Should there be reparations in place for Native Americans?
- Estimates suggest that when Columbus first arrived in 1492, anywhere from 5 million to 15 million indigenous people lived in North America.
- The Sioux Nation has repeatedly turned down sums now totaling $1.3 billion as payment for the Black Hills, which were wrongfully seized by the American government in the late 1800s, citing that the land is not for sale and should be returned to them.
- A recent survey revealed that 40% of respondents do not believe that Native Americans still exist, which consultant Echo Hawk addresses, “The complete lack of representation in the media, in pop culture, in K-12 education not only erases us from the American consciousness, it inadvertently creates a bias.”
- According to The US Census Bureau, there are currently 6.79 million Native Americans living in the United States.
There has been a slow-burning genocide against Native Americans from the time Columbus arrived in America. Violence in the western United States continued well into the 19th century, with the governor of California declaring a 'war of extermination' in 1851. Unlike the descendants of African slaves, Native Americans have received some payments from the government to amend past broken treaties. However, to quote Native author Winona LaDuke, 'the only compensation for land is land.'
The Indian Claims Commission was established in 1946 to compensate tribes for broken treaties but ultimately ended up keeping much Native land in government-controlled trusts. Government mismanagement of tribal assets led the US to pay almost $500 million to tribal leaders in 2016. Other tribes continue to demand recognition of sovereignty and historic land claims to this day.
A policy to rectify the sins of the past would restore tribal sovereignty over their sacred and historic lands wherever possible. It would clearly educate Americans on the suffering Native people endured, such as massacres, broken treaties, and cultural destruction, including family separation and forced conversion.
In the United States today, 1 in 3 Native Americans lives in poverty. The majority live in rural areas, although not on reservations. In order to break the poverty cycle that plagues Native Americans, reparations must include policies to provide good jobs and government services to Native communities and rural regions. Native Americans are among the most disadvantaged groups in the country today; a restorative policy of reparations would allow them to flourish in the future.
Reparations are often mentioned as a way to redress the ill-treatment of certain groups throughout our nation’s history, including Native Americans. Although the concept of reparations may sound reasonable at face value, it’s a bad idea in this case. Some may not be aware that Native Americans have been receiving a form of reparations since 1887 when Congress passed the Dawes Act, which deeded parcels of Reservation land to individual Native Americans.
The saga of reparations to Native Americans has been a long one. The Indian Claims Act(1946) enabled tribes to seek damages from the Federal Government for grievances based on inadequate compensation from seized land, and it established a commission to oversee claims that were in effect for 32 years. Most recently, the Obama Administration settled lawsuits with 17 Native American tribes that accused the government of mismanaging money and natural resources entrusted to it for the benefit of the tribes. Finally, the Federal Government currently provides annual disbursements to Native Americans totaling approximately $20 Billion in health, education, food, and welfare benefits.
It’s important to note that the land seizures that form the basis of Native Americans’ claims for reparations took place more than 170 years ago. Today’s Americans are six generations removed from those actions. Moreover, since 1965 over 63 million immigrants have arrived in the US. Is it fair to ask US residents of 2020 to pay additional reparations for deeds that they played no role in committing, and which occurred nearly two centuries ago? The answer should be a resounding no.