I Am Indigenist
Notes on the Ideology of the Fourth World
By Ward Churchill
This is an area of about 140,000 square miles, inhabited by a widely dispersed non-Indian population of only around 400,000 attempting to maintain school districts, police and fire departments, road beds and all the other basic accoutrements of "modern life" on the negligible incomes which can be eked from cattle grazing and wheat farming on land which is patently unsuited for both enterprises. The Poppers found that without considerable federal subsidy each and every year none of these counties would ever have been "viable." Nor, on the face of it, will any of them ever be. Bluntly put, the pretense of bringing Euroamerican "civilization" to the Plains represents nothing more than a massive economic burden on the rest of the United States.
What the Poppers proposed on the basis of these findings is that the government cut its perpetual losses by buying out the individual landholdings within the target counties and converting them into open space wildlife sanctuaries known as "Buffalo Commons." The whole area would in effect be turned back to the bison which were very nearly exterminated by Phil Sheridan's buffalo hunters back in the nineteenth century as a means of starving "recalcitrant" Indians into submission. The result would, they argue, be both environmentally and economically beneficial to the nation as a whole.
It is instructive that such thinking has gained increasing credibility and support from Indians and non-Indians alike, beginning in the second half of the 1980s. Another chuckle here: Indians have been trying to tell non-Indians that this would be the outcome of fencing in the Plains ever since 1850 or so, but some folks have a real hard time catching on. Anyway, it is entirely possible that we will see some actual motion in this direction over the next few years.
So, let us take the Poppers' idea to its next logical step. There are another hundred or so economically marginal counties adjoining the "perpetual red ink" counties already identified. These do not represent an actual drain on the U.S. economy, but they do not contribute much either. They could be "written off" and lumped into the Buffalo Commons with no one feeling any ill effects whatsoever. Now add in adjacent areas like the national grasslands in Wyoming, the national forest and parklands in the Black Hills, extraneous military reservations like Ellsworth Air Force Base, and existing Indian reservations. This would be a huge territory lying east of Denver, west of Lawrence, Kansas, and extending from the Canadian border to southern Texas, all of it "outside the loop" of U.S. business as usual. The bulk of this area is unceded territory owned by the Lakota, Pawnee, Arikara, Hidatsa, Crow, Shoshone, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, Jicarilla and Mescalero Apache nations. There would be little cost to the United States, and virtually no arbitrary dispossession or dislocation of non-Indians if the entire Commons were restored to these peoples. Further, it would establish a concrete basis from which genuine expressions of indigenous self-determination could begin to reemerge on this continent, allowing the indigenous nations involved to begin the process of reconstituting themselves socially and politically and to recreate their traditional economies in ways that make contemporary sense. This would provide alternative socioeconomic models for possible adaptation by non-Indians and alleviate a range of considerable costs to the public treasury incurred by keeping the Indians in question in a state of abject and permanent dependency.
Critics will undoubtedly pounce upon the fact that an appreciable portion of the Buffalo Commons area I have sketched out—perhaps a million acres or so—lies outside the boundaries of unceded territory. That is the basis for the sorts of multilateral negotiations between the United States and indigenous nations I mentioned earlier. This land will need to be "charged off" in some fashion against unceded land elsewhere and in such a way as to bring other native peoples into the mix. The Poncas, Omahas, and Osages, whose traditional territories fall within the area in question, come immediately to mind, but this would extend as well to all native peoples willing to exchange land claims somewhere else for actual acreage in this locale. The idea is to consolidate a distinct indigenous territory while providing a definable landbase to as many different Indian nations as possible in the process.
So Churchill's proposal is a fun little fantasy. But I find it useful as a talking point.
I can't tell you how many times I've written, "If you don't want to uphold the Indians' treaties, give them their land back." I considered this a mere rhetorical flourish, not a serious argument.
But if someone says, "That's impossible," now I can respond, "No, it's eminently possible. See How to Return the Indians' Land for an explanation of how it could work. You may not like this option, but it's perfectly doable in theory."
In other words, I'm calling you on your attempt to weasel out of the legally binding treaties. If that's your goal, let's discuss the real alternative. If you refuse to discuss either option, you're a hypocrite and a fraud. You don't care about justice or the "rule of law." You're nothing but a spoiled baby who wants it all.
For more of Churchill's thoughts on indigenism, see:
Only one Indian civilization?
Churchill the indigenist
Disclaimer: Nothing in this posting is meant to support any of Churchill's words or deeds except the words noted here.
Below: "2000 U.S. population density in persons per sq. mile: yellow 1-4, light green, 5-9." Wow...almost half the US is practically empty. Look at all the land we could give back without affecting most Americans.