We are living in historic times for Indian Country. As we are still celebrating the confirmation of Diane Humetewa, the first Native American woman who will serve as a Federal Judge, there is another opportunity for a historic ‘first’ at our fingertips.
Jim Manzi could almost be described as a conservative theologian. He made his fortune wrangling software, but now he’s a contributing editor of National Review, the brainchild of the late William F. Buckley that has become, as Buckley intended, the intellectual voice of American conservatism. Manzi’s also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that so far remains stubbornly tethered to fact-based reality while the Republican Party drifts farther from it every day.
Manzi’s bona fides as a conservative make him an outlier in the world of high tech. He seems to have resisted the liberal conspiracy that everybody knows twists the impressionable minds of American college students. His connection with National Review was probably begun with a job as research assistant to Mr. Buckley.
All of this is context to Manzi’s influential essay in the latest issue of National Affairs, titled “The New American System.” While those on the left attribute American riches to the theft of Indian land and African labor at a time when land and labor were the twin pillars of wealth creation, Manzi credits “an almost ruthless pragmatism” in public policy. Almost?
Students of history understand that the left and right narratives are both correct to the extent neither crowds out the other, and this is where Manzi’s stubborn tether to fact-based reality leads him to advocate “decisive government investments in infrastructure, human capital, and new technologies.”
Those of us who have always understood that government cash seeded steamboats, canals, railroads, civil aviation, interstate highways, the Internet—the list could go on---are not surprised.
Those of us who dream of tribal governments functioning as governments rather than mere social clubs that give voice to legitimate historical grievances understand that those investments are no less necessary on Indian land, whether the capital is acquired from outside investment or by taxing what little we have to tax.
Sovereignty cannot be exercised from a condition of dependence, and the conservative thinker Jim Manzi points the way to independence of Indian nations as much as the way forward for the United States at a time when the economy has been stagnating.
Let’s look at Manzi’s governmental desiderata from the perspective of both colonial and tribal governments, starting with human capital.
For the US government, the major issue begins with the grief that began, like most US economic grief, in what we call the Reagan Revolution, the vast redistribution of wealth in the opposite direction of what FDR redistributed in the New Deal.
Student aid has moved inexorably from scholarships and grants to loans. By the time Mr. Obama became POTUS, the privatization of student loans had proceeded to the complete absurdity that banks were allowed to charge for being middlemen in the transaction while the government still guaranteed the loans. Gov. Romney, had he been elected, promised to reinstate what President Obama had changed in the interest of getting more money to more students at lower rates. I never heard Romney explain why this would be good public policy beyond the GOP bromide that the private sector can do anything and the public sector can’t do anything, a position belied by the historical account in Jim Manzi’s essay.
The upshot of this turn to privatized loans is a debt bubble with serious economic consequences for us all.
One consequence is the slow recovery of the housing market, once driven by first time buyers, who now graduate with too much debt to qualify for a mortgage.
Another is the securitization of student loans in the same manner that mortgages were securitized before the great crash in 2008, because the Dodd-Frank reforms to prevent it have been watered down and tied up in the rulemaking process by the investment banks, who don’t do student loans but do have an interest in all kinds of derivative securities.
I met another consequence of student aid policy in the last two weeks, when I had occasion to chat with three medical students who were interning under doctors I was visiting. They all knew about the impending shortage of family practice docs because Obamacare allows people to seek medical care they could not afford when uninsured. Two of the three would enter family practice if they could, but felt they needed the higher income of specialization to deal with their student loan debt.
I’m not here to call for Eric Shinseki’s scalp on a lance. There have been substantial improvements on his watch and his heart is with veterans. Nothing would be improved by imposing a new blood learning curve on the VA right now.
Recently, my time serving the Tulalip Tribal Council has come to a close. Change is inevitable and change is good, and the Tulalip Tribes will embrace new leadership.
In 2011 Mary Fallin assumed office as Governor of the Oklahoma and, like it or not, the events that have followed exemplify some of the worst atrocities against Native Americans in any recent memory.
“NCAI condemns Donald Sterling’s appalling comments regarding African Americans. There is no place in modern society for that kind of hatred and discrimination.
The Department of the Interior recently proposed to amend the Department’s land-into-trust regulations, found at 25 C.F.R. Part 151, that currently exclude from the scope of the regulations, with one exception (Metlakatla), land acquisitions in trust in the State of Alaska.
The early 1970s were a turbulent time for just about everybody in Indian country. The FBI was busy listening in on presumed malfeasance. The tribal chairmen were trying to make sense of what was becoming a broader divide among their citizens who lived on and off reservation lands.
Every now and then, somebody asks me why I share space in my weekly column, "How Did I Miss That?," with my Republican cousin Ray Sixkiller. I’ll give the answer I always give before moving into the subject of this column, which is pretty much the same thing. I am an Oklahoma Cherokee, and that means I have lots of cousins who are Republicans. I am also old enough to remember when Republicans played a constructive role in government.
Oklahoma has a complicated history that even many Indians do not understand. It became a state in 1907, cobbled together from Indian Territory (consisting of the Five Tribes plus the Osage) and Oklahoma Territory, which contained the reservations of numerous other tribes, including virtually all of the surviving Indians from the Republic of Texas, which had been the state of Texas since 1845. Texas has another colorful and little known history, having been part of other US states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming) and Mexican states (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas).
For a Cherokee, even outside of Oklahoma, the Trail Where They Cried is part of our blood memory. Those who did not walk it still lived through the upheaval, the disruption of the clans, the frantic efforts to protect the sacred fire. I did not know as a child that all of the Five Tribes (and many others) walked their own trails of tears with greater or lessor degrees of coercion.
The major compensation for the Trail of Tears was ironclad assurance in the removal treaties that land forcibly “traded” to the Five Tribes would never become part of a US state without the consent of those tribes. Relying on that ironclad assurance, the Five Tribes all functioned as republics defined by geography. Anybody who committed a federal crime on Indian land was shipped off to Ft. Smith, Arkansas, to answer in federal court. Indian law governed Indian land, and the forms were quite similar to US states.
When statehood was in the air, the leaders of the Five Tribes called a constitutional convention, and drafted the Constitution of the State of Sequoyah, a map of which appears on the cover of my first book, Sequoyah Rising. It would have been almost all of Indian Territory—the Five Tribes lands but not the Osage lands.
The politics of Sequoyah were not doable, and only part of the reason was racism. The eastern states were not happy with power shifting westward, and the Sequoyah/Oklahoma issue came up at the same time as New Mexico and Arizona. Admitting Sequoyah would have meant at least two new western states, because Oklahoma Territory was not going away, and a political tussle about the Osage Nation, where the BIA had allowed oil exploration since 1896.
When the Oklahoma constitutional convention was held, there was substantial overlap with the delegates to the Sequoyah convention, and the resulting document was pretty similar. The point of this short history lesson is that the men (in those days, always men) who led the Five Tribes led the proposed state of Sequoyah and led the eastern half of what became the actual state of Oklahoma.
Naturally, there was tension between the settlers and the Indians, but in much of the state in 1907, the Indians were part of the establishment. That’s ancient history, and everybody’s colorblind now, right?
Well, Cousin Ray Sixkiller and I have been observing the race to succeed Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. One of the leading contenders is T.W. Shannon, who goes by his initials because his first name is Tahrohon. His father is Chickasaw and his mother is African-American, and he is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. If elected, he’ll be the first Indian in the Senate since Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and part of a short list of Indians who ever served in that body in addition to Campbell: Robert Owen (Cherokee, who also ran for president) and Charles Curtis (Kaw, who was also elected vice president).
Indian self-determination is the most enlightened Indian policy the United States has ever had. Yet it is still plagued by funding problems and existential issues.
The poor state of roads and bridges in Indian country is well-documented, and all too familiar to tribal citizens who face impassable roads during storms, rough dirt roads that are the only routes to take children to school, and bridges that may only be accessible seasonally. The lack of road safety features result in crash injuries and death more often in Indian Country than anywhere else in the United States. Decrepit infrastructure has hindered economic development and stifled job growth in many tribal communities.
On April 29, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx put forward the Obama Administration’s transportation bill, “Grow America Act,” which has the construction industry, labor leaders and transportation policy advocates praising the effort to stimulate congressional action on needed investment in the nation’s deteriorating road, bridge, and rail networks. The proposal reflects some of Indian Country’s transportation needs, but falls short of the commitment required to reduce the historical funding inequities that have left many tribal roads systems stuck in the mud. Moreover, the viability of the Obama Administration’s proposal depends upon Congress adopting tax reform measures that generate new revenue to shore up the depleted Highway Trust Fund -- a big presumption given partisan gridlock in Washington.
Most Indian tribes operate their own transportation departments with funding received through the Highway Trust Fund, and these tribal transportation programs are crucial to providing safe and reliable roads, bridges and transit services. The effectiveness of such programs is essential to stimulating commerce, job creation and economic development in Indian Country.
Representatives from Indian country have been working to build momentum for tribal transportation legislation that boosts funding and further empowers tribes to transform dangerous and deficient roads and bridges into transportation networks that can safely provide tribal citizens better access to services, resources and commerce.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Intertribal Transportation Association and the newly-formed Tribal Transportation Unity Caucus have linked tribes and tribal organizations in an effort to develop and promote the “Tribal Transportation Unity Act,” a proposal for comprehensive tribal transportation legislation. This tribal coalition presented their proposal to key transportation and infrastructure committees in the Congress the week before Secretary Foxx delivered his.
The Tribal Unity proposal urges the United States to deepen its commitment to infrastructure investment and transportation services in Indian Country through substantial funding increases as well as terms that provide tribal governments greater authority to plan, construct and operate transportation programs to meet tribal needs. The Obama Administration’s “Grow America Act” reflects some of these priorities, but fails to contemplate the level of investment or the breadth of tribal authority contained in the Tribal Unity Act legislation.
The most significant challenge facing tribes is the lack of adequate funding to meet the overwhelming and documented need. This Congress has objected to increasing investment in transportation when revenues from its sole funding source—the federal gas tax—are declining.
Indians of all nations are skeptical of the federal government. This is why, even though most tribal societies practiced capital punishment in one form or another, tribal governments have not rushed to opt in to the federal death penalty.