Termination returns in the health reform debate
By Mark Trahant
First, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called for the elimination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a drastic reduction in Indian health spending. Then last week Fox’s John Stoessel said: “Why is there a Bureau of Indian Affairs? There is no Bureau of Puerto Rican Affairs or Black Affairs or Irish Affairs. And no group in America has been more helped by the government than the American Indians, because we have the treaties, we stole their land. But 200 years later, no group does worse.”
Rand and Stoessel might as well have attributed their ideas to Sen. Arthur Watkins. A generation ago the Republican from Utah was the congressional champion of termination. He promised to “free the Indians” from all those special restrictions against private property (the same ones Stoessel talked about on Fox). “This is not a novel development, but a natural outgrowth of our relationship with the Indians,” Watkins wrote in 1957. “...After all, the matter of freeing the Indian from wardship status is not rightfully a subject to debate in academic fashion, with facts marshalled here and there to be maneuvered and countermaneuvered in a vast battle of words and ideas.”
By every measure termination was a disaster as a public policy. It was legal theft and a failure so great that even a casual reference should be outside that battle of words and ideas.