Native Americans and the Economic Termination Era

David Kimelberg

Not too long ago, the United States’ explicit policy regarding Native Americans was termination. The goal was to marginalize and eradicate Native people and cultures. As a first step, the government stole Native land and resources, murdered Native families and herded the survivors onto bounded reservations offering little chance of survival. The next step was instituting a legal policy during the 1940s, 50s and 60s stripping Native nations of any remaining rights. True to form, this officially coined “Termination Era” witnessed the government terminating over 100 tribes through legislative mandate.

Although the 1960s ushered in a new approach by the United States, one that was trumpeted to respect the inherent sovereignty of the remaining Native nations and heal old wounds, this agreement of respect has shown itself to be hollow. It is as hollow as the thousands of unfulfilled agreements that preceded it. Termination of Native people is alive and well. It’s just taken a different form.

Native Americans have struggled to overcome stacked odds. Gaming was a breakthrough opportunity. Native casinos proved to be a godsend for many tribes, as they created revenue that translated into new health centers, community centers and educational opportunities. Most importantly, the resources were a galvanizing force in creating communal hope for a better future. Again, however, many of the federal and state government agreements underlying this opportunity have proved fleeting. The Seneca Nation of Indians, of which I’m a citizen, has benefited greatly from gaming—it’s been a transformative, community building experience. However, after we invested hundreds of millions of dollars to create new opportunities for our community, New York State went back on its word to not build competing venues in our gaming territory. Moreover, state leaders are now proposing wholesale commercial gaming throughout New York State, a further reneging of its contract with us.

Like other Native nations, the Seneca Nation also used tobacco sales to create fertile opportunities in an otherwise desolate economic landscape. As the business model matured, we created our own brands and utilized the internet to open up new distribution channels. Unfortunately for us, this took away precious slivers of market share from tobacco conglomerates like Phillip Morris. Retribution was swift. Federal legislation was quickly enacted to immediately halt our shipments, which killed our businesses overnight and put many of our people out of work.

The government’s latest attack on Native economies is focused on federal government work performed by tribally and Alaska Native-owned companies. Although these companies account for a tiny fraction of government contracts, contracts that generate desperately needed revenue for its communal owners, some members of congress have launched legislative attacks in an effort to nullify our contracts. One of the main congressional gripes is that these companies are eligible to receive some sole source contracts. Some legislators have positioned this as somehow “not fair.” What they fail to point out, however, is that 10 multi-national corporations dominate the federal market and routinely receive the vast majority of all government sole source work. Specifically, in 2008, eight of the top 10 federal contractors each received more than 60 percent of their federal contracts through non-competitive mechanisms, and these top 10 contractors received approximately $170 billion (30 percent) of the roughly $525 billion spent by the federal government. In stark contrast, tribally and Alaska Native-owned companies received less than one percent of the same spending. Once again, agreements with Native nations are fragile when they remotely interfere with government or corporate bounty.

The termination era continues, although now with a more subtle economic bent. Instead of physically taking land or paying cash for dead Indians, the current approach is more refined and politically palatable. Choking down on revenue streams and economic progress is just as effective as wholesale killing. Economic blight furthers the dependency and bleakness that ultimately leads to extinction. Occasionally, non-Natives get a fleeting glimpse of this in action—Diane Sawyer recently took TV viewers on a shocking tour of the deplorable conditions facing the Oglala Lakota Sioux on the Pine Ridge reservation. The general public expressed concern, albeit for a moment. Surprise and compassion flowed through the Facebook and Twitter worlds, but emotions were quickly squashed by apathy.

History does repeat itself, but sometimes in a veiled, and often sinister, way. When market share replaces land resources, overt termination takes on more covert forms. Native people understand this and see through the veil. Like the generations before us, we will continue to fight to survive and carry our people and cultures forward. The only request is that simple agreements finally be kept.

David Kimelberg is an enrolled citizen (Bear clan) of the Seneca Nation of Indians and is the CEO of Seneca Holdings, the Nation’s investment arm. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Seneca Nation of Indians or Seneca Holdings.

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smokeybear's picture
TIDE AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS TURNING FOR THE BETTER IN THE MIDDLE EAST: "NOW HOW ABOUT INDIAN COUNTRY?" Well now, let us all look at this another way! The tide has changed all over the "Middle East" for the better. People are starting to rise up and change what has been "Broken" there for so long: "Mainly Human Rights Violations." They have finally "Had Enough!" It is time that we say: "We've Had Enough!" You have got to know that if they can do it; "We Can Do It!" All it takes is a "Movement" of all of us "Oppressed Native Americans," throughout "Indian Country," to "BAND" together for the common good and rid ourselves of these "Treasonous and Corrupt Tribal Leaders" that has brought "Shame" to our "Native American" way of life. Aren't you fed up with these "Casino Indians?" Don't you think it's about time we finally do something about these "Thieves" that have "Stolen" our "Birthright? It's not going to be easy, but what ever is! We need to get the word out, and this time: "Get the word out!" We "can not" keep standing on the sidelines hoping that this will fix itself, "It Won't!" Yes, we have made great stides, but we are basically "Barking at the Wind!" We need to have another "Protest/Rally," this time only when we get the help from other "Tribes!" A huge task, "Yes," it will be, but we have nothing "But" time! We need to show these "Casino Indians" that we are no longer "Sheep to the Slaughter. " We need to set a date, far enough ahead, so that our "Native American Brothers" can stand with us for the common good of all of us that have been "Cheated" out of what is rightfully ours: "Our Heritage and Birthright." Stop being afraid "OF THE BIG BAD WOLF!" Countrys' have toppled their "Corrupt Dictators," and so can we. It is time to "Stand Tall" and take back what is rightfully ours. For "Failure is not an Option!" It is important to know that the protests in the "Middle East" took on a life of its own, and the momentum from same brought to bare "Change!" That is what has to happen in "Indian Country: Change!" Bring back the rights of all "Native Americans" under their respective "Constitutions and ByLaws" and follow "Tribal Laws" that have "Stood the Test of Time" before the advent of the "Casinos." For if we don't: "All Will Be Lost!" You have nothing to Lose, and "Everything to Gain!" So get "Mad," I mean "Really Mad," and take back what is ours. The "Civil Rights Movement" did it, and the "Middle East" is doing it:" SO WHY NOT US?" "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained!" There is "Truth in our Conviction." We can "Prove Who We Are," and now it is time to force the Issue. "Might Makes Right!" I'm ready, "How about all of You?" We can "MAKE THIS HAPPEN!" But it will take all of us. You have got to "Want It!" For we can do this......ref: originalpechanga.com .
smokeybear's picture
If you don't "Present," then there is no "Understanding" of the task at hand...Smokeybear.
cooday's picture
David, The Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement of 1971 was never brought before a vote before the Alaska Native people. Instead the powers to be rushed the bill through so Big Oil could movely quickly to start drilling for oil. Only a hand full of people signed away Alaska Native Soveignty and subsistance rights. Does this not make the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement illegal?
opechanga's picture
The author completely ignores the Indian Terminations going on in Indian Country. Indians are being terminated and stripped of their citizenship in increasing numbers. Can you name ONE American who has had there citizenship taken away? Tribes, including the Picayune Rancheria and Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians have TERMINATED 60% and 25% of their OWN tribes, respectively. Snoqualmie of Washington has terminated members for simply disagreeing with the tribal council. The Cherokee nation has shamed themselves for the way they have treated the descendents of their slaves that their ancestors dragged on the "trail of tears." The theft of per capita and benefits in Indian Gaming Country is over $500 million in California alone. Where is the outrage from tribes that stand up for their people? Tribes in CA are trying to keep other tribes from getting casinos, all in the name of protecting their market share. The Chukchansi Resort and Casino is defaulting on their loans, not because they can't pay, but because they won't. Tribes like these make it difficult for those tribes that do business honorably. Unless tribes put pressure on other sovereign nations to act both responsibly and honorably, the economic termination era will continue. Think of this, If a tribe will cheat their own people, won't they cheat YOU?
michaelmack's picture
The U.S. policy of termination, in its various and continuing forms, is at the core of all the issues at the local levels. Local tribal terminations would have no basis if the U.S. government hadn't made itself "trustee" over all legal aspects of American Indian life and imposed Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA) tribal governments. Even those tribes that did not adopt strict IRA tribal governments are still required by U.S. law to conform to U.S. law FIRST, then tribes attempt to form the nature and extent of their "sovereignty". In other words, under U.S. law, even federally recognized tribes will never have complete freedom to be totally "sovereign" - tribes are sovereign only to the extent that U.S. law allows it. More consistently the U.S. Supreme makes decisions regarding Indian Country issues that benefit non-Indians and undermine Indian Country. The U.S. Congress has yet to fully acknowledge treaty commitments, or even fully fund or implement modern laws of its own making. In short, Indian Country's "sovereignty" is eroding at greater and great levels. Indian Country simply does not have the economic or political power to truly influence the U.S. government compared to U.S. corporate interests. The U.S. government's FIRST priorities are to U.S. corporations - oil, mining, medical, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, the military, etc. to confer with and to create laws and make court decisions that protect those corporate interests. In U.S. politics, the reality is if you have the $ and the more $$$$ you have, you go to the front of the line. If you don't have the $, good luck. Even with gaming, Indian Country cannot compete economically against the U.S. corporate world. For example, in 2010 nation-wide Indian gaming grossed about $25 Billion dollars, but after taxes, after paying all the bills, the profit was about 1/4 of that or about $6 Billion. Compare that to Exxon Oil for example which PROFITED (after all the taxes and bills were paid) $38 Billion in one quarter, multiply that by 4 and you have an annual PROFIT of $150 Billion to pay lobbyists, lawyers, accountants, PR firms, tv advertising, etc. And this is only one company - imagine the combined profits of the entire U.S. oil industry. Then add these to all the other U.S. corporate interests and you have Trillions of PROFIT $ to lobby for their economic interests. How can Indian Country compete? We can't, so we have to find another way. When the Mashantucket Pequot came up with the plan to build Foxwoods, now the largest casino in the world, they went to the U.S. government and the U.S. banks for financial assistance but were turned away. No one on American soil was willing to help so they went to Asia and found the $ to get them started. The point is that Indian Country has to stop looking only to the U.S. government and U.S. corporations for help. Indian Country leadership has to stop behaving like "hang around the fort Indians" waiting, hoping, longing for the white folks to throw them some good scraps. If they keep on doing that, scraps is all we will continue to get. Insanity is described as doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get a different result. Indian Country leadership has behaved like a battered wife who thinks that maybe if I'm good, maybe I won't get beaten again, maybe I'll finally be treated right - that tactic NEVER works, the situation only changes one or two ways - the battered finally wife dies or stops thinking that old way and adopts another tactic. Until Indian country changes its tactics and gains the economic power or comes up with another way, we can expect no real difference in how the U.S. government treats us, and the issues we face will continue, until frankly the only logical result based on our history under U.S. governance will be the end of Indian Country. Tribal government disenrollments only contribute to bringing about the end, but that's their decision. In any culture, extinction is what happens to people who are willing to settle for scraps and who don't think outside and "beyond the box" (in this case the box being U.S. law and corporate interests) and work on ways to change their situation.
smokeybear's picture
We are all "Native American Indians" first and formost. Our "Heritage and Birthright" dictate who we are. We were here in the "Americas" long before the "Thieves" came to take away what was "Ours!" We fought bravely for what was ours, but without the tools to fight off this massive influx of raiders, our fate was sealed. The "Government of Old" was created for the good of all: "All Men Created Equal," except the "Native American Indian!" We were called "Savages, Red Man" and the like, because we tried to keep what was ours: "Our Land," and our self respect. They rounded us up and put us on "Reservations of Worthless Land" so as to give settlers prime land. They gave us "Indian Agents" to keep us at bay and to watch for any possible uprising so they could act decisably against any and all threats. These "Indian Agents" gave us blankets laced with "Small Pox," and starved us in the hopes that we would be unable to "Fight Back!" And nothing has changed. The "White Man is still at "War" with us by taking no action to fix what is "Broken" in "Indian Country!" But the "Perameters" are the same, but now we have to contend with our own people doing the "White Mans" work for them. Since the advent of the "Casino Indian" steps have been taken to "Erase Us,"..."Illegally"... from our repective memberships for nothing more then "Greed and Self Interest." That is why we are in this fight, and we will be in it till we "Win!" And we will. For as a "Cuz" of mine once said "What Goes Around, Comes Around!" For in the end, the "Corrupt" always gets "Caught!"....."AND IT WON'T BE PRETTY!" ref: originalpechanga.com