Fox News Causes Hell to Freeze Over

Steve Russell

Hell has officially frozen over when I rise to defend the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The occasion is a question raised by the right libertarian fringe in the person of John Stossel. “Why,” Stossel asked, “is there a Bureau of Indian Affairs? There is no Bureau of Puerto Rican Affairs or Black Affairs or Irish Affairs. And no group in America has been more helped by the government than the American Indians, because we have the treaties, we stole their land. But 200 years later, no group does worse."

He got that last thing right, but let’s think about the “help” we have gotten.

There was exile of all Indians to the west side of the Mississippi for our own protection, wild people sent off to live in a wild land, never mind that many of the tribes force marched to Indian Territory had more education and better incomes than the colonists who took over their property.

There were also reservations, where we could live on government rations and under armed guard, except for the children, who were taken away for their own good and taught the science of racial inferiority.

Those who resisted being helped? They wanted us dead. Then those terrible pictures of the massacre at Wounded Knee ended that policy.

If containment and killing were off the table, the next possibility was forced assimilation. Tribal recognition would be “terminated” and the residents of reservations would be “relocated.” To say that termination and relocation worked out well for Indians would be like saying Stossel’s employer, Fox News, is fair and balanced.

In 1928, the Merriam Report documented the dire condition of Indian America. A government report twenty years later sent me to the dictionary to understand the word “inanition” as a cause of death.

What do these disasters for Indians have in common? Except for physical extermination, they were all undertaken for high-minded motives, to help the poor savages.

If there were no Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior, Indians would indeed be in the eyes of the US government just another special pleading ethnic group, a collection of individuals with individual rights.

As Vine Deloria, Jr. wrote back in 1969, while the black civil rights movement swirled around us, blacks have a legitimate demand for integration but Indians have a legitimate demand for separation. We are tribal peoples. If we wish to become individuals rather than part of our people, we always have the choice of severing tribal relations and taking ourselves out of the category the Constitution called “Indians not taxed.”

Most of us are now taxed, in some cases double taxed. Leaving the reservation no longer requires the permission of the Indian agent. The success of the civil rights laws that blacks fought for, and died for, to protect us is appreciated and honored, but their success does not protect us from the John Stossels of the world.

Can Indians be capitalists? Sure. There are many wealthy individual Indians. Can Indians be socialist capitalists? Sure. Look at the Mississippi Choctaws; the Ho-Chunks; the same Oneida Nation that publishes this magazine.

Can Indians screw up? Big time. Look at casino wealth. In some nations, every child is born with guaranteed access to as much education as she can absorb and every tribal citizen who wants a job may have one. In others, the seed corn goes to per capita payments, the kids get a new truck at age eighteen, and relatives are disenrolled to make bigger payments for a few greedheads.

You know what, Stossel? We’re entitled to make our own errors. We’ve suffered enough from yours.

If there were no BIA, there would be no way for our governments to deal with the US government, unless Congress would like to take on the work. Our nations span this continent with different languages, different cultures, different degrees of economic development, and—most importantly—different aspirations.

The prosperity of this country is built on lands dispossessed from Indians at a time when land directly represented life-supporting resources. The treaties we keep waving in your face were the legal fig leaves covering those dispossessions. With some exceptions, we are not demanding the land back, but just to be left alone on what land we have left.

Does the government owe Indians a living forever? No, not as individuals. Like the descendents of slaves, there comes a time when we have to compete with you as individuals. Our tribal nations are a different matter entirely. Agreements between Nations demand to be honored in order for there to exist honor, and they must be renewed—polished if you will.

What is fair, Mr. Stossel, to a people forced to live upon lands inadequate to support them? At the time of these transactions, the whole idea was to force dependence on the Native governments, but now you complain that we are dependent.

You express the opinion that we should be allowed to mortgage reservation land to develop it. If we can’t pay, what then? Before you run your mouth about pledging our land for cash, see if you can make a computer give you a graphic of Indian land within the US over time. Watch the incredible shrinking land base.

The question is not why the Bureau of Indian Affairs but why not a Bureau of Crackpot White People Trying to Help Indians Affairs? We would be better off? If we would be, then hell would truly have frozen over.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He is a columnist for Indian Country Today. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at swrussel@indiana.edu.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




stevedragswolf's picture
This article was great. It helped me understand more about the BIA. I do have one question that shot to mind, or maybe it's more of a thought. With commodities doled out to tribes, along with health care and money, doesn't it seem as though tribes are too dependent on the U.S.? It seems as though these 'welfare' programs are what demoralized our ancestors in the past, and are doing the same to us today. When some tribes were banished to reservations, they were told they couldn't hunt or farm and that the Great Father in Washington would provide for them. That's slavery. Isn't accepting these commods and whatnot from the federal government, today, the same thing as what happened in the past? The only difference being that today we have a choice. Also, I like the idea of the BIA being our representation to the federal government. But wouldn't it work better to not have the BIA formed within that federal government? In other words, wouldn't a BIA run by the tribes, sovereign from the U.S., be a better and wiser solution? Maybe it already is and I'm just ignorant, but the way it seems to me is that the BIA is run by Washington (which seems to not bode well for our sovereignty). Anyway, these are honest thoughts and questions running through my mind as I try to figure out what tribal sovereignty really is.
thunderstone's picture
hello...we natives-indians-first nations,all must separate from the USA/Canada. We have so many reasons why that i cant list them on here,there is'nt enough room. but Russell Means has already started this with The Republic of Lakotah.
gamma's picture
Sovereignty = self rule (dictionary definition) A better definition: independent self rule, without interference or influence by wasicus or external powers. Indians nations need to be completely independent of America. That includes not thinking of ourselves as Americans, not flying their flag at our powwows, not serving in their military, not honoring veterans who killed millions of innocents in Vietnam for corporate interests, not relying on the Fed for ratification of our status, not being dependent on them for Federal dollars, etc. We need to pursue all land claims and treaty claims through the United Nations because America will always be unfair to us. Oh and Stossel is a nobody. Fox News is a nobody. They say whatever they are told to say by the US/ financial institutions/ the Illuminati/ the Bilderberg Group/ corporate powers/ whatever unknown power that controls America.
neemeepoo's picture
Great article. It is unfortunate that many of our fellow Americans are uneducated and ignorant of historic and current US policy toward Native Americans. Even the "elite" minded like John Stossel are some of the worst offenders of spreading misinformation about Native people. I could take out a page of the history books from political and religious leaders who had similar thoughts about assimilation, merging with society, or abandoning our backward ways. If we just realized how much the US Government wanted to help us, we would be freed from our destitution. We were the ones at fault for not accepting "progress". We were at fault for not moving off of prime land because we wouldn't know what to do with it. The wealth of this country is a result of stealing and pillaging from the indigenous people. This is why the majority of the US is ignorant about Native people. The true story is a tragedy and shows that the US wasn't founded on equality and liberty. It was founded on a scale of destruction that dwarfs the tragedy in Rwanda and the Holocaust. No politician would want this image of our country shared to our youth. That is why these pages of history are ommitted from our textbooks. This is why Native people are shunned and forgotten. The public is taught that we get free money every month from the government. We get free education and free health care. Misinformation is a powerful tool and it is usually spread for wanton purposes. When I see this misinformation and lies, I just let people know that Native Americans are sovereign governments and this will not change anytime soon. Accept it, deal with it, live with it, learn from it, benefit from it.
gamma's picture
Amen to neemeepoo!