NATIVE NOTES

12 08 2005

Last week marked the sixtieth anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which to me are the two most horrible acts of terrorism ever committed. Our government promotes fear of non-Governmental terrorism, but if you look at the historical record, state terrorism has it all over the amateur variety. Dresden, Dachau, the slaughter of the Indonesian Communists and the reformers in Guatemala, Chile and Iran, the Chineses invasion and continuing occupation of Tibet, Stalin’s administration of Russia, the list goes on and on. And of course there is the United States’ treatment of North America’s original inhabitants. From the first years at Massachusetts Bay Colony to Wounded Knee, it was women and children first—as in, shoot the women and children first.

The mistreatment continues, albeit usually on a subtler level. A current example is the “Indian Trust Reform Act” that John McCain has been trying to pass for years. It never quite gets anywhere, but it attempts to address the fact that the government has, since the very beginning, both intentionally and negligently mismanaged a trust fund that is supposed to benefit the Native People.

In the mid-nineties, following the actual passage of one attempt at reforming the “Indian Trusts,” the government hired—of all people—Arthur Andersen to reconcile the accounts. The firm worked at it for over a year before reporting that the accounts were so severely mismanaged that they could probably not be reconciled, at least not for a price the government was willing to pay. This leads to questions of whether the firm’s subsequent troubles have been a form of shooting the messenger, but I’m not going there today.

This trust fund collects, or is supposed to collect, money from ranchers, oil and mineral extraction companies, and other for-profit businesses that use native peoples’ land to make their profits. What Arthur Anderson uncovered was that in many cases these monies have never been collected, and that much of the money that was collected did not actually get back to the native people it was supposed to benefit.

Senator McCain’s bill is based in a compassionate desire to get some money to the native peoples who were robbed, first of the land that was their birthright, and now of income they deserve from what we left for them. McCain’s bill, as I see it, has two drawbacks: the first is that the Native people are owed billions and billions of dollars (depending on how you figure interest and penalties) and McCain’s bill offers only pennies on the dollar. The second is that McCain’s bill expects the federal government to supply the missing funds—and the only money the federal government has is the taxes it collects from you and me and a few corporations that don’t quite have their accounting down. Why should we pay for the BIA’s malfeasance? It seems to me that the best way to collect these stolen and uncollected funds would be to get them from the businesses that failed to pay them in the first place or from the managers who pocketed the money on its way past—well, okay, some of those people are long in their graves and their ancestors are no more responsible for the current mess than you or I. Maybe we should give the native peoples the billions we owe them in the form of land—like, most of the upper midwest. Hey, they did a better job managing it than we have.

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