Sooner or later Trump is going to realize — in his movie-driven mind — that “Indians” cost a lot of money. Therefore, he will close the reservations and deny any special advantages due to enrolment. The corporation model that has been the organizational principle of tribal resource management — the fruits of the land going to the people of that land — is suited to this modern way of thinking about life: money, money and money. With a board of directors (tribal council) in charge and shareholder profits ensuing. (The Christmas payout for the Piegan/Piikuni this year was $75.) At least the part of the Trump voter constituency that is convinced someone else is getting their money will be gratified.
And yet if rezzes were foreclosed, more economies will be devastated, diminishing both tax income and safety, both care for the needy and support for the many start-ups and cooperations on the rez. Much tribal money is held “in trust” by the US government. Eloise Cobell forced an accounting and recompense for all the trust money that was diverted to national uses instead of properly recorded and distributed to the People. The next step might be to take all that money OUT of trust and put it in the hands of the tribes one way or another.
Nations are functions of territory and infrastructure. If both are gone, taking with them the flow of food and fuel, there will be revolution. That’s not a threat but an inevitability. If one tribe takes its reservation into secession, the army will be sent in to restore order. If ALL tribes secede at once, the resistance will be insuppressible. Unless Russia cooperates by sending the smallpox seed they’ve saved. This time the white people are not immunized.
This is a war cry of a post, meant to make stark what is happening around the world when governments get pot-bound and international corporations are stronger than nations (strong enough to ignore the Rule of Law). A smart phone in every pocket is clearly different from a transistor radio — though it was bad enough when authority was challenged by rock and roll. The youngsters are talking about sovereignty. And they’re talking to each other.
Some of them are lawyers, many have fought in the Sand Wars, and not enough of them are seasoned politicians except locally. In previous years it has been argued that the BIA is the only check on tribal corruption but now the corruption is so bad in so many places that many would say there is NO check on corruption anywhere in any of the United States or even United Nations. First they sell off the national monuments to line their own pockets, then they come for the rez, which was assigned because the politicians thought they were wastelands with no value.
Things have unfolded differently. At one time “Indians” were mocked for being drunks; now it’s white people who are addicts. Once it was enrolled children who were taken into foster care, but now the system is flooded with the unwanted children of drug users. If only heroin would make people sterile.
When I try to tell my friends and relatives what indigenous people are really like (they are all different from each other and a lot of them are indistinguishable from “white” people) everybody gets mad. There are several schools of thought. One is the slavering monster point of view, which slides around a lot to various countries, particularly Asian for the people who just can’t bear to give up the Pacific Ocean wars of last century, but have too much German heritage to give up the Atlantic side. Sometimes it slides onto black Americans, though in the end those who are really committed to the idea of dominance as the source of power can end up mostly bullying and kidnapping little girls of any heritage.
I would never have been able to say these things from the pulpit or in a liberal church newsletter. The educated much prefer the alternative extreme, which came from Germany — the philosophical conviction that nature is innocent and indigenous people are natural and therefore they are also innocent. Maybe a little supernatural. How we love our sources of mysticism!
These convictions are cages and traps. But they are fantasies, like the accumulation of wealth and ownership that are actually only on paper, treaties we agree to agree about — until we don’t. Because the alternative is a mess, not just on this continent but worldwide.
The whole time this violently emotional discussion goes on, reality is shifting because nothing in reality holds still — it’s all process and change. What was clearly an “Indian” even a hundred years ago is not the same today. (There were probably a lot of white “ringers” hanging out in tribes as well as a lot of “Indians” living in white communities who thought they were “French”.) A whole new demographic category has been invented: “brown.” It turns out that white is the anomaly, a mutation that happened in Europe as humans moved north. Today in the USA they are an agonized minority.
I guess I should say “we,” since I’m Scottish homesteader on one side and Irish Oregon Trail pioneer on the other, both of them categories that can portrayed as murderers, berzerkers, abusers of women and children — but also as philosophers, heroes, and romantic idols. My conservative and respectable cousins do not want to hear all this. It’s all too ugly, too hard to figure out. We’re feeling old.
Why am I so different? Education and a bit of experience. Today’s revisionist history amounts to revisionist entitlement as well. No longer do old white men get to frame it all in their terms. Now the women, the “browns,” the natural history scientists, the ecologists, are invested in re-framing, not least because the old white men now in power are so intent on returning to what they consider the Golden Years, which were only the years in which they were young and protected by the system. And women. These days it’s hard for some to tell which ones are women, though one can kinda tell indigenous people whose phenotypes match the stereotype regardless of their DNA or provenance.
I don’t bother to try. My concern is the real people I’ve known. I try to be real myself. Maybe this time the indigenous people will be ready politically. After fifty years of witnessing, I'm ready to testify.