December 30, 2009

Non-Indians complain about "inequalities"

The following is a good primer on tribal sovereignty. In particular it addresses non-Indians' complaints about perceived "inequalities." I.e., the notion that Indians unfairly enjoy "special rights" such as not paying taxes and getting government handouts.

Read the whole article, but I'll highlight a few key passages:

Thoughts on tribal sovereignty

Written by Brett LarsonWhen looking at those inequalities, we should keep in mind all the other inequalities that exist in our society. Kids in rural and inner city communities don't have access to the same quality of education as those in the suburbs. Isle people live under a different set of laws than Onamia people, and the same goes for Minnesota vs. Wisconsin. People who inherit wealth or a certain name (Bush, Gore) have benefits that others don't have. We think that's okay, but inherited benefits due to race are not. We give lip service to that sentiment—that all should be equal when it comes to race—but we often fail to acknowledge that up until the last 50 years, white skin gave people privileges that others did not receive, and those privileges led to the accumulation of wealth, power, education, and status that many (not all!) white people still benefit from.

We in the non-native community often seem to expect things of tribes that we would not ask of ourselves or our own government. "Why don't they just give up some of the benefits the law allows them to capitalize on?" How many of us would sacrifice the advantages we were born with or born into (money, skin color, education, etc.) for the sake of "fairness"? People in other countries think it's unfair that we Americans consume more than our share of the earth's limited resources, yet if someone demanded that we give up those benefits, we'd think they were crazy.

I believe that all Americans should recognize the devastating impact that invasions, massacres, wars, alcohol, disease, broken treaties, forced assimilation, forced relocation, boarding schools, etc. have had on tribal cultures and individual tribal members. Cultures were destroyed by force and by accident, and a cycle of dysfunctional behaviors and relationships resulted and is still with us today. Our federal and state governments over the last several decades have attempted to acknowledge past sins in part through strengthening tribal sovereignty. The results have been mixed, but that doesn't mean the recognition of sovereignty is necessarily wrong.
Larson's conclusion:Unfairness abounds in life and in America. The unfairness many perceive regarding tribal matters is based on treaties, history, federal law and federal court decisions. Those inequalities have little effect on most Americans' daily lives, and even when you take those inequalities into account, most Americans have been dealt a better hand in life (in terms of economic opportunity, social stability, and security, anyway) than our tribal neighbors.

Majority complaints about "special treatment" of minorities strike me as misdirected aggression. If you're poor and unhappy, the Indians are the least of your problems.

Especially in times and regions of economic trouble, people tend to scapegoat minorities or "others" as the cause of their problems. It seems to me that we'd all be better served by fighting some of the more significant causes of inequality in our country—laws that favor the wealthy few over the middle and lower class majority, a ruling class that is subservient to corporations rather than voters, wars that drain our national treasure at the expense of investments in our own country, etc.
Comment:  As always, if Americans don't like the hand they dealt themselves, there's a simple remedy. Give back all the land you took and we'll cancel the government's obligation toward Indians. Deal?

For more on the subject, see Tribal Sovereignty = "Special Privilege"? and Hutchins vs. Newcomb on Sovereignty.

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