Native American history is full of paternalism, bureaucracy and Federal meddling. It is rare that the Federal government is able to effectively manage the affairs of a local community, which is made abundantly clear when studying the history of Federal Native American policy.
Under Presidents Lynden Johnson and Richard Nixon it was recognized that the best approach with the various Native American groups was one of self-determination. Rather than have Federal policy makers direct Native governments how to manage their affairs, the opinion was changing to having the Federal government step back and allow the Native governments to manage their own affairs.
I will quote a fairly lengthy excerpt from President Nixon’s Special Message to Congress on Indian Affairs from July 8, 1970. I think it is helpful to see this distinct policy shift and worth reading:
“The first American—the Indians—are the most deprived and most isolated minority group in our nation. On virtually every scale of measurement—employment, income, education, health—the condition of the Indian people ranks at the bottom. . . .
But the story of the Indian in America is something more than the record of the white man’s frequent aggression, broken agreements, intermittent remorse and prolonged failure. It is a record also of endurance, of survival, of adaptation and creativity in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It is a record of enormous contributions to this country—to its art and culture, to its strength and spirit, to its sense of history and its sense of purpose.
It is long past time that the Indian policies of the Federal government began to recognize and build upon the capacities and insights of the Indian people. . . . The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions. . . .
But most importantly, we have turned from the question of whether the Federal government has a responsibility to Indians to the question of how that responsibility can best be fulfilled. We have concluded that the Indians will get better programs and that public monies will be more effectively expended if the people who are most affected by these programs are responsible for operating them. . . .
The Indians of America need Federal assistance—this much has long been clear. What has not always been clear, however, is that the Federal government needs Indian energies and Indian leadership if its assistance is to be effective in improving the conditions of Indian life. It is a new and balanced relationship between the United States government and the first Americans that is at the heart of our approach to Indian problems.”4
There were at least 10 different acts from 1968 through 1990 that promoted tribal sovereignty and facilitated the betterment of Native Americans. Legislation passed as part of the Civil Rights Act included natives and tribes under civil protections afforded the rest of the country. Legislation passed in the 1970s provided for a revolving fund loan to aid in the development of Indian resources and allowed the Tribes to administer federal Indian programs themselves.2 The 1980s saw legislation passed which allowed Tribes to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance tribal government projects.2
Across the country we see Native Nations that have thrived and advanced under this more hands off approach by the Federal government. Chapter 4 of Reservation Capitalism: Economic Development in Indian County. Robert J Miller, © 2012 provides three great examples of tribes that were at the point of disintegration when the Self-determination period began and with wise stewardship have become economically viable reservations: The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Oregon), the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the Hoopa Valley Tribe (California).3 (As an aside, I highly recommend this book. The author could have used an editor as the book can be repetitive, but it provides a very good overview of the economic issues in Indian county today. You can find it here.)
With technology leveling the playing field for all businesses it is shaking up the traditional ways of doing business. An individual can start an online business in their home. A national and international market can be opened up via online sales with very little capital needed. The small company can compete against much larger competitors through many advances in technology (marketing, package design, social media, etc.)
A combination of loosening Federal bureaucracy and innumerable technology advances make this the best time for economic opportunity for Native America.
Sacred Road is working to increase the products and artists on the online store. With the assets already in this community we hope to be able to help prompt, assist, and incubate small business development in White Swan. We hope that this will go beyond just the online store that we have already set up. Vocational training, help in starting actual small businesses, providing assets and training for running a business—all things Sacred Road hopes to be involved with.
I appreciate you staying with me for all four installments of this blog post. As blog posts go it was long. But it was woefully short in fully discussing all the Federal policies affecting Native Americans and their ramifications. If you would like to discuss any of these issues further, please contact me. I would encourage you to read any of the source materials for these posts. Particularly Reservation Capitalism as mentioned previously.
In closing, I would just add these last comments. It is easy to judge all the problems of Native America and write this community off. I often hear statements made by individuals that offer up absurdly simple solutions to amazingly complicated problems. Many statements are made by people that grew up with all their needs met from their first day on this earth and have never known a time of want. As I continually realize, I seem to know less about these issues the more I learn about them. Extend grace first. Don’t judge. Love your neighbor. Treat people as if they were members of your own family. Pray for the Yakama Nation, White Swan, and Sacred Road.
For simplicity’s sake, I have just referred to sources for this blog post by number. The sources used for these blog posts include:
- The Rights of Indians and Tribes, fourth edition, chapter 1. Stephen L Pevar, ©2012
- American Indian Law in a Nutshell, sixth edition, chapter 2. William C Canby, Jr, ©2015
- Reservation Capitalism: Economic Development in Indian County. Robert J Miller, © 2012
- Documents of United States Indian Policy, second edition, chapter 19. Francis Paul Prucha, editor, ©1975,