Trump and the tribes
There is much wisdom in the phrase, “Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.”
In 1946, as a result of many foxhole conversations in which officers and citizens were shocked to learn that the warriors who had fought and often protected them had—among other things taken for granted by U.S. citizens—no access to the courts. They encouraged the U.S. Congress to pass the Indian Claims Act, which it naively did.
For five years, the Commission collected claims from tribal groups across the country. Rather than the land claims that resulted, there were hundreds of accountings and other chronicles of misrepresentation and violation of Indian rights by the U.S. Government over the prior 150 years.
From 1951 forward, these claims were presented in a quasi-judicial court in Washington, D.C. (The first Indian Claims commissioner was the last commissioner on the 1851 Mexican Claims Commission.)
The Commission was inundated, and the “trials” went on into the ’70s when Secretary Watt abolished the Commission and sent unresolved cases to the U.S. Court system. But the volume of claims brought sunlight to many wrongs and nefarious happenings in Indian communities, property and fiscal resources held in trust by the U.S. government. By Eisenhower’s election, enough Republicans—nervous enough about having many of these situations made public—coalesced to make the Indian Termination Act the second major thrust of the Administration, the first being the Federal Highways Act.
Introduced by our own U.S. Rep. Cliff Young—who told me it was the worst thing he ever did in his life—the law led to a decade for both Indian communities and the states that had been mandated, without funds, to provide services to tribal communities, while those in the know acquired tribal property, water rights and rights of way.
Currently, the Standing Rock Sioux are in court fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline project. They are living up to their name (given by the U.S., although the indigenous name means friend/ally), standing like a rock that promises future generations clean, drinkable water, essential to life. They are standing like a rock to protect any community from having external corporations run through their land with “improvements” for which they receive no compensation and all the risk. They are standing like a rock to ensure that trust officers do not sign over client assets without consultation and permission. A court ruling is promised by Sept. 9.
If it happens to them, it can happen to you. Pay attention.
Why is all this important today? Donald Trump’s pronouncements about Indians, mostly ignored by the press, echo the voices of the ’50s. If elected, he has indicated his actions will be those that were implemented in the ’50s. The actions and demonstrations of the Standing Rock Sioux are those that are saying to the public, “If you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it.”