Of course these numbers fail to take into consideration the abject poverty and general disrepair of most of the subject communities. Even in the society at large one finds isolated ghettos of low-income natives, Pacific Islanders and other territorial minorities from America’s vestigial empire.
For a century our federal police of all flavors treated reservations with what, at best, might be called “benign neglect.” Somehow corporate contractors and mining companies failed to pay the tribes the royalties due for oil and mineral resources, while the Department of the Interior failed to notice, much less complain to the FBI, whose occasional presence on reservations were usually confined to anti civil rights investigations. This absence of outside authority left the policing to tribal police, hired by local tribal counsels and all too often plagued by nepotism and abuse of power. “Dickie” Wilson at Pine Ridge, and the MacDonald regime on the Navajo Nation are examples from recent news. Corruption became very nearly universal, with most members considering the theft of government money to be perfectly legitimate. Until the seizure of Alcatraz and the siege at Wounded Knee public attention to the plight of the impoverished tribes was nil, and the federal government equally disinterested to the point of complicity.
But that was then, this is now! Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling strengthening tribal autonomy, the tribes gained gambling rights on their lands and the gaming industry wasted no time setting up casinos across the country. Suddenly there was big money on the reservations, and nobody to control the games but the same folks who had been ripping off tribal funds forever. In California the problem was made even more difficult by the state’s policy of splitting and relocating native bands to miniscule “rancherias” scattered throughout the rural and suburban areas of the golden state.
Now comes the Obama revolution, with promises of wide-spread change, and some promises to the Lakota and others on the campaign trail. Suddenly the feds allow suits against big oil and mining proceed and payments are offered to settle the court cases. Apparently the Bureau of Indian Affairs is now looking over the books on all contracts and putting several of the most objectionable on hold.
Citing statistics showing that reservation violence is epidemic, the Justice Department has now announced that it would begin active law enforcement on reservations across the country, with both federal marshals and the FBI participating, presumably in close consultation with existing tribal police (which ought to be interesting).
Will the federal attention include IRS looking into casino books? What will the tribal roll payouts be declared for income? Will close attention from the government be any better than the prior neglect, in terms of native rights?
Only time will tell, and the story is likely to be long.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.