For the majority of American Indians, the opportunity to develop capacity for self-sufficiency does not exist. They remain the most chronically poor citizens in our Nation; they often lack the resources, technology, and infrastructure to form the broad networks and alliances which can generate solutions to the deleterious impact of poverty.
"If the Great Spirit
had desired me
to be a white man,
he would have made me so
in the first place."
|American Indians enjoyed a population of 10 million, 500 years ago. By 1924, this number dwindled to 300,000. The United States Congress ratified 371 Treaties with native People, the first in 1778 with the Delaware, the last with Nez Perce in 1871, one year before the Mining law of 1872 and Western Expansion. However, in most cases, Indians were forced to give up land in return for self-governing rights and designated Tribal Homeland.
Most, if not all of these rights were ignored. In 1830, the Cherokee Tribe sued the State of Georgia, when the State declared that Indian land within that State to be null and void.
In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that Indian tribes were domestic dependent nations wards of the Federal Government. In effect, with no right to file suit. Then, in a second case, Worcester v. Georgia, the court ruled in favor of the Cherokee, declaring them to be a distinct community, occupying its territory, which the people of Georgia had no right to enter without Cherokee Tribal consent. This was a strong statement from the highest tribunal of the land. However, in an unprecedented statement from President Andrew Jackson, proclaimed John Marshal has made his decision, now let him enforce it.
Soon after the illegal Treaty of New Echota was signed, the government of the United States sent 7,000 federal troops, backed by state militias, for a total of 9,000 armed men, to forcibly remove these people to stockades in key locations. Eventually, these American Indians were force-marched to Indian Country, which is now the State of Oklahoma.
Of the 16,000 men, women and children forced to relocate, more than 4,000 died of disease or exposure, either in the stockades or on the was West. The tragedy of the removal of the still lingers in the hearts and memory of the Cherokee today. They call it oosti ganuh-nuh dunadohiluh, the trail where they cried.
Indian Nations were not judged to be stand-alone countries. Instead, the Supreme Court defined them as domestic dependent nations, a unique status, still subject to much controversial interpretation.
Today, politicians are challenging the sovereign rights of Indians again, by arguing that Article XI of the Constitution awards juristriction on Indian issues to the State in which the Tribe exists (all powers not residing within the Federal Government automatically resort back to the States). This is in direct conflict with Article VI of the Constitution which states that treaties backed by Congress are the Supreme Law of the Land.
Indian County is an evolving experiment, trying to live the oxymoron of being independent nations subject to a greater political power. Today we have 554 reservations dotted throughout the United States, the poorest of which is Pine Ridge in South Dakota. These people are living in substandard housing with little or no hope of getting off the reservation. Many are out of work, on welfare, suffering from alcohol and drug abuse and all the other horrors of living in an environment of poverty and neglect. On the other hand there is the Mashantucket Pequot Nation in Connecticut which happens to be the wealthiest of all the reservations in the states with annual gaming revenues of over one billion dollars.
Indian Gaming, established by Congress in 1988, is now on over 180 reservations, though the windfall is amongst only the very few. The total revenue generated is six billion dollars per year. The Mashantucket Pequots take in over one billion of this revenue or about 16% of all the Indian Casino gaming revenues. With gaming, and a nascent sovereignty movement that began in the 1970s, there are now approximately 1,000 American Indian lawyers, a ten-fold increase during the past twenty years. These lawyers are fighting to maintain the tribal sovereign status though politicians often argue that sovereignty is Un-American. There are actually four levels of government in America. Federal, State, Local and Indian. As one tribal leader has said, What most people do not understand is that we are governments first and racial entities second. When Newt Gingrigh visited New Mexico, he commented to the assembled Pueblo Communities that he had trouble understanding the concept of Tribal Sovereignty. One leader responded by saying, When we come to Washington, you do not send me to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. You have a State Dinner for me.
For more than one hundred years since the last treaty with Indians, virtually every census found Indian land to be Islands of squalor and poverty, compounded with chronic unemployment and rates of disease and early death unmatched in the country. Today the American Indian unemployment rate is 30 percent. Among Indians who hold jobs, nearly a third earned less than $10,000 a year in 1995. Indians have the highest rate of alcoholism, suicide and child abuse in the country. Government funding has decreased 30 percent in the last two years. Welfare to work agendas have taken their toll as well. Recently, in a major case against Indian Sovereignty, the Alaskan Supreme Court ruled that Native lands in the State of Alaska would not fall under Tribal Jurisdiction. Gaming Compacts fall within the jurisdiction of the States.
Today, as before, is a Governor of a State failed to negotiate a compact with a Tribe in good faith, the Tribe reserved the right after twenty days, to submit its compact for approval to the Secretary of the Interior. This has now changed. The Federal Government mandated that gaming revenues can only be used for infrastructure. This means, that in affect, gaming revenues may only be used to help finance and fund educational programs, schools, health care, etc., the basic needs of a Tribe that the Federal Government had heretofore been obliged to fund. Tribal gaming revenues are now being used to replace the Federal Governments obligation to the Tribes. Though many tribal communities are trying to remain traditional as well as historically substantive culture, they are unable to do so because their waters and their lands as polluted. Today, nearly half the States have no Indian Tribes or reservations. Indian Country today is comprised of 56 million acres and 1.4 million people. This is less than one percent of our entire population spread over two percent of our land. The Federal Government was by law required to hold Tribal Lands in Trust. However, from the 1880s to the 1930s, Congress made Indian land available for purchase. The American Indians lost 90 million acres in the process, equal to two-thirds of their total land base. For the majority of Native Americans, the opportunity to develop a capacity for self-sufficiency does not exist. They remain the poorest citizens in our nation. They often lack the resources, technology and infrastructure needed to form the broad networks and alliances which can generate solutions to the deleterious impact of poverty.
The FOUNDATION FOR THE AMERICAN INDIAN (FAI) is committed to the empowering of the American Indian Community with the support of education of technology and economic development programs. We support Indian communities, not because we believe them as indigent, but rather because we think of them as a soulful and powerful People. We believe if we can facilitate wellness within their communities, that they can become a powerful and independent community once again, and they will once again continue to be stewards of our land, and if we are lucky, will share the formula for wellness with us. Our six years with the American Indian community has been a remarkable collaboration. We intend to continue our efforts in Indian Country, doing all we can to facilitate their renewed strength, recognition and empowerment.