American Socialist, October 1956

The Shame of A Nation

by William Jaber

The two articles which follow constitute a full survey of a topic which is rarely discussed with any seriousness in the American press. Granting that the situation of the Indian is a restricted problem in our vast society, it marks our civilization with the brand of Cain, who slew his brother for his own advantage. And it is deadly serious for the Indians themselves, however small their numbers. As a symptom of white supremacy and of capitalist callousness, it is a matter with which all socialists should be concerned. The first article is by a Northwest anthropologist. Mr. Jaber, who wrote the second article, is a New York historian who has specialized in Indian affairs.

by A Northwest Anthropologist

In the beginning, God gave every people a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life. . . . Our cup is broken now. It has passed away. A Digger Indian chief.

AFTER nearly two decades of ‘enlightened’ Indian administration the stage is being set for new betrayals. As an Indian recently put it, ‘The Econnaunuyulgee [people-greedily-grasping-after-land] have returned.’ The delicately patched Indian cup is about to be broken again.

In August 1953, President Eisenhower signed Public Law 280. The law permits any state government to substitute itself for the federal government in civil and criminal matters involving Indians. The bill, together with others which have been sent to Congress by the Interior Department, in effect, will abolish federal trusteeship over the tribes, dissolve the tribal constitution and charters through which the Indians are entitled to defend their property, end all federal Indian services and nullify the contractual commitments of the federal government to the tribes.

The first groups to lose federal protection under the new legislation include the Menominees of Wisconsin and the Klamath and Western Oregon groups, all of which own rich timber resources. The Coushattas of Alabama and the Unitah and Ouray reservation Indians also may soon be stripped of federal protection.

Most Indian leaders and many Indian-rights organizations feel another land grab is in the making. The new dispensation can ultimately lead to a destruction of the Indian by private interests who are desirous of their lands and the wealth on and beneath them.

HOW can the power companies exploit the lands of some three hundred American citizens? By cutting the timber and removing the gas, oil, and other natural resources. The Montana and Dakota reservation land have rich oil deposits. The Southwestern Indians own gas reserves. Uranium has been discovered on the Navaho reservation of New Mexico and Arizona and the Pueblo land in New Mexico as well as the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, and the Spokane reservation in Washington. Lead and zinc deposits are abundant on the Quapaw reservation in Oklahoma while phosphate resources have been located on the Fort Hall reservation in Idaho. During 1955 alone the Indians have received from bonuses, rents, and royalties on oil, gas, and mining leases about $29 million. The profits for the corporations developing the sites may double or triple this figure.

The American Indians and their white friends have good reason to be suspicious of ‘emancipation’ moves on the part of the government. History records this tragic story. In 1873 the Indians held 150 million acres which the white men promised he could hold ‘as long as rivers run and the grass shall grow.’ In 1887 the Allotment Act was passed which aimed at civilizing the Indian by making him an independent farm owner. By 1933, the Indian been emancipated from all but 47 million acres of land. The best land has passed to whites.

American corporations have likewise feasted on the bones of the Indian corpse. Before the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 put the brakes on the gravy train, private interests were stalking Indian wealth. The Salish and Kootenai tribes on the Flathead reservation in Montana owned a magnificent power site which, when properly developed, could give the tribe a supporting income and provide wonderful irrigation for their farm lands. But Montana Power Company, thirsty for profits, backed legislation in 1925 which would have given them the site. Although the measure was later defeated, it had full support of the Indian Bureau. In 1930 the powerful livestock interests of Southern Oregon gained access to Klamath timber and grazing lands by bribing Indian officials to arrange sales. Even as recently as 1947 the Tongass Act deprived Alaskan primitives of land and timber ‘if two more of them had grandparents who were Indians’! The new Indian legislation, backed by the Interior Department and the Indian Bureau, foreshadows a return to such an era of Indian exploitation. The new bills destroy the protection granted the Indian under the 1934 act.

The Indian leadership has little power to resist the new betrayal by a corporation-oriented administration. Although theoretically each tribe has control over such tribal membership, inheritance, tribal taxation, domestic relations, and form of tribal government, in practice the Indian is governed by directives the Secretary of the Interior and his agents, the superintendents and district directors. Many important officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a subdivision of Department of Interior, believe they are representatives of a ‘superior race’ who have omnipotent powers as pro- the ‘inferior’ Indian wards. Dissenting tribal leaders have little influence over the policy of the Indian Bureau and no control over appointments. The redmen, for all intents and purposes, are prisoners of the Indian Bureau.

POLITICAL activities on the part of the Indians have discouraged by government officials. Most reservation or ‘ward’ Indians do not vote. Although the Indian minority was given citizenship in 1924, until recently New Mexico, Idaho, Washington, and Arizona disenfranchised the Indian. Utah and Colorado also have denied the vote to the Indians. Though active white organizations such as the Association on American Indian and the Indian Rights Association have lobbied in behalf of the redrnen the Indians themselves have no channel for the expression of Indian opinions. They have never expressed themselves as an Indian bloc.

Loss of more land and resources and removal of government trusteeship may prove calamitous to most reservation groups. The ‘vanishing American’ is not vanishing now but increasing, and by the century’s end may well reach a million. Unfortunately the present land held by the Indians supports only three-quarters of their numbers. Many must find jobs off the Reservation or go on relief. Even after twenty years of progressive Indian administration, the Indian Bureau has failed to provide adequate educational facilities. Almost 70 percent of the Indian population has completed only elementary school while, in contrast, 80 percent of the white population 14 years has finished high school. The 1950 Census showed that over half the Indian population lives on family incomes of $2,000 or less. Among the ‘oil rich’ Osages of Oklahoma only 115 out of 1,000 families have incomes of $3,501 and above.

Because Congress and the Indian Bureau have failed to provide adequate health care, education, or aid in development and proper use of Indian resources, the people are totally unprepared for full participation in modern American society.

ASSIMILATION of the American Indian to the normal earn of modern industrial society is a historical inevitability. The Indians can and must be trained for work in all the trades and professions, including agriculture and stock-raising. On the other hand, the Indians, as cultural minority, have in the past and can in the future make beneficial contributions to modern American society. Having failed in its attempts to integrate the into American capitalist society, the United States government aims at getting out of the Indian business as fast as possible in order to give the Indian ‘a chance to prove himself on his own.’ The Indian will have no such chance. Under the lure of ready money in the hands of promoters, the Indians are bound to fall prey to the illusions of quick wealth provided them by the power corporations as, in deed, they are already doing.

The capture of tribal wealth by vested interests is not only an Indian problem but a public problem as well. Our rapidly diminishing natural resources cannot be easily replaced. But the conservation of such resources by the power corporations is constantly undermined by their desire for bigger profits. The white American’s cup of life as well as the Indian’s may be shattered beyond all repair in the process. As Oliver LaFarge, the writer, has so aptly phrased it: ‘It is your story as well as theirs, a fall and an upward struggle which belongs to all of us, a conflict in which the Indian pays with his life for our inattention.’

The Red Man’s Rights by William Jaber

ORGANIZATIONS dedicated to defend Indian civil rights have, since 1950, expended all of their available time and funds in fighting bad legislation and adverse judicial decisions. Fighting this flow of hostile law has resulted in some negative success; that is, it has held back, to some extent the tide of remorseless laws inimical to the welfare of Indians. By means of Congressional legislation, executive directives, and by judicial review, the Federal government set out, since the war, to destroy what remained of earlier social efforts.

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was the high-water mark in the Indian’s progress toward the exercise of full citizenship, although the Act gave dictatorial powers to the Secretary of Interior, and promoted the concept of wardship. The law was a miniature Point Four program. The tribes were given the right to incorporate for their protection, tribal justice through tribal courts was inaugurated, protection was given to what remained of the Indian’s former culture, the sale of his lands was stopped, his reservations and their resources were protected from further depredation. Every effort was made to guide the Indian through the pitfalls of ‘white’ law. Through this and other reforms, Indians had begun to find the means of discharging their obligations to the government, at the same time preserving their identity as a separate cultural group.

In order to understand how the government determined its present policy on Indians, it is necessary to know how two very old myths came to be recognized as law and used to ‘eliminate’ the ‘Indian Problem.’ (The government assumes that we have an Indian Problem.)

THE first myth is that of wardship; that the Indian is a ward of the government, not capable of discharging his duties as a citizen. The Indian had existed for many generations on doles and handouts designed to placate him for the loss of his former homelands, and to keep him alive until he was fully proselytized and stripped of his former ‘primitive’ culture and absorbed into the general population. Thus, being a ward of the government is a long-standing idea, buttressed by the fact that the government is trustee of Indian tribal funds, royalties and other funds.

But the Indian is a full citizen of the United States, and was given his citizenship by Federal legislation in 1924; and the Indian has, besides his citizenship rights, other rights, resulting from his previous peculiar status under Federal Law, and denoted as Indian Rights. His Indian Rights have been divided into Aboriginal Rights (now under attack in Federal courts) and Treaty Rights.

The other myth, denied as government policy hut adopted by the bureaucrat in contact with the Indian, is the common one of racial and cultural superiority. It is an attitude assumed when in contact especially with those people who choose to fight for some vestige of former folkways and tribal society. It can he observed directly in officials who forward the claim of benevolent, paternal government which knows what is best for the Indian.

The concept of ‘wardship’ and ideas of racial superiority started the drive for enforced assimilation, which though advocated in the past has become, since 1945, the deliberate and determined government policy for the first time in our history. Until 1934 the Bureau of Indian Affairs had never employed one single policy, good or bad, but, instead, utilized various ideas and prejudices. For two hundred years the government’s various Indian agencies have been political spoils and melting-pots for aimless bureaucrats. In view of this, it is all the more surprising that there should now be such singleness of purpose in prosecuting the pernicious program of enforced assimilation.

This policy was officially launched when Dillon Myer took office as administrator of the Indian Bureau. Myer is the man who headed the government’s Japanese Relocation Program during the war, which set up concentration camps for Japanese-Americans who lived along our West Coast. In view of the new policy, one can see the appropriateness of placing such a man at the head of the Indian Bureau.

The first attacks were directed toward the tribes as organizations and, particularly, at tribal ownership of land. To destroy tribal authority, prestige, and control of land was the admitted design. This was done in order to undermine the Indian’s ancient concept of land-use, the keystone of his culture, and to acquire control of the reservation and other Indian-held resources.

WE ought to mention here that the Eastern Indian, in particular, was communistic in pre-Colurnbus years. He had no obsession with petty private-property claims. His concept of land-use was based upon his tangible relationship to his environment. That which he found undivided in nature could not be permanently divisible among men. Such was land, air and water. For example, his collective use of water is amusingly illustrated by the name, Lake Chaubunagungamaug, Massachusetts, translated as: ‘You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, and nobody fishes in the middle!’ The very idea of private ownership of land, air and water was alien to most Indian cultures, hence, had no history of practice. Therefore, when sudden proscription falls upon the Indian, without benefit of education or training, and without means of adaptation, only result is the wholesale destruction of the economic well as spiritual means of survival.

Some accept the efficacy of enforced assimilation, actually, one must deny, reject or ignore the most of human rights—equality. Equality does not mean sameness. Every person in a democratic society is presumed to have a certain amount of freedom to be different, an immigrant prefers to retain certain cultural elements his former native land or country of birth, his right so has never, in this country, been a matter of government opposition. His religion, even though it may be in the minority, has never been subjected to governmental suppression, except in the case of Mormons and Indians, neither of whom were immigrants, per se. We do not mean that all elements of a given alien culture are accepted, but the greater number which entered the country have retained or modified, but seldom rejected. Likewise, Indians’ right to belong to a tribe, partake of his adhere to his own religion is a right of choice, not of compulsion, and to abandon his tribe and tribal society right of choice, not of compulsion.

The Indian knows that assimilation will come to pass, for he is even now extracting from white society attributes and commodities which he deems beneficial to his life, but he must have free choice to accept or reject! He must enjoy this choice by virtue of his American citizenship. The movement to exterminate by absorption is a tyranny that has left many rootless. Unable to live in the dignity and respect of his own people, nor into white society, the Indian is a prey to prejudice, petition, debasement, and poverty. He lacks training through education, and stands somewhere; two civilizations, bereft of both religion and land, spiritually crippled by three hundred years of subjugation.

RAPID City, South Dakota, is a bustling city where one may view assimilation first-hand, with its ghettoes of assimilated Indians. In an area such as this, if an Indian cannot present himself as a museum piece, a historical freak in full regalia of costumes which are long relegated to memory and nostalgia, he cannot lay to the dignity of a human being or the sympathy of the whites.

The destruction of Indian identity as a group has been abetted by government proscription of occupation. There is the hunter of the Great Plains, who had always been accustomed to moving about through large tracts of land, pursuing the oldest occupation in history. He was suddenly and violently deprived of that land, herded onto a reservation, given a plow and told to become a farmer. As one Indian put it, ‘I have always thought earth as my mother, which it is, and would you hand me a steel blade with which to gash the breast of my mother?’ Such a statement reveals a deep, abiding love for the land in its natural state. Even those who were farmers relegated that work to the women. The impact was the same on the Indian as it would be to us if the Federal government were to suddenly enact a law requiring all women to become wage-earners and all men to become housewives.

The parceling out of land in individual allotments, a government policy since 1888, has been stepped up recently. For the Indian to become an individual landholder, an owner of private property, means the death-knell to the idea of tribal ownership. Tribal properties have been broken up, as prescribed by law. Any objection in the abolition of the tribal constitution, and the immediate elimination of government trusteeship of tribal funds!

Aboriginal rights, recognized by Federal law, are based premise on the premise that the original inhabitants of the lands country have been banished and had their properties expropriated by violent and illegal means. The United States has reversed its position as of March 1956, upon which date the Justice Department directly attacked the principle of Aboriginal rights. However removed this attack may seem to be from the issue of tribal group existence, it is nevertheless the opening gun to destroy the Indian is a functioning social and political group.

Under the New Deal’s Reorganization Act, the government has been forced to pay some claims for damages suffered by the Indians in the past. These funds have been put to work by the Indian to strengthen his cultural unity and improve his reservation and farm lands. If the government wins the present issue, it will be almost impossible for the Indian to claim damages or compensation for loss of treaty-protected lands. These claims are quite extensive, for the United States entered into 370 treaties with Indian tribes between 1778 and 1870. The government broke every single one of these treaties, but one, that which was broken by the Minnesota Sioux in 1862.

STRIKING at Aboriginal rights is a blow against tribal finance. In addition, the United States and several states have extended their taxing powers over reservations. In the decision of Jones vs Taunah, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, it is maintained that royalties from trust allotment are subject to taxation. New York State has ruled that all Indians, regardless of residence, are subject to income tax.

The onslaught continues in the field of local government. Public Law 280 of the 83rd Congress transferred civil and criminal jurisdiction from many reservations to the states in which they are located. It authorized any other state to take the same action. Thus, local self-government is also under attack. The court decision of Iron Crow vs Oglala Sioux directly attacks the reservation law-and-order system. These are only a few of the important issues that are being resolved to the disadvantage of the Indian.

There are, for example, bills passed by Congress since 1952 which abolish tribal constitutions, abrogate Federal treaties, break up tribal properties, and eliminate government trusteeship of funds. Other laws have been passed to destroy the corporate status of the tribe, inaugurated under the New Deal. The government intends to expropriate Indian funds to finance the activities of the Indian Bureau.

The United States has, in fact, sought in every way to conceal the obvious fact that the Indian is a full citizen of the United States and is entitled to the same rights as any other American. This has enabled selfish interests to bend the processes of local, state, and Federal government to the purpose of confiscating land and resources of Indians heretofore under strict protection of the law. It is the duty of every citizen, when he has full knowledge that the rights of others are endangered, to register his disapproval and to work to defeat attempts to destroy basic human rights. If we allow the Indian to be extinguished as a group, we will have aided in the most vicious crime that history can record, the crime of genocide—for whether he is exterminated by absorption or by slow death as a result of his failure to assimilate, the fact remains that his extinction will have been brought about by organized illegal methods, against his will, under the aegis of our government.

Ira Hayes, Pima Indian, one of the men who helped raise the flag at Surabachi, and appearing in the immortal photo by Joe Rosenthal, was found dead, in the gutter, in the company of the bottle, degraded, unable to cope with the barriers raised against his people. He is symbolic of the problem facing his people. The Indian lacks opportunity for full employment, because of prejudice, and his own lack of training. His poverty can most always be attributed to badly neglected lands which were poor even when he was forced to move to them.

The Indian has proven, however, that, given the opportunity, as among the Mesqualero Apache, he can produce enough for himself and a surplus for sale. The Hopi and Navajo have demonstrated that, with intelligent government supervision and aid, he can build as successfully as the white farmer with the same supervision and aid.

The white man has an especial responsibility to the Indian whose lands he conquered and whose culture he destroyed. We should have the same respect for Chief Joseph, Logan, Cornstalk, Tecumseh, as we hold for all heroes of a lost cause, and Hollywood’s interpretation to the contrary notwithstanding all were greater as human beings and as leaders than either Custer or Crockett.

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