American Indians, on average, are doing as poorly if not worse, than they have in a long time, and the federal and state government policies for them, which involves either giving them money and/or allowing them to make money on enterprises like gambling casinos, ultimately is not allowing them to economic opportunity to build prosperity for themselves in order to live the American Dream themselves.
All of this and much more is brilliantly articulated in The New Trail of Tears – How Washington is Destroying American Indians, by Naomi Schaefer Riley. Decades of the same failed policies, repeated over and over again, are clearly failing American Indians. The poverty and desolation and crime seen on many reservations, as illustrated by Riley in the book, should be shocking to most Americans. American Indians deserve and want the same opportunities the rest of us in America want.
Riley summed this up, in stating in the Introduction, “What America really owes Indians is nothing less than the opportunity to live lives of freedom and dignity in the land we all share.”
A major part of our policy for American Indians has been to allow them to build gaming establishments on their lands, generally aimed at getting mostly non-Indian Americans to frequent them, feeding money into slot machines for the most part.
Riley noted the situation of the Seneca Nation in New York after it went into the business of operating casinos in the early 2000s. They made billions in profits from the hotels and casinos, and ultimately the money was distributed to all the families and invested in trust funds leading to high school graduates among them receiving checks of $30,000 or pure after graduating or receiving a GED. Riley pointed out how, due to lack of education about managing money, the recipients of this money were like lotto winners a few years later, having spent the money and having little or nothing to show for it. Clearly, allowing American Indians access to money doesn’t help them if they aren’t informed on what to do with the money.
But operating casinos isn’t always a solution. Many reservations are located too far from population areas to attract many non-Indian Americans there to spend their money on gambling. Additionally, the licensing of non-Indian groups to build and operate casinos in many states is diluting the economic benefits of American Indian-operated casinos, since there is a fairly stable customer base for gambling that will be divided up into ever small pieces by a growing number of casinos.
Riley wrote about taking to Dobbs Oxendine of the Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina. Oxendine, college educated and owner of the Toyota dealership in the area, discussed the Lumbee community and their campaign for federal recognition. While many believed the community would benefit from federal recognition, it also become clear the Lumbees became eligible for a number of federal programs upon gaining recognition. Oxendine could see clearly that simply giving the people money would not solve their problems.
Riley quoted Oxendine saying, “This country is messed up. I’m all right, but my great-grandkids won’t be. We need less government in our lives. We used to be a strong country. We need another like Ronald Reagan.”
The failure of our policy for American Indians, as Riley shows us, is the failure of the liberal, activist government policy that is based on the belief that the more government commitment (spending of taxpayer money) made to solve problems leads to the solution of those problems. But this rarely if ever works. After spending billions to uplift American Indians, we see they live as poorly now as they have since the beginning of these kinds of policies. The New Trail of Tears is well worth reading because it shows clearly these policies are simply not working.