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Monday, October 31, 2011

How to screw the reservations and feel good about it

Much has been written on the blogs about NPR's report concerning native American children taken away from their families and put into foster homes.  Among others, Cory Heidelberger, Denise Ross, and Bob Mercer have noted and commented on the story.  The story includes the suggestion that Gov. Dennis Daugaard was caught in a conflict of interest because he headed the Children's Home Society at the time he was lieutenant governor and could be seen as using his political clout with the state to increase the Society's fortunes by making it the prime contractor for placing children taken away from their parents into foster homes.  Daugaard went so far as to send out a press release prior to the airing of the NPR program which explained his role and the reasons that the Children's Home Society became the prime contractor.  Unfortunately, the Governor's role in all this became the focus of the story for many people, although Heidelberger and Ross tried to emphasize that the real issue was the placements of native American children into white foster homes. The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, authored by former South Dakota U.S. Senator James Abourezk, specifies that every effort should be made to put native children taken away from their homes into native homes, and that a first priority should be to keep families together.  The story points out that 32 states appear to flout that law and South Dakota is the  biggest flouter.  It removes children from their homes at a higher rate other states.

The big question is whether this rate of removals is necessary and justified and if the state authorities make an earnest attempt to place the removals in native homes.  The story cites native homes that are approved for foster care but never receive a call.  The state receives federal money for the placements and appears to channel that money into white organizations and homes, as is the tradition in dealing with the indigenous people.  

That is not new.  From the outset, reservations were designed to serve the purposes of maintaining the Indian population in concentration camps and setting up those camps to be objects of exploitation by traders, contractors, and agents.  The justification for this treatment of the Indian people was established in the Declaration of Independence, which refers to them as "the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."  Old Tom Jefferson really nailed those babies.

That attitude persists today when people recall the Sioux uprising of 1862 during which 38 Dakota warriors were hanged for their role in it.  The good people in their outrage over the massacre of white settlers ignore the fact, as presented on a University of Minnesota-Duluth web page, that the "government was extremely dishonest in [its] treatment of the Sioux (or Dakota) Indians" and that "The Sioux were being taken for fools by the government and they didn't want to take it anymore."  However, this rather glib condemnation of treatment of the Dakotas does not indicate the fact that the Dakota people realized that they were the subjects of a genocide campaign in which their lands were taken away and then they were crowded onto reservations where essential food and supplies were denied them.  There was a desperation at realizing they were being subjected to a process of extermination.

The Sioux Uprising led to the western great plains Indian wars, the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 and the establishment of all of West River South Dakota as a Great Sioux Reservation, and the eventual stealing and bilking away of most of that land.  The reservation system is part of  a genocidal scheme, in which the first premise is to kill off the food supply and take away the habitat of the Indian nations.  Then force the people into concentration camps located on the most unproductive landscapes and keep them subdued by parceling out food and supplies in a way that is a constant reminder of their subjugation.  Those reservations at once keep the Indian people in a state of need, but at the same time are invested with the history of vital nations.  The Indians of North America are living reminders of the perfidy and horrific violence with which the white culture appropriated their lands and their livelihoods.  They are living refutations of the white culture's pretenses to a superior morality and decency,  In an editorial in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, at once acknowledged the genocide against the Indian people and expressed the need for it to continue:  
our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.
He may well have realized he was speaking more for the realities faced by the white psyche than for the physical safety of the settlers.   Of course, his concern is for the discomfort that the Indians cause for the white psyche, not what the greed and perfidy of the  white psyche causes for the Indians. 

The white culture has never come to terms with the fact that Indian culture is rooted in values and ethical premises opposite to those practiced by whites.  In most Indian nations, one ascends to leadership through effective application of those values.  They include bravery, but emphasize diligence, generosity, and a hospitable regard for life.  That regard is carried out in the code of the warrior to defend and act against any forces that threaten the well-being of the tribe.  In most plains tribes, becoming a chief meant becoming poor.  A chief's first obligation was to see that the needs of his people were attended to, which may mean giving of one's personal fortunes.  The Indian culture was formed around those very precepts advanced by Jesus Christ, those precepts so thoroughly dismissed by many who call themselves Christians.  The concepts of working for the common good and well-being are portrayed by the American right as pernicious socialism, communism, and Marxism, and the practice of avarice is held up as a virtue upon which the free market operates.

As a sign of its humane pity, white society likes to adopt and indoctrinate Indian children into its ways.  The removal and cultural modification of Indian children at once demonstrates a professed humanity, but also hopes to purge knowledge of their own culture from the children.  This was the objective of the Indian boarding schools, which tried to destroy knowledge of the Indian languages.  It is still the motive behind removing children from their culture and placing them in white homes.   Communist lore has its Manchurian candidate; Indian history has its candidates for boarding schools and white foster homes.   Onondaga Chief Canassatego noted this behavioral modification  process back in 1744.

There are undeniably domestic problems on our reservations, problems caused by the attempt to deny the legitimacy of native American culture and supplant with the official avarice and perfidy of our vaunted form of capitalism.  The Occupy movement is protesting those same qualities that native American leaders have decried over the centuries.  White America may wish to expiate its transgressions against the Indian people, but taking away and indoctrinating their children in a culture that denies and distorts their heritage is devious and self-deluding.  

While white organizations and people have benefited and grown prosperous from the money being pumped into the agencies that oversee the removal of Indian children is a long-established tradition in our treatment of the reservations, it perpetuates and renews the attempts to kill off a culture.  Once again, there is  talk of reconciliation between whites and tribes, but the tribes are overlooked in dealing with the domestic problems that lead to the removal of children.  And there is the huge question of how many of those removals are necessary and if the children could not be placed with family members and people of their own nation.  

As Corey Heidelberger said, the question of whether Gov. Daugaard had a conflict of interest becomes a trivial distraction to confronting the real issue.  And that issue concerns giving the Indian people the right to their own culture, settling the issue of the lands stolen from them, and recognizing the malignancy of the promotion of avarice that some tout as a basic America value.

 There are those who attribute the facing of our history and the strain of values that runs through it as a hatred of America.  There is a hatred of the debasing greed and racist and class hatreds that seem to possess America, particularly in its economic sector.  The Occupy Movement seems to perceive the realities of what America is becoming.  The Indian people have seen it for centuries.  

Some may feel honorable and generous in taking Indian children out of their culture and trying to give them the "advantages" of white culture.  But it is all just more screwing the people on the reservations. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States