American Indians currently have the highest rates of poverty of any racial group; some reservations have unemployment rates upward of 80 percent. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Indian men, Native American women are two and a half times more likely to be raped than the national average, and gang violence affects Indian youth more than any other group.
Why? Naomi Schaefer Riley says the American government’s current Indian policies are at fault as much as any historic injustice done to them.
What is the federal government’s current relationship with American Indian tribes? What does the day‐to‐day economic life for people on a reservation look like? How do tribal courts work?
Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts from Libertarianism.org and the Cato Institute. I’m Trevor Burrus.
Aaron Ross Powell: And I’m Aaron Powell.
Trevor Burrus: Joining us today is Naomi Schaefer Riley, weekly columnist for the New York Post and former Wall Street Journal editor and writer. She’s the author of the book The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians. Welcome to Free Thoughts, Naomi.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Thanks so much for having me.
Trevor Burrus: You’re not a Native American yourself, correct?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: No, I’m not. I’m a member of the Jewish tribe.
Trevor Burrus: A different tribe, yes.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Yes, exactly.
Trevor Burrus: But what got you interested then in writing this book?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Well, there are a couple of different things. But back when I worked at the Wall Street Journal, I was an editor and periodically, I would try to commission pieces from other writers on the subject of Native Americans. I would come across a story about suicide epidemic or alcoholism and I really was curious about what was going on. So I typically got two responses from writers. Either they didn’t know or they said, “I wouldn’t touch that topic with a ten‐foot pole.” So you could imagine that sort of got me even more curious.
Trevor Burrus: In school, we learned that – I mean there isn’t a lot of discussion on this, which I think is why your book is very important. But in school we learned about Native Americans of course and we learned that they were famously abused by the American government, most famously the original Trail of Tears and then put on reservations and then after that, we don’t kind of learn anything. Maybe Wounded Knee and some of the protests in the 60s. But we don’t really learn that much about that. How do you think that has affected how we deal with this situation on reservations?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Well, I think that’s certainly true that most Americans don’t know much about Native American history. Certainly nothing really after the turn of the 20th century. There was a story I put in my book from a college professor who was about to teach something to her students about American Indians and she did a poll and about half of her students apparently thought all Native Americans were dead.
So I think that gives you some sense. I think that the fact that we don’t have a good sense of this history has kind of led to two things. First, it’s a lack of understanding about what a reservation is, which I will get into in a few minutes. But the other thing it has led to is a sense that nothing can be done to help them, that essentially the history of war and forced assimilation that we put on these people has kind of rendered them helpless in this deeply tragic way and nothing we can do today will be able to fix this problem.
Aaron Ross Powell: Before we get to what reservations are and the history of them and the history of how we got to the fairly negative point we’re at today, can you maybe just give us the quick thumbnail sketch of what’s bad right now? What are things like on these reservations?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Yeah, let me just sort of give you a little bit of a depressing statistical rundown. So American Indians are the poorest racial or ethnic group in the United States. Some of the reservations I visited had unemployment rates upward of 80 percent.
American Indians are more likely than any other group to be involved in gang violence. Their youth are more likely than any other to have alcohol use disorders. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Native American boys aged 10 to 14. Native American women are 2.5 times as likely to be sexually assaulted and Native American children are twice as likely to be abused as the national average.
Trevor Burrus: If you talked to a college professor, a left wing multicultural college professor – I went to Boulder, so I’m picturing specific – so did Aaron too. Specific professors about why that might be the case. You probably would hear something like it’s a legacy of what we did to them, which seems like a sort of damaging narrative. It’s not very helpful and you push back against that.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Right. I think that’s definitely the case. It is a narrative of victimhood. It is about what we did to them and it’s not just things like putting them on reservations and taking them away from their land. But there are other points that they often make, especially when you bring up the issues of sexual assault and sexual abuse that go on.
A lot of them claim that this is the fault of boarding schools. Many Indian children were sent away forcibly to boarding schools which were specifically designed in many cases to force them to give up their language and learn English and also to force them to give up their tribal customs.
They also happen in some cases to be hotbeds of sexual abuse and sexual assaults and one of the things that I think probably is true is that the graduates of these schools then went back to these communities and they did not know how to interact in a normal way with other people and that’s probably one of the causes here of some of those statistics.
On the other hand, I do think that the boarding schools kind of take a lot of the blame for everything that goes on and in addition as you said, it sort of leaves them – leaves you with nowhere to go. You could say this is the fault of a history of policies. But then what? Is there anything that we can do to help these people get out of their tragic situation?
Trevor Burrus: Of course we did do a lot of horrible things, the boarding schools and even more. Your book is about how we’re continuing to do horrible things to letting them thrive as communities in the form of different policies. So the first one you talk about in the book is private property and essentially the lack of it, which was shocking as a lawyer who does a lot of property rights stuff. Of course I had no idea. American Indian law is very complex. But how bad is it in terms of securing and using property on our reservations?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Right. So most people I think don’t really understand what a reservation is. They of course started as a way to simply push American Indians out of our way while we pursued Manifest Destiny. We specifically in many cases chose the least valuable, least fertile land to put them on. What’s odd now is that many Americans see reservations as a way of protecting American Indians.
In fact the way the reservation system works is this. American Indians don’t own their land. Their land is held in trust by the federal government for them and as a lawyer, you probably know the only other people that we hold things in trust for generally speaking are children or the mentally incompetent. So I think it’s pretty shocking in the 21st century that this is the way we even talk about our American Indian policy.
But the effect essentially of this land trust is that American Indians cannot buy and sell land among themselves without the permission of a bureaucrat in Washington. They can’t go into a bank and get a mortgage. It’s funny. People talk about housing shortage on reservations and if you visit these reservations, they don’t look like New York City. I mean people are not crowded on to these reservations. So why the housing shortage? Because they can’t get a mortgage to buy a home. So you have more and more people crowded into temporary trailer homes.
The final problem is that many Americans, if they wanted to start up a small business, use their home and their land as equity in order to do so. But again, American Indians do not have access to that capital. Finally, they also cannot develop natural resources on their reservation land.
It’s funny as I mentioned originally. This land was thought to be un‐valuable and infertile but today, much of the country’s coal, oil, and natural gas resources are actually located on Indian reservations. So there’s this huge amount of untapped wealth on these lands that we do not allow them to develop or that Washington bureaucrats don’t allow them to develop.
Aaron Ross Powell: Two questions about the response to this that I think are related. If things are this bad and they don’t have the kind of basic legal rights that Americans do off of the reservation and these statistics paint the life on the reservations as so overwhelmingly bleak. First, why do we keep these reservations? Why not just – give them the land and call it done? Because we clearly don’t need the reservations to enable the US government to spread across the land. The Manifest Destiny is kind of done and then relatedly like if it’s that bad, why don’t – is there something stopping them from leaving? There are lots of places in America that they could move to.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So with regard to the first question, the reservation arrangement is simply deeply entrenched in American law. It will be very hard to undo but right now, I really don’t think that there are enough factions that are looking to undo it. So as I mentioned, a lot of the American people simply think of reservations as a way to protect American Indians, to make sure that white people don’t take their land and I think a lot of the tribal leadership has actually also bought into this. It’s funny the way they talk about how reservation life is so deeply connected to preserving tribal language and history and culture. Reservations were an invention of white people and now, to talk to the tribal leaders, you would think that if we decided to undo the reservation system, that somehow their culture and language would be in danger.
To answer your second question, many Indians do leave the reservation. It’s certainly not unheard of. But I think that there are a lot of things that are preventing them from leaving. First of all, the people who do leave are the most educated and the most aware of opportunities elsewhere, which leaves of course the most vulnerable people behind.
But the second thing I think is simply the kind of geographic and cultural isolation that many of these communities experience. One of the things I tell people is that during my travels to different Indian communities, over the course of about a year and a half, I begin to understand the difference between rural poverty and urban poverty. I think that if you go visit the South Bronx or some of the more impoverished sections of Los Angeles or Chicago, you will meet people who are extremely poor and disadvantaged, but chances are that they will get on a subway or get in a car and they will see people who are wearing suits and going to jobs.
If you go visit the Pine Ridge Reservation 100 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota, you might meet a young person where nobody in their family even has a high school degree. Nobody is employed. Nobody comes from a two‐parent family. Alcoholism is rampant. The whole idea of middle class America might as well be another planet for some of these people. So I don’t think there is that sense of being tempted to leave in the same way that you might see in an inner city.
Trevor Burrus: Your discussion of the lack of property rights and particularly the lack of collateral reminds me of Hernando de Soto’s work about the sort of poorest slums of different cities and all the informal property rights that people do not have legal title to. So they can’t use it for mortgages or collateral in places like Brazil and Kenya and India. Is it a similar type of situation?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: I think it is. I mean I say in the book we have a Third World country in the middle of the wealthiest nation on earth. People will talk about – there’s actually a similar system in Canada called the “reserve system” and the first nations there have many similar problems and one of the chiefs I was talking to there just said, “We basically have to have a cash economy because we cannot get credit.”
So if you could imagine with the United States, we’re forced to go back into that kind of system. It would be all cash or bartering, which is ridiculous that this is the situation we have put these people in.
Trevor Burrus: With the nature of the property ownership, it seems like everyone kind of owns all the land and then they have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to I guess authorize transfers between people or especially if anyone wants to buy a land who’s not a member of the tribe. Is this just a huge bureaucratic rigmarole that’s a tragedy of the commons where everyone owns everything and so therefore no one really kind of takes care of anything?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So the problem is really two tiers. First, there’s the issue of the land trust and then there’s the issue that much of the tribal land is also communally‐owned. That being said, there are individuals who have claims on land and what happens with those individuals is that the Bureau of Indian Affairs interferes whenever they try to transfer, sell or buy a land to each other.
So for instance I spoke to a man in Montana. He’s part‐Crow, part‐Northern‐Cheyenne and he and his neighbor had agreed that he was going to buy some land to graze some cattle on. He and his neighbor agreed on a price and then a representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs came in and said, “No, you can’t do that because that’s not fair market value.”
Trevor Burrus: I’m trying to think of anyone else in any other regard ever encountering – if Aaron and I ever agreed upon selling something, who was not on a reservation, and the government coming in being like, “You can’t do that.”
Aaron Ross Powell: Minimum wage.
Trevor Burrus: That will be astounding. Yes, minimum wage I guess for a piece of land. Yeah. That would be astounding.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: It is kind of shocking and the punch line by the way is that – just before this had happened, the BIA had actually paid someone to do an appraisal of reservation land and had I heard specifically told the appraiser to jack up the appraisal of the land so as “not to screw the Indians,” which is of course exactly what happened because they couldn’t transfer this land.
But there are 9000 employees at the Bureau of Indian Affairs who need something to do every day. That’s approximately one employee for every 110 Indians living on a reservation. I liken it to each of them being kind of a principal of a small school and these are their wards whose lives they must interfere with.
They make it very difficult for even the most basic economic activity to go on. One day when I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I was staying at this motel and I was supposed to drive one morning 40 miles to a local school to visit and the diner at the motel was not open because it wasn’t hunting season.
So I got my car. I figured, oh well, I will just drive and I will find a cup of coffee or something to eat along the way. I drove 40 miles and I did not see anything.
Now there are parts of the American West obviously where you can go a long way without seeing a McDonald’s but I think it’s actually pretty hard to go this far without ever seeing anything. I spoke to someone about this and they said, “Oh, well, there used to be a coffee shop across from the motel. But the BIA wouldn’t let them put up a sign. So it had to close.”
Aaron Ross Powell: So you said at the beginning I think they had 80 percent unemployment.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Yes.
Aaron Ross Powell: So if they’ve got 80 percent unemployment and these kinds of basic transactions are if not prohibited, then awfully hard to engage in, what does the day to day economic life for people living on a reservation look like? How are they paying for their food? What are they doing with themselves?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: It’s all basically government transfers. The federal government gives billions of dollars to Indian reservations for everything from housing to food to healthcare, to education. The only jobs on reservations are essentially public sector jobs. Either you’re employed by the tribal government, you’re employed by the federal government or you can wait around for someone to die to get a job.
This leads to all sorts of secondary problems which you also see in Third World nations of for instance of course widespread corruption and nepotism. If the best job on a reservation is being the third grade teacher and you’re completely unqualified but you happen to know someone on the Tribal Council, you will get that job. It leads to a complete undermining of course of quality in these positions.
The nepotism and the corruption go further than that. I spoke to one teacher who was telling me a couple of years ago she had an eighth grade student who wasn’t showing up to class and she called the student’s mother and said, you know, “If he doesn’t show up to class, I can’t pass him through to the ninth grade.”
The mother called someone she knew on the Tribal Council who made this teacher pass him to the ninth grade even though he wasn’t prepared. So you can see. It just – it completely like I said undermines the quality, but it also I think really leaves people deeply disheartened about the ability for people who want to put in effort and work hard, the ability for them to see any kind of results.
Trevor Burrus: Some people might be thinking that one of the reasons that they – the reservations are run this way particularly with regards to private property is because we have this story or some people have this story that the Native Americans never really believed in private property, that they believed in communal ownership. So even letting them use private property is some sort of a culture – western colonialization that is not very good for the pure Native American type of life.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Yeah, I think that that’s a very popular impression that reservations are essentially socialist, environmentalist utopias and to the extent that we want to give them private property would really be an imposition of Western culture on them. In fact a lot of the research that has been done over the last two or three decades has really pointed to something entirely different which is that American Indians have long – many tribes do believe in private property.
Again I spoke to another chief who is up in British Columbia and he said the notion that we don’t have a tradition of private property is absurd. His own family migrated to different places depending on the time of year. He said, you know, “If you think that we would come back to the hut that we built in the summer, and expect to find someone else living there, you’re crazy.”
American Indians are not only American citizens. They’re also rational people who behave in the ways that rational people behave. They have a tradition of individual private property, of nuclear family private property and tribal private property. So the idea that we are just bringing this in from the West and trying to undermine their culture with these ideas I think is not borne out by the research that has been done in recent years.
Trevor Burrus: What is the legal relationship – I mean we talked about holding the land in trust. But between the federal government and the tribes, the status tribes or recognized tribes, because there’s a word that’s used all the time in Indian law and relations which is “sovereignty,” which sounds like we should be dealing with the Indian tribes like we deal with France. But it’s much more complex than that.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: It is much more complex and I think the word itself is sort of presenting all sorts of problems because the truth is no, these are not sovereign nations in the sense that every American Indian is an American citizen. They have the same rights that every other American citizen has and the federal government has a duty to protect those rights for them as American citizens even if they happen to be living on the reservation.
That is not true necessarily in France. But the other thing is I think that we have essentially – in this sense, the federal government has relinquished some of its control, that it really should be exercising. The tribal court system for instance in many cases is a complete disaster. I mean I would talk to people who had sat in on trials where the judge was presiding over parties and he was related to one of the parties involved.
Trevor Burrus: Well actually interestingly, the first time I got involved with this Native American law issue is because I received a prisoner letter from someone who was tried on a reservation and half the jury was related to the victim. He had no recourse within the sovereignty system. I was just like this is astounding but there’s nothing I can do for you.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: No. I wish I could say that that’s uncommon but for my interviews, it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. Again, some people would say, well, you know, there’s a lot of this kind of thing that goes on in small town America. I think that might be true. But at least people have the recourse to appeal it up the chain. It’s much more difficult to do that in Indian territory. There’s a policy whereby a defendant might have to exhaust all of their options inside the tribal court system.
There was actually just a decision in the Ninth Circuit court about this. Judge Alex Kozinski wrote the majority opinion which was against the tribe. But then he felt the need to also write a concurring opinion in which he lambasted the tribe for its terrible miscarriage of justice. I think that happens more often than you think.
Trevor Burrus: Now another aspect that holds or I guess controls or is highly influential on American life has to do with one way that maybe people have found themselves interacting – going on to reservations or found themselves interacting with the tribes, which is through casinos. You call this a loophole economy. How did the casinos thing arise and what is the loophole economy?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So one of the things that has happened is that because of this “sovereignty” that Indian reservations have, they have sort of made the case over the years that they should be able to engage in certain kinds of industry that states might have outlawed.
So what happens, starting in the 1970s, was that Indians started to open casinos and they kind of had a monopoly in certain states which did not allow this kind of gambling to occur. So they actually – many of these tribes made a huge profit – a lot of Indian casinos are very dinky affairs and the only customers are other Indians because they’re so far out of the way.
But for those of us in the northeast and in California, we’re aware of the success of some big tribes in this area and I think one of the things that has unfortunately happened is that when you’re engaged in this kind of monopoly which is really on the whims of the state government, what happens is a lot of the state governments woke up a few years ago and realized the tremendous amount of money that could be made off of gambling.
So they started to let everybody else in on it. The result is that now there is tremendous competition and it’s much harder for these tribes to make a profit. This has happened before with cigarettes and gasoline, which they had a kind of advantage in as well when it came to taxes and regulation. So that loophole closed up. The gambling loophole opened and now they’re sort of engaged and looking for other loopholes. But what you don’t see is any kind of diversification of the economy and you still don’t see any kind of private sector really growing.
This was one of the most shocking things to me when I visited the Seneca territory in Upstate New York which has made over a billion dollars on their gaming facilities over the course of a decade or so and yet their standard of living has barely improved. If you go to the main – one of the main streets of the territory, you will just see a lot of shuttered businesses. The healthcare has improved slightly. They’re still going to pretty bad public schools and I asked them about this.
They said, “Well, we’ve sent some extra security officers to the local public schools with our money.” So I think one of the lessons here is not simply the problems of the loophole economy. It’s also that this money is all earned by the tribe and given out in annuities. Essentially it looks like a welfare check or a lottery check depending on your perspective. Btu either way, the money is kind of blown and it just seems – it doesn’t seem to do much to encourage people to work.
Aaron Ross Powell: You keep talking about how much is controlled by the tribal leaders and how much of the resources say from the casinos flow to them and so I’m just curious how the tribes are governed. How are these leaders chosen?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So the leaders are chosen mostly by elections. Again there is a lot of nepotism and corruption that goes on in some of these tribes at that level. But really a lot of the – especially with these casino tribes, what you see is that they’re sending out checks with annuities.
So for instance, on the Seneca territory when you turn 21, someone sends you a check in the mail for $30,000. Up until that point, you probably had a pretty dismal education. You probably never worked. No one has taught you how to save or invest and so the tribal leaders acknowledged that the best case scenario is these young people will buy a new truck. The worst case is they will spend it on drugs or alcohol. It’s like all those studies that they do with lottery winners, who turn out to be no better off a few years later than the day they won the lottery and in part, that’s just because money earned is different from money that just falls from the sky.
Trevor Burrus: Then if you wanted to take that $30,000 and start a coffee stand, you would have to buy some land. You would have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and everyone else to do that. So you’re hampered across the board. But you mentioned education which you have – a large part of your book is devoted to the education system and its horrors.
You talked about Pine Ridge Reservation, which is the second poorest county. It’s in South Dakota. It’s the second poorest county in the US and at one point, you write a – in 2013, the five police officers assigned to patrol the area received a staggering 16,500 calls for emergency assistance which is just something you have to wrap your brain around. The school is no less astounding in terms of the sort of crisis level and there’s one fact that blew my mind that I think puts this into a perspective. What is lock‐in at the Pine Ridge Elementary?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So this is at the Wounded Knee Elementary School in Manderson, South Dakota. I visited there and they had recently received $600,000 in turnaround grant funds from the federal government.
So it was actually clean and the halls were relatively quiet. We went into one classroom. The principal took me into one classroom and there were second graders in there doing math and she actually proceeded to help one of the students with the math problems. She gave the student two incorrect answers to second grade math problems as I stood there. Then she explained to me that she had recently fired the whole staff and only rehired people who were not from Teach for America because those people she did not feel were a good fit. Of course those people happened to have math degrees from Ivy League Schools, but they weren’t a good fit for her school. Other tribal leaders told me that the Teach for America people were simply too white for them.
But to get to lock‐in weekend, we’re standing there in a kindergarten classroom and she says, “One weekend a month, we have lock‐in,” and I said, “What’s lock‐in? It sounds like a terrible punishment for these poor kids.”
She said, “Oh, no. They come and they can stay over in our gym and do kind of cultural programs for the weekend. But it’s time to coincide with the day that the government checks go out once a month because that’s the weekend that we know their parents are most likely to drink and abuse their children.”
Trevor Burrus: Yes, that’s astounding and you mentioned that a lot of the rhythms of life on the reservation are timed with welfare check dispersals.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Yeah, it’s – when there is no private sector on the reservation, everything happens or doesn’t happen because of either the tribal government or the federal government. The whole way of life is determined by how to get money and when you get money from the government.
Trevor Burrus: Yeah, there’s another thing you discussed aside from the schools and there are people doing good things with schools occasionally. But we’re running out of time. So I wanted to get to – because I suggest reading the book. The book is absolutely excellent. Our listeners should definitely read it. It talks about Ben Chavis who has actually spoken at Cato a few times or I think at least once.
But you also discussed something called the Indian Child Welfare Act which is something that’s quite shocking and America has learned that probably maybe a few years ago to the Supreme Court case. But what is ICWA as we described it and what are the sort of wrongs that it perpetrates?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So ICWA was originally passed as a way to combat the problem that social workers will take some Indian children off reservations and sending them to live with white families because they thought that the reservations were simply too poor and too deprived and the children would be better off being raised elsewhere. How widespread this problem was I think is still a little bit questionable.
But that’s the law as it is now and so the problem essentially is that now, the tribes actually have a say in the future of children who are in any kind of custody case, whether it’s a divorce case or a case in which someone’s parents have died or someone has been given up for adoption. If that child has essentially a certain amount of Indian blood in them, and it’s amazing again that we still talk about American Indians this way, then the tribe, regardless of whether that child has ever lived on a reservation actually has a say in the custody of that child.
They can say, “We prefer that child be raised with an Indian family,” even if an American Indian mother actually gives the child up for adoption and thinks that child would be better off raised off of a reservation, which is by the way not uncommon. I mean some of these reservations, literally children are unsafe. There is widespread abuse going on of all sorts and it would not be unheard of for an American Indian mother to say, “No, I want to give my child up for adoption and have them raised elsewhere.” But that woman’s tribe could actually have standing in court to object. The American Indians are actually the only custody cases where race is taken into consideration.
Aaron Ross Powell: Why does this persist? The stories that you’ve told us are so horrific and in a lot of ways, they sound like the stories that we hear about really repressive communist regimes, about North Korea or the Soviet Union before the collapse.
Trevor Burrus: Or developing countries.
Aaron Ross Powell: Yeah. But this is happening here in America. It’s not like this stuff is walled off. It’s not hidden. But there doesn’t seem to be much interest or movement in changing it.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: I think there are a lot of people who have a stake in the status quo. I think the tribal leadership just like a lot of the civil rights leadership you see perhaps in the black community is not necessarily representing the best interest of American Indians on the ground, the people that I interviewed.
So for instance, the tribes do not want to see charter schools open up in South Dakota. I heard of a case where a bunch of parents were actually taken to see high‐performing charter schools in Denver and they came back and I interviewed them and the parents were both shocked and livid to find out that their kids could have such opportunities, if only the tribal leadership and the state government allowed charter schools. But that is not what the leadership wants.
Then you have the problem of simply the representatives in Washington. Of course you have this huge Civil Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is by the way mostly Indians. It’s actually just this huge bureaucracy, looking for things to do. It’s very hard to dismantle any kind of bureaucracy and then the congressmen and senators who go to Washington. Their job essentially is to bring home the bacon. If they are representing tribes, if they live in a state where there’s a significant Indian population, the tribal leadership promises them votes in response to them bringing home money. So again, they have a stake in things being the way they are.
But I think perhaps the most disturbing especially when you’re thinking about these cases that involve children and abuse, widespread abuse, I think is simply a certain amount of political correctness that has been accepted. I know that term is thrown around a lot lately. But here we have cases where there were actually whistleblowers working for the federal government who were actually fired or demoted as a result of reporting on these widespread abuses and saying that nothing was being done to prevent them.
I think that Americans feel so guilty and so horrible about things that happened in the past that we are very reluctant to blow the whistle on things that are going on now and in the name of tribal sovereignty, there are people who are getting away with horrible crimes.
Trevor Burrus: So it seems that we’ve overreacted to what we did which of course was horrible. We took their property and now we want them to own it all communally and we took their children and put them into horrible schools and now we’re forcing them back into those schools. We’re using ICWA to solve that and then we’re giving them a ton of money which all just starts to perpetuate the problem. So what can we do? Is there anything – we can’t throw our hands up. But this is an ignored and horrible problem. What can we actually do?
Naomi Schaefer Riley: So I think the lowest hanging fruit here is I think education. Some of the states that have the largest populations of American Indians don’t have charter school laws. So the kids have no alternatives essentially to the kinds of schools that I was just describing to you earlier. There are a few Catholic schools and I think for individuals who are just looking to help out, donations to these schools which essentially do not charge any tuition and are the only schools that are getting kids through high school and in some cases on to college, are certainly worth our resources.
As far as Washington goes, I think it is very hard as you know to think about dismantling the trust system. But private property really is the key here and it’s really hard to figure out how Indians can move forward without it. As I mentioned, I spent some time in Canada. The parliament there is actually considering something called the First Nations Property Ownership Act which would give the underlying title of the land to the tribes and allow individual tribe members to buy or sell it or develop it as they see fit and I think that’s what American Indians deserve as well.
Trevor Burrus: And there was one person we interviewed who thought that maybe turning them into states – I mean this would be very difficult but it would at least stop this sort of – this farce of sovereignty and letting them have equal footing as American citizens.
Naomi Schaefer Riley: Right, because we don’t – the State of Massachusetts is a real state that has a real government. But we don’t allow the State of Massachusetts to violate the rights of people who live there because they can’t claim that they have some kind of power over Washington and I think we need to really delineate kind of what the levels of power are here of the government in order to make clear who’s ultimately responsible for protecting the rights of these citizens.
Trevor Burrus: Thanks for listening. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, please take a moment to rate us on iTunes. Free Thoughts if produced by Mark McDaniel and Evan Banks. To learn more about libertarianism, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.