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“You don’t need to travel to Beijing to see central planning at work,” writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians (Encounter Books, 2016). “It’s everywhere on [American Indian] reservations.”

Riley, a weekly columnist for the New York Post, provides a reality check for those whose nostalgic but erroneous image of American Indians derives from Chief Seattle’s (falsified) “environmental” speech. It’s a wake-up call for a Congress that in recent years enacted unconstitutional laws adversely affecting American Indians. Congress then salved its conscience by throwing money at circumstances that, at their roots, involve fundamental freedoms, and “get over it” tough love for a patriotic people — their willingness to fight and die in defense of their country is second to none — whose leaders seek perennial title as the most deserving of “victim cultures.”

In the process, Riley provided a to-do list for the Trump administration.

Recognition of the problematic way modern Americans treat American Indians is old.

Stephen F. Haywood tells “shopworn” Ronald Reagan’s 1975 tale, while campaigning in New Hampshire, of the tearful Bureau of Indian Affairs employee “[whose] Indian died.” Reagan knew about the broken promises — after all, he won acclaim for killing a California dam that violated an agreement with a tiny tribe. (“We’ve broken too damn many treaties,” he once said.)

Reagan went further by lamenting the government-fostered “primitive lifestyles” and urged that American Indians “join us.” Earlier, Reagan’s Interior Secretary Jim Watt decried their circumstances with, “If you want an example of the failure of socialism, don’t go to Russia, come to America and go to the Indian reservations.” Both drew only enmity.

In 1996, however, in Killing the White Man’s Indian: The Reinvention of Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century, Fergus M. Bordewich furnished a fresh, factual, and freedom-based discussion of American Indians.

Now comes Riley’s The New Trail of Tears, which credits Bordewich as well as Terry L. Anderson of the Property and Environmental Research Center. Anderson inspired and informed Riley, and Anderson’s book Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations (Lexington Books, 2016) serves as a companion to The New Trail of Tears.

Riley sees the problems facing the 562 federally-recognized Indian nations and the 310 reservations that are home to roughly 1 million Indians, as “lack of economic opportunity, lack of education, and lack of equal protection under the law.” It is not “the history of forced assimilation, war, and mass murder that have left American Indians in a deplorable state; it’s the federal government’s policies today [that are] a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with modern liberalism.”

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End the “misguided paternalism,” demands Riley, as well as the bloated bureaucracies. Reagan joked, but there is one Bureau of Indian Education employee for every 111 reservation Indians. Riley also says to end the profligate federal spending that in 2015, for example, gave the BIE $20,000 per pupil to provide the nation’s worst public schools (the national average is $12,400 per pupil).

Today, Indian reservations in the western U.S. are, quoting Anderson, “islands of poverty in a sea of wealth,” because individual American Indians are denied the “magical force” that is private property and thus suffer from what Hernando de Soto labeled “dead capital.” The misery reaches the tribal level where layers of “federal oversight” make American Indians “the highest regulated race in the world.”

Finally, there is the continuing but perpetually-futile tribal pursuit of the “loophole economy.” Whether it involves tax-free cigarettes, casinos, or racial quotas, it’s an endless cycle that, together with tribal governments, employs most reservation residents.

The way out of that endless loop is education, argues Riley. To support her case she journeyed from the dispiriting schools of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota to the exciting classrooms in the converted barn of Ben Chavis (former principal of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland) in Robeson County, N.C.

There Chavis, a Lumbee Indian, hosts summer camps to bring the unwilling children of desperate Lumbee parents up to grade level in math. He faults local schools for hiring politically-connected teachers instead of qualified ones. “White people call it nepotism,” he says. “We call it kinship,” but it has to stop. Riley calls for more, “a change in cultural attitudes toward education.”

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Finally, there are things Congress can do to restore the rights of individual American Indians. Treating them as a group and not individuals, Congress subjected all Indians to the criminal and civil jurisdiction of any tribe (Indian Civil Rights Act), authorized tribes to take lawfully-adopted children from their parents (Indian Child Welfare Act), and empowered tribes to prosecute non-Indians (the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act). Each is flawed constitutionally, even fatally so. Worse, congressional fixes do little to address “the lawlessness on many reservations and the suffering of their most vulnerable citizens.”

Riley calls on federal, state, and tribal law enforcement officials to do their jobs, but she also prescribes tough love for people she clearly admires, but for whom culture or “kinship” has spread generations of damage and dysfunction: “The time has come for some honesty.”

The question remains, can we handle the truth?

William Perry Pendley is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, has argued cases before the Supreme Court and worked in the Department of the Interior during the Reagan administration. He is the author of “Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.”


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