Going Native

Anthony Bradley posted a thought provoking comment from Thomas Sowell

“Do people who advocate special government programs for blacks realize that the federal government has had special programs for American Indians, including affirmative action, since the early 19th century — and that American Indians remain one of the few groups worse off than blacks?” ~ T. Sowell //ok, yeah that is true. Didn’t work out too well for them either.

The comparison of American Indians and African Americans has a history among conservatives, not least because both are seen as wards of the State. And so the thinking goes, following Hayek, it must be this relationship to the State that has effected their diminished status.

It’s a bit of apples and oranges, really.

The status of Native Americans is quite distinct from that of other ethnic groups, or from that of African Americans and the horrors of slavery and Southern oppression. Native Americans were only formally granted citizenship in 1924 (prior, Indians could gain citizenship through intermarriage, military service, or renouncing tribal identity); in seven states they lacked right to vote until after WW II.

Prior to the Indian Reorganization Act (1938) the federal government had policies that were not only economically disadvantaging Native Americans, but explicitly seeking the destruction of their culture through forced English-only assimilation in the schools. The previous pattern of privatization of Indian lands under the Dawes Act wrecked further havoc and the loss of more than 90 million acres of Native land; e.g.  the Menominee lands basically disappeared under this program. However well intentioned (and it was, from the eyes of Washington) this was most definitely not a welfare state failure, but something worse.

(One can also add the horrific mismanagement of the trust fund set up by the Dawes Act. The mismanagement by the Department of Interior resulted in the loss of over $100 billion to Native coffers. One hundred billion — and not in today’s money, either: this is a catastrophic loss. This is not the welfare state robbing initiative, but the State robbing its wards — a different matter.)

Finally, in contrast to Thomas Sowell’s focus on the individual, the tribal organizations took a far more communal approach in the wake of the IRA. The last half of the 20C has seen an increasing assertion of self-determination (Sovereignty) by tribes large and small, initially in areas like natural resource management (hunting fishing), but increasingly in areas of education and economic development (casinos, being the best-known).

What does link the status of African Americans and Indians is how both suffer from the legacy of real injustice. It is this continuing grief borne across generations that creates the head wind and holds people back.

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