Austerity be damned, for his “America’s future” pilot program, President Obama increased the 2010 federal budget 6.8%, with bumps for police, education, renewable energy and climate change research. Only one of which is actually needed on Indian reservations. In addition to focusing her lorgnette on the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget, The Free Agent has been reading Russell Means’ memoirs, Where White Men Fear to Tread, for insight into her future life on the ultimate, the Sea-to-Shining-Sea (S2S2) nation-wide reservation.
First off, on the S2S2, she won’t have to worry so much about her retirement funds. Life expectancy on the largest Indian reservation in the country, the Pine Ridge in South Dakota, is 47 years for men and 52 for women. Forget retirement funds, she could go down to the Accura dealer, finance a new TL and not worry about making the payments.
The Free Agent is one of Flowertown’s 9+% unemployed, but on the rez, she’ll have much more company with the 85% of its population chronically unemployed. At last, she hopes to find time to start that book club she’s been thinking about.
On the bright side, Great Half-White Father takes care of his children, we’ll be living the dream–head to toe “free” health care. In 2006, Congress allocated $3 billion for approximately 1.8 million American Indian and Alaska Natives. In recent years of this human experiment, this care has resulted in five times the national average for infant mortality, six times the rate for tuberculosis, five times that of alcoholism, more than twice that of car accidents and diabetes, and more than 60% higher for homicide and suicide.
Not all outcomes are so grim, however. Native Americans on the reservation don’t live long enough to die from most cancers.
One man we can expect to oppose the S2S2 reservation is Means himself. Having spent his youth on and off the rez, he had a chance to see which characters thrived in each. When he ran for president of the Pine Ridge in 1984, it was on a platform to cut the federal umbilical cord:
We would return to our traditional institutions and again become self-sufficient. Everyone would be free—free to be responsible for themselves. With no more government handouts, people would have to rely on their own brains, their own energy, and their own heritage to put food on their tables and roofs over their heads. As a nation and a community, we would have to make sure that the sick and the infirm were cared for . . . . I knew that many Indians, conditioned to accepting the white man’s dole, would be frightened of freedom. I had no qualms about seeing that kind of person leave.
(In a turn of events familiar to The Free Agent’s cohorts, the executive committee of the tribe illegally struck Means’s name from the ballot.)
While only international shame and economic retaliation enforce America’s foreign treaties, there has never been shame or redress (other than violence) for breaking treaties with Indian nations. While not an expert, The Free Agent has yet to hear tell of a single treaty the US government honored.
If the United States had ever intended to recognize Indian nations’ sovereignty, their treaties would be the responsibility of the State Department, alongside almost five hundred others, with countries from Malawi to Mongolia, on issues from nuclear proliferation to the status of Antarctica, regarding assets from rice to the Pan American Highway. Instead, the Indians’ treaties are administered by the Department of the Interior, the people responsible for the buffalo herds in Yellowstone.
As free people are once again squeezed out by the infinite resources the S2S2 reservation will consume, let us see if another of Means’s observations proves prescient, “majority rule guarantees minority suffering.”