At this very point in time, there is a cry of anguish that goes unheard. It reverberates from the fields of a great battle being waged. It is a war of Biblical proportions, a fight between David and Goliath. A contest of man vs machine, a duel between good and evil, a culture of harmony and a culture of destruction, and it is taking place right here in America’s heartland.
However, you have probably very little knowledge of its existence, for there is very little news media that have the ability to take on its own parent companies, or to criticize its financial backers. There are few politicians who have not been paid off by its lobbyists. There are no lawyers with the power to take on its army of corporate attorneys, and there are no social activists who will not be beaten, imprisoned, and silenced by its fascist police forces. Yet this battle wages on, its cries still reverberate.
This wail of despair that rings so loudly but continues to go ignored, resonates from the mouths of our brothers and sisters of the Sioux tribe. For this is a war between a tribe of our first nations, and Big Oil. This cry is over the illegal placement of an oil pipeline (they call it the Dakota Access Pipeline) through a sacred tribal reservation. It is over an act that violates sovereign lands, endangers the health and well-being of a “at risk” people, and contaminates our environment. It is over our government, once again, putting the interests of corporations over the welfare of its citizens, usually the most vulnerable ones. However, this cry bemoans so much more. It speaks to five hundred years of loss, anguish, oppression, and despair that our native Americans have endured alone, at the hands of our very own government. It is time we heard this cry.
Five hundred years ago, we brought forth to this great land superior manpower, firepower, and technology, obliterating an indigenous people that was able to offer up little resistance. We took a people that once numbered in the tens of millions, with thousands of tribes, and who hunted, roamed, and called home three and a half million square miles (not including Canada, Mexico, or Hawaii), walked them down a Trail of Tears, and imprisoned the remaining two and a half million tribes people with now 576 federally recognized tribes, to 326 reservations over 56 million square acres.
While we called this “Sovereign Land”, this identification is a misnomer, for these reservations offer no value to their respective tribes. These reservations are actually under federal stewardship, and therefore cannot be monetized. This land cannot be used as collateral for business loans, home loans, lines of credit, or for municipal bonds to raise money for infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, libraries, roads, and utilities. Nor can these tribes develop their own natural resources, because the Obama administration says that doing so “will undermine federal oversight powers.”
The abuses and hypocrisy of the US government do not end there. While the government denies these tribes’ rights to develop natural resources, they simultaneously permit private energy corporations to exploit these sovereign lands for oil drilling, natural gas, fracking, and mineral exploration, stealing their means of obtaining wealth, polluting their land, and contaminating theirs and our watersheds.
On top of all this, the federal government continues to “appropriate” what little designated land our indigenous peoples have. Native Americans have been underrepresented in local and federal governments, and ignored by news media.
This isolation, abandonment, and systematic abuse, has had devastating collateral consequences. Epidemic alcohol and drug abuse, 40 percent rates of poverty, 60 percent unemployment, mass incarceration rates double that of African Americans, unreported police brutality, extreme rates of teenage suicide, 2 percent of police killing, while only making up 1 percent of the population. There is rampant dependency on welfare and “government assistance”, inadequate housing, apathy, depression, and continued loss of history, language, and culture.
If we as a nation heed this cry, we could make a mea culpa that would be heard around the world, setting a precedent for the rest of humanity, restoring the self-worth of an abused people, and aiding our most deprived citizens. We have the means to do it, and it wouldn’t cost us a dime.
The national parks department currently manages 84 million acres of parkland with an annual budget of 3 billion dollars. I propose we disband the National Parks Service and turn over 84 million acres of land, and 3 billion dollars annually, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We could put conservation classes into the plan, while granting exclusive hunting rights for animal population control, and full access that would reconvene these people to their religious symbols of plants, animals, and environment. As current park rangers retire and change careers, we replace them with Native American rangers, creating future jobs, stability, and a source of income—effectively rehiring the original stewards of the land.
We then would amend the titleship of the current 56 million acres of reservation to that of private land, owned outright to the respective tribes who occupy this land, with all rights of ownership.
While this one act would go a long way to creating immediate sustainability, future wealth, and recompense to our most disenfranchised citizens, Native Americans’ independence is not our end goal. As explained in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, independence of an individual is just a means to attaining an ultimate goal of interdependence, which is a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more autonomous and capable parties.
We have much to learn. So heed the cry.
This post is published as part of the Prison Op/Ed Project, an occasional series authored by CCRI sociology students who are incarcerated at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute.