The fallout from the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal has all of Washington atwitter about congressional reform–everything from proposals to restrict travel perks and lunches with lobbyists to a potential shakeup in the Republican House leadership.
A subtheme of the controversy involves not a shakeup but a shakedown–of Indian tribes by Mr. Abramoff, who used casino cash to throw money around town as well as to line his own pockets richly. The common perception is that once again the white man has cheated the red man.
Perhaps a few expressions of sympathy are in order. Yet Indians would benefit much more from their own sweeping reforms. The Abramoff rip-off should be the least of their worries. The time has come to abolish reservations for the good of the people who live on them.
In the American imagination, grinding poverty is often a picture of urban slums full of broken families, abandoned apartments and back-alley drug deals. But an equally valid portrait might focus on the rural squalor of the rez. Of the 10 poorest counties in the U.S., seven of them are contained wholly or largely on reservations in Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Professional victimologists offer no shortage of explanations for this miserable state of affairs, but most of their analysis boils down to a core grievance: The federal government stole land from the Indians by conquest and treaty. Although Indians once were able to obtain title to specific parcels within reservations, this practice ended in 1934–an act that essentially turned the reservations into not-so-little housing projects on the prairie.
This is something I’ve brought up several times here on Say Anything, both in relation to the Abramoff scandal and Indian casinos. Here in North Dakota I live fairly close to two separate Indian reservations. My job gives me occassion to travel to both several times a year, so I can tell you from personal experience that these communities rival even some of the worst inner-city slums (which I have also observed in New York, Chicago and L.A.) in terms of squalid living conditions and rank criminality. And while that reality is bad enough, it is made all the worse when you see that many of these communities exist within sight of gleaming multi-million dollar gambling establishments. Which is why I’ve said in the past that apart from the Abramoff shenanigans the politicians who took money from Indian gambling interests should be ashamed for accepting contributions from such an exploitive enterprise that clearly isn’t doing a thing to help the people it was intended to.
The reservation system isn’t helping the Indians and neither is the gambling.
Here in North Dakota we have an unemployment rate of just under 3%, which is one of the lowest rates in the nation. Yet on our state’s Indian reservations the unemployment rate is hovering in the mid-sixties. There is no reason for that number to be so high in an economic environment where business are not just calling for workers, but demanding them.
To me, this all indicates one thing: We are doing Indians a grave disservice by keeping them on the reservation. Which isn’t to say that we’re forcing them to say on the reservation, because we aren’t. But we are giving the incentives to stay there along the lines of government entitlement and special priveleges, and that has made the problem worse. The handling of the reservation system to this point has only created a series of isolated communities where dependence on government welfare programs is the rule, not the exception. I just don’t see why that should continue.
You can read more from Rob Port at SayAnythingBlog.com