Friday, Jan. 25, 2008 | Thanks for your fine piece on education for Indian children, especially those efforts at cultural education. The push and pull between tradition and modernity keeps American Indians on a continuum that doesn’t always resolve itself on either side. Sometimes it produces a blend that is beneficial to them and enriching for us. When it doesn’t work, it can leave Indians at sea and the rest of us deprived.
One element missing from your story that many non-Indians fail to understand is that Indian education is part of our collective responsibility. With more than 400 treaties between Indians and the federal government that ended widespread Indian resistance to American encroachment, whites got millions of acres of Indian land, and Indians got necessities like farm implements, health care, education, some food, some land, etc. In the process, Indian lands were reduced from the entire land mass of today’s United States to an area about the size of Minnesota. You know who got the better end of the deal.
Also, the government and white settlers regularly violated the treaties, and physical and cultural extermination of Indians became policy. This is not ancient history. California was notably aggressive about this ethnic cleansing well into the 1950s. Since the second half of the 20th century, Indians have been asserting their treaty rights more strongly. Still, perhaps because of the casinos, the government, especially the Bush administration, has been working overtime to drastically cut Indian programs.
These programs, however, are not ordinary aid programs. They are payment for the lands that are now San Diego County, Marin County, San Francisco, etc. The governor and his minions talk about the Indians paying their fair share. What does that mean? Would we return these lands to the Indians to provide a tax base for those payments?
In the book I have completed on contemporary American Indian life, one woman commented that the health care and education Indians get is not free. She reminded us: “My ancestors paid for it with blood and land.”