Native Americans have been the object of both corporate and governmental greed and neglect for generations. What’s happening now, and what will help?
What demographic offers so much to the American experiment, from long knowledge of how to live on this continent to enlisting in our military more often than any other group, per capita? Native Americans. And throughout our history, what group has been continually pushed aside, their land confiscated and fouled, their health and economic opportunities in tatters, in ways that should be a national embarrassment in the land of the free? Well, lots of them, but Native Americans are right up there on the list. It’s popular in this age of resurgent nationalism to claim that white men in polo shirts and khakis are the Real Victims ™, but let’s take a look at what’s going on in Indian country, where our First Nations are generally forgotten until they have something worth taking.
Chief among bunglers lately is the Great Orange Father in Washington. Not only did he re-appropriate vast chunks of two national monuments recently, opening up sacred land to everyone from fossil fuel developers to artifact hunters, he also turned what should have been a tribute to the Navajo code talkers into a political insult.
What’s more, the President’s proclamation regarding Bears’ Ears National Monument also changed the makeup of the monument’s advisory panel to include input from those unfriendly to monument preservation. Officials tout the inclusion of those interested in opening the monument to economic exploitation as a way of “unifying” the region, but it’s seen more as a way to dilute the influence of Native Americans who want to protect the land.
Those high profile incidents aren’t the only ways the administration is rolling over Native Americans. The GOP’s infamous new tax plan, anticipated to add $1.5 trillion to the national deficit, will be a disaster for native concerns. Failing to treat tribal governments on par with state and local governments results in tax iniquities on matters from adoption to bond issuance. Continuing to ignore the discrepancy means that tribal members can be double-taxed, so how likely is it to be seriously addressed?
Meanwhile in Louisiana, Energy Transfer Partners is about to break ground on a new pipeline. You may remember them from South Dakota, where corporate interests and the police state combined to crush the Standing Rock protests earlier this year. Once again, Native Americans are peacefully and prayerfully protesting pipeline construction to protect the land and water in Louisiana for everyone.
In another abuse of Native land, the Department of Homeland Security is planning to conduct bioterrorism drills next year on a site of several federally run Native American boarding schools that operated from the late 1800s to 1980. Native kids were taken from their families and sent to these boarding schools to forcibly assimilate them into the dominant culture. Children died there. Native Americans were often too poor to bring the bodies home, so this ground is the final resting place for over 100 of their children. Homeland Security is releasing the test substances at the site because the buildings resemble single-family homes and commercial buildings common across the country. So why will it happen at this particular culturally significant site, eh?
When they’re not being written off by a healthcare system that sees them as yet another expense, Native Americans are preyed upon by the financial sector as an unwitting source of income. In Arizona, the Navajo Nation announced last week that they will sue Wells Fargo for unethical and predatory business practices. According to the tribe, Wells Fargo allegedly misled Navajo elders and underage youth into opening unnecessary accounts and credit lines without proper consent. Sure, they’re valuable enough as marks for tricksters, but not so valuable as to merit a life expectancy on par with non-natives.
It’s not right that Native Americans, who have given so much to our country, are treated in this manner. True also, these are hard times for almost everyone, Native or not. No doubt there are those who profit from keeping all of us at each others’ throats. We have a better chance of righting the wrongs if we can stop cooperating with those who would keep us divided, and instead unite against them.