, or individual name, such as Frank or Edna, depending on circumstances.) According to George Carlin, the term "Native American" was the invention of a federal government bureacrat anyway, and that's enough reason to look askance at the term right there, before you move on to considering the fact it's asinine.


Dymphna said...

I don't see how you could close the reservations without destroying what's left of the Indians.

Suzanne said...

I'm not recommending shutting them down and throwing the people living on them out on the streets. It just seems to me there ought to be some way to start a system of private ownership. (Private ownership is desirable because owning your own house and land gives you more pride in them and more of a stake in the community doing well and because it would allow the individuals to use them as collateral for loans to start businesses, make improvements, or whatever.) I don't pretend to know how this could be arranged, I just wish it could be.

At the very least there need to be improvements in education on reservations and in employment opportunities. Some reservations are making improvements. In my state, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws has been fortunate in having an energetic tribal chief, Phillip Martin, who's done a lot to bring business to the reservation and improve life there; Time or Newsweek did a story about his success--and that was before the advent of casinos. :-) But reservations are not good places generally. Even if there weren't so much poverty and alcoholism on reservations, I just don't think it's good for entire groups of people to be made to feel as if they are not part of the United States.