Some of the best stories of philanthropy in this country are of the "teaching a man to fish" variety. The Judeo-Christian principle of helping others to help themselves is prevalent, but alas there are times when we don't seem to follow it. And tragically so. This is especially true of our treatment of American Indians. To make up for our treatment of Native Americans in previous eras, we have offered them all sorts of gifts -- special licenses to sell cigarettes, special permission to open casinos where others, grants of land and money. But it has all been for naught. The social state of these tribes is deplorable, with poverty, alcoholism, teen pregnancy and suicide rates among the highest of any group in the nation.
Instead of treating Indians as American citizens subject to the same laws and awarded with the same individual rights as American citizens, we have treated them as tribes, letting their unelected leaders run the politics and business of their communities on their behalf. We think we are being sensitive -- and even generous--by allowing them to keep their own historical traditions and governmental structures. But we're not. We're standing idly by as they descend further and further, all the while living amidst the wealthiest nation on earth.
Recently, the New York Times ran a disturbing story about California Indian tribes who have been excising members from their roles:
At least 2,500 Indians have been disenrolled by at least two dozen California tribes in the past decade, according to estimates by Indian advocates and academics. In almost all of those cases, tribal governments — exercising authority recognized by the federal government — have determined that the ousted Indians did not have the proper ancestry.Yes, that's right. These Indians receive letters saying that they are not real Indians and thus are removed from the tribe. Though it doesn't take an expert to figure it out, the Times quotes experts who have concluded that the Indian tribes want more of the profits from the casinos they run for themselves. The fewer the members of the tribe the more the money for those inside it.
For Indians who lose membership in a tribe, the financial impact can be huge. Some small tribes with casinos pay members monthly checks of $15,000 or more out of gambling profits. Many provide housing allowances and college scholarships. Children who are disenrolled can lose access to tribal schools.
The money and the immense power it has conferred on tribes that had endured grinding poverty for decades have enticed many tribal governments to consolidate control over their gambling enterprises by trimming membership rolls, critics and independent analysts say.This is where Americans' policies toward the Indians have gotten us. In an effort to assuage our guilt for past wrongs, we are doing nothing but backing up petty dictators in an effort to consolidate their wealth. We are enforcing policies in which a person's entitlement to wealth is determined by the purity of their blood. As if our own governmentally backed policies of racial preferences weren't bad enough -- offering special contracts to minority-owned businesses, granting admission to schools based on the color of one's skin -- these tribal policies truly lay bare our hypocrisy when it comes to preaching individual rights while playing group favorites.