Recently on the Fox News Channel, contributor John Stossel offered up this gem of ignorance:
“Why is there a Bureau of Indian Affairs?” he said. “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.”
Stossel’s stubborn ignorance of American history is profound. Even by cable TV standards.
He wonders why there is Bureau of Indian Affairs? Perhaps if he had cracked a history book back in high school, he would have learned that the BIA was established in 1824 as part of the United States Department of War.
Right, the Department of War. That wouldn’t have been our first choice either. I’m pretty sure the Puerto Rican, Black, or Irish would have enthusiastically turned down the rights to their own bureau in the Department of War under similar circumstances.
But it is Stossel’s foolish use of the word “helped” that unintentionally (and unfortunately) reminds us of our history.
Just six years after the creation of the B.I.A., in 1830, President Andrew Jackson delivered his second message address to Congress. If you want to really understand how the United States “helped” American Indians, take a look back at what our then-Commander in Chief said about the policy of the forced removal of Indian tribes from their homes in the East:
“It will … perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”
“What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms… .”
“How many thousands of our own people would gladly embrace the opportunity of removing to the West on such conditions! If the offers made to the Indians were extended to them, they would be hailed with gratitude and joy.”
“Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.”
Moved by this “generous” spirit of help, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act that same year. Maybe Stossel forgot the ensuing Trail of Tears that would come as a direct result of Jackson ’s brutal policy of Removal. Thousands and thousands of Indian elders, children, and women died with the “help” of the United States
Native Americans lost millions of acres, our families, and our homes. The U.S. policy of Removal wrecked our livelihoods and destroyed our economies and inflicted generations of trauma upon our People.
Stossel also forgot to mention how the United States’ “help” includes hundreds of broken treaties, the Indian Boarding Schools, massacres, the federal policies of Termination and Assimilation, and the Indian Religious Crimes Code. Here in my home, the United States flooded thousands of acres of our homelands to build the Garrison Dam on the Missouri. We were promised a replacement hospital and it has taken over 60 years just to get a replacement clinic, not a hospital, mind you.
Every single tribe across this great nation has a similar story. What culture or group of people would ever want “help” like this?
As it stands, today there are hundreds of others who have had had more real help than American Indians. All you have to do is look at the annual federal budget to see what I am talking about. There is a $62 billion prescription drug benefit and farming subsidies top $15 billion. The libertarian CATO Institute reported that in 2006 the federal government spent $92 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to businesses and private-sector corporate entities. In comparison, the United States spends less on American Indian health care per person than it does on federal prisoners.
The truth is that American Indian tribes do need help. But what we need help with is far different than what John Stossel is griping about. The help we need is simply keeping the United States honest and living up to its trust responsibility. Rather than bringing America together, Stossel’s colossal ignorance undermines reconciliation and breeds contempt and discrimination. The last time I checked, John, the United States is for all Americans. Let’s get our facts right and work towards unity and understanding.
Tex G. Hall is serving his third term as Chairman of the Mandan , Hidatsa & Arikara Nation and is also a former two-term President of the National Congress of American Indians.