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Wind River


The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming has received a lot of attention lately because of its endemic poverty and high crime rates. It started with this Times article last year about a murder. As things often go, the Times became the trendsetter for a myriad of stories on how the Wind River is America’s worst place. The people at Wind River (Shoshones and Arapahoes) are getting sick and tired of it, especially after this piece at Business Insider, which really seems like nothing more than poverty tourism.

Spoonhunter paged through the photographs online, pointing out the disparities between what they showed and the written commentary.

“Picture number 37 shows Blue Sky Hall,” he said. “The caption says ’everything is for sale on the Rez — sex, drugs, booze, houses, tires, trucks.’”

Blue Sky Hall is a gathering place for the Northern Arapahoes, where the tribe holds events from elections and public meetings to performances and Thanksgiving dinners. “The tribe’s substance abuse and diabetes awareness programs are in that building,” Spoonhunter said. “It’s nothing like a place where sex or drugs are for sale.”

Spoonhunter goes on to point out other photos that he finds misleading. Apparently drunken young people in a Riverton city park are labeled “park rangers.” Accompanying the shots of buildings housing the federal program Women, Infants, Children (WIC) and the community health center is a remark that “growing up here can foster a sense of entitlement.”

“There’s another story to tell here,” Spoonhunter says. “It’s not all doom and gloom.”

I have three general thoughts.

First, I’m extremely sympathetic with the Arapahoes and Shoshones getting sick of these portrayals. On the other hand, what is that other story to tell? There’s a historical story that continues to the present (more on this in a second), but I’m not clear what the bright and happy story is? The continuance of culture amid 150 years of active repression? Maybe, but that’s not so happy really, especially given the decline of language.

Second, that Business Insider piece is one of the most wretched things I’ve seen on a major publication’s website in a long time. There’s a supposed “guide” that is taking the photographer through the reservation. The guide is unnamed and may well be made up. The photographer did nothing more than cruise through the reservation, take pictures while driving because he was afraid to stop, and then did stop once in a park to take photos of some passed out drunk people. There’s no evidence of even the slightest sense of journalism here. Pure sensationalism that does nothing more than just perpetuate anti-Indian stereotypes. I mean, it’s really, really, really bad.

Third, the story of a place like Wind River or Pine Ridge or Jemez Pueblo or so many other reservations is one not only of historical racism but of present-day racism. The basic story of white America with Native Americans is this: “We’re sorry we stole your land. We feel super bad about it. Not enough to do anything to make your present lives better. But trust us, we feel bad.” The reservations remain the most impoverished places in the United States, even at a time when we look upon the genocidal project against Native Americans as a national sin on par with slavery. Those past actions remain almost totally disconnected from present suffering. The reservations today get the standard anti-poverty programs that poor people around the country receive–which is of course not much. There are no jobs, no meaningful economic development programs outside of reservations with lucky enough geographical locations to have successful casinos, and no government responsibility for the past and present. It’s easy to forget a few thousand Arapahoes in the middle of Wyoming, a state we don’t think much about anyway. But if we as a nation were serious about expunging the sins of our ancestors, maybe we’d give incentives to business to invest in the reservations, provide meaningful job training, language recovery, and other social programs; work with the reservations to increase wild bison populations and recapture traditional hunting skills, and/or, yes, provide reparations for the past.

But we’re not serious about dealing with our national original sins. And it’s a lot easier to fly through the Wind River Reservation, take a few pictures, and publish them on websites read by the nation’s elite.

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  • Randy

    Very interesting post.

    Just a minor point: I hear very few regrets from white Americans about the treatment of Native Americans. The attitude I see is “We won. Get over it. Anyway, you’re all so *&^%ing rich from casinos and it isn’t fair to white people.”

    • My students are pretty unanimous in feeling bad about their ancestors committing genocide. But they also see it as totally disconnected from the present.

      • DocAmazing

        See also: Slavery

      • DrDick

        When I used to teach Native American Studies, one of the most annoying aspects of the job was all the white students wanting me to assuage their white guilt. My standard response (more diplomatically phrased) was that I was not a priest and did not offer absolution, that you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. If you do not want to feel bad about the situation, then do something to make it better.

        • LeeEsq

          I’m still waiting for an apology from the Europeans and the Middle Easterners for their treatment of my ancestors since antiquity. Europeans and Middle Easterners don’t feel any responsibility for thousands of years of anti-Jewish persecution. I don’t see why people expect them to see guilt for a few centuries of persecuting other groups.

          • As a self-appointed representative of Europe, sorry about that.

            Feel better? Now you’re only waiting on the Middle East.

      • cpinva

        um, did you actually look at the article in question? i ask, because i just now did, expecting a kind of softball racism, which isn’t what i actually found. it struck me as, for the most part, very sympathetic to the plight of the residents of the reservation. the person who made the comments about “sex, drugs, etc” all being available for sale there (as they are pretty much everywhere) wasn’t johnson, but his school teacher companion, unnamed, as was her cousin. the same with the “entitlement” comment. of course, i suppose he could have made the whole thing up, but he included a photo of both her and her “cousin”, so you’d think there would be some risk of backlash if he did.

        the shots of the guys drinking in the park didn’t strike me as exploitative, as much as a sad commentary on what appears to be a serious problem, not just on that reservation, but among all the native american tribes. i don’t know, maybe i’m just too tragically white, and so missed it, but my impression overall was that mr. johnson’s piece, while certainly not perfect, was in no way meant to be derogatory. i got the sense that his feeling was more like, this is kind of tragic, and people need to be made aware of the situation.

        again, maybe my terminal whiteness has resulted in my missing the inherent racism in the piece, so please show me.

        • The piece isn’t racist per se. But it does push forward stereotypes. As the Wind River reservation residents said in the other article, he didn’t even bother to talk to anyone about these issues, at least on record.

          It’s more poverty porn than racism though.

          • cpinva

            ok, i think i see your point, though admittedly, i’ve never heard (or read) the term “poverty porn” before.

            “It’s more poverty porn than racism though.”

            i’m curiousl though, would your perception of it have been different, had it appeared in Mother Jones, instead of Business Insider? i ask, because, in truth, my initial perception of it was colored by that, which made my reaction to the article itself even more of surprise to me.

            and you raise another interesting question:

            at what point does an article become mere “porn”, vs an honest attempt to expose bad conditions, regardless of where? in this article, your main criticism is that he failed to get input from the people involved, about their view of these issues. fair enough. however, in fairness to him, his was a photo article, by definition not meant to be an in-depth discussion, but perhaps meant to spur those in-depth discussions, by others. the same goes for the article on the alberta coal sands that followed this one: hardly in-depth, but not intended to be.

            • Hogan

              When you put a caption like “everything is for sale on the Rez — sex, drugs, booze, houses, tires, trucks” under a picture of Blue Sky Hall without mentioning the actual function of Blue Sky Hall, you’re not just forgoing in-depth discussion, you’re promoting its opposite–knee-jerk reaction.

              • cpinva

                i went back to look at that picture, and you’re correct. however, the comment itself is attributed to his school teacher guide, not mr. johnson. again, the article is hardly perfect, it certainly could have used some additional information, like explaining what the Blue Sky Hall’s actual function on the reservation is, as an example.

                however, i go back to my original premise: the article wasn’t intended to be, nor did mr. johnson imply that it was, an in-depth discussion of the problems in that community. it was intended to bring some level of awareness, to the general readership of that publication, which might spur action to help, to a community routinely ignored otherwise.

                consider an analogy: i recall, years ago, pictorial articles about the poor of calcutta, with reference to mother theresa’s work there. those could just as easily have been accused of being “poverty porn”, and they too suffered some of the same weaknesses of mr. johnson’s article. however, they accomplished a goal, raising awareness of the awful conditions, and generating some greater level of attention, from those with the ability to do something about them.

                don’t get me wrong, i’m not defending mr. johnson, i don’t know the man, and i’m sure he’s perfectly able to defend himself. i’m focusing solely on that one article, and suggesting it isn’t (or wasn’t intended to be) as horrible as prof. loomis is claiming it is.

                i’ve gone through it a second time, with far more critical eye, in an effort to see what i apparently missed the first time around. yes, were i his editor, i would have insisted on some changes, and filling in some gaps, to try and avoid having it appear to be even minimally exploitative. but, for what it was, i didn’t think it was all that horrible. i felt he expressed a definite sympathy for the residents, and that they clearly are in need of substantive help. yes, most of the photos of the residents and their homes were squalid looking, but absent evidence his guide specifically took him to the worst parts of the reservation (as opposed to the section with the $500k mini-estates), what they have is what he took pictures of.

                is this making any more sense now, or is time for me to just accept that i, as an outsider, will never be able to fully appreciate the issues faced daily by the native inhabitants?

            • Glenn

              If you are looking for an example of “poverty porn” here in Balmer we have (still have?) The Wire tours so that British tourists can go on safari to observe real, live Poors in their natural habitat.

            • marijane

              ok, i think i see your point, though admittedly, i’ve never heard (or read) the term “poverty porn” before.

              check out any article about detroit written in the last decade, they’re good examples of the genre.

    • bh

      Honestly Randy, are you sure you’re really “hearing” that? I think Erik’s view is a lot more reality based in my experience, and aligns with friends working in Indian lands in Wyoming and North Dakota. Everyone feels bad in the abstract, but the present situation is just ignored.

      • bh

        … and it looks like you’re seeing some first-hand accounts, so I’ll withdraw that. But I think it’s more local to parts of the West than a general US attitude.

        • Randy

          I’m not even that far west (Minnesota). Folks here got all riled up when Native tribes started claiming their hunting and fishing rights under treaties (iconic Vikings coach Bud Grant showed himself to be a monumental douchebag on that particular subject).

  • delurking

    When I taught out in Idaho, the hatred and racism among my white students for the Indians out there was really appalling — and I grew up in New Orleans, among people who elected David Duke, so it wasn’t like I’d never seen racism before. And they had absolutely no shame about it.

    So at least in that one area (I taught at Idaho State University in Pocatello) among those students I didn’t see any kind of bad feeling about anything that had been done to the Indians.

    • Eggomaniac

      Racism among whites towards Native Americans remains quite virulent in the rural west. I don’t pretend to understand why this is.

      • Randy

        The first (and so far only) person I heard use the term “Prairie N****r” was a white fellow who grew up and still lived on the Mille Lacs Reservation.

        • witless chum

          The U.P. it was “timber…” so at least the racists adapt to the predominant landforms.

        • Speak Truth

          I heard use the term “Prairie N****r”…


          Do you think you’re somehow not saying “NIGGER” because you put a few asterisks there? I understand that you’re no using it in a racist manner, but you’re so beat down by political correctness that you cannot even discuss the word, itself.

          It’s pathetic, and you’re pathetic for allowing yourself to be cowed in that manner. You don’t seem to have any problem with epithets for white rural people.

          • Malaclypse

            What a brave little cracker you are.

            • DrDick

              To be fair, anonymously using vile racist slurs on the internet, where there is no danger of repercussions, is undoubtedly the most manly thing JenBob has ever done. The rest of the time, he just cowers under the bed pissing and shitting himself.

          • Funkula

            How about the possibility that some people find it deeply difficult to say or even write the word? If they can convey the meaning without doing something they find disturbing, who the fuck are you to object?

          • He’s trying to reclaim that word for the Klansmen

            • spencer

              Randal Graves: Well, I still don’t think that porch monkey should be considered a racial term. I’ve always used it to describe lazy people, not lazy black people. I think if we really tried, we could take back porch monkey and save it.

              Dante Hicks: [fed up] It can’t be saved, Randal. The sole purpose for its creation, the only reason it exists in the first place, is to disparage an entire race. And even if it could be saved, you couldn’t save it because you’re not black!

              Randal Graves: Well, listen to you — telling me I can’t do something because of the color of my skin. You’re the racist, man!

          • My, you’re a regular Quentin Tarantino.

          • sharculese

            There is nothing too trivial for you to whine about, is there?

          • brad

            Louis C.K.’s bit deserves better theft than this.

          • Randy

            I understand what I am saying. I also understand that there are those who find it deeply offensive. Some of us regard avoiding gratuitous offense as a good thing.

            I’m curious why you think I have no problem with “epithets for rural white people.” I’m also curious why you are so thirsty to see “N****r” written out.

            • Anonymous

              I understand what I am saying. I also understand that there are those who find it deeply offensive. Some of us regard avoiding gratuitous offense as a good thing.

              My point is that if you find the word so objectionable, then why try to use it at all? Using a few asterisks doesn’t make one immune from discussing the term.

              And while I don’t like the term, mostly because I myself am black, it doesn’t mean that people can’t honestly say the term publicly when discussing who’s using it, why, how terrible they are, etc.

              Bottom line is you’re a pussy.

              And, yes, you don’t have a problem with racial epithets for whites because you (and others) don’t seem to object when Mal-Lips calls others a “cracker” or refers to whites in a not-so-loving manner.

              Just treat all races equally and quit trying to favor black or latinos and quit hating on whites.

              It’s just that simple. Judge them not by the color of their skin, but by the character of their hearts.

      • Linnaeus

        Not just in the rural west, either. I was on a research trip about 4 1/2 years ago to Winnipeg, Manitoba, which has a proportionately high population of urban First Nations people (highest of all Canadian cities, IIRC) and there was no shortage of non-First Nations Winnipeggers who held, um, negative views of their native neighbors (not surprisingly, the poverty class of Winnipeg is disproporationately made of native peoples, which adds another layer to it all).

      • expatchad

        I grew up in northern Idaho, near a famous reservation, and attended high school with many residents thereof. The racism was nasty, sometimes violent, and hasn’t changed a whit in the intervening 50 years, my relatives tell me.

        I have lived in the Philippines for the past three years, where we have huge problems with poverty and a gap between the poor and the rich descendants of the Spanish aristocracy, (cf Mexico). What we DON’T have is an actively virulent Republican party doing everything it can to gut any attempt to alleviate that poverty.

    • DrDick

      You see that pretty much everywhere that there is a substantial local Native population in this country.

  • Alan Tomlinson

    I would correct your synopsis of the situation a bit. More than, “The basic story of white America with Native Americans is this: “We’re sorry we stole your land. We feel super bad about it. Not enough to do anything to make your present lives better. In fact, obviously, given the way things look, you are all obviously lazy-ass, worthless shits who needed to get your asses conquered so that we could take care of you and your resources.”

    I want to be very clear that I in no way agree with the sentiment or content that I just wrote, I simply believe that this is a disgusting, commonly-held belief.


    Alan Tomlinson

  • BC

    Considering that the treaties with the plains Native Americans essentially are: Leave your hunting grounds, go to the reservation, and the Federal Government will take care of your needs – then why do we say they feel they are “entitled”? They are entitled! President Grant and succeeding presidents signed treaties with them, the treaties were duly ratified by Senate – so we need to honor them. Fact is, the US government never fully honored the treaties, a bone of contention with most Native Americans to this day.

    reservations with lucky enough geographical locations

    Reservations were places that white people didn’t want – and when they wanted them (see Black Hills), then the government gave the white people even the reservations.

    • Yes, but the successful casinos today are largely on reservations that are, by luck in this instance, the closest to large cities. See the vast disparity in wealth between New Mexico pueblos right on I-25 and those that are not.

      • Scott P.

        White people tend to think that one Native American is just like another, so that those reservations with casinos should be subsidizing those without.

      • Coconino

        Concur with the discussion on wealth disparity between pueblos/tribes on I-25/I-40 and those not.

        As an aside, during a recent NEPA document review, I was considerably dismayed to see the unemployment rate for NM’s McKinley County is approaching 65-70%. I would not be surprised if neighboring AZ counties on the Navajo Nation have similar rates. The Navajo Nation has only just recently opened casinos, and most of its current revenue stream is primarily from coal mining and energy production. There is a clear need for development of industries producing a more long-tern revenue and employment stream for the Nation.

        • Not only is the Navajo nation reliant on coal and natural gas, but something like 50% of homes on the reservation do not have electricity. Almost none of the money from those resources stays with the tribe. It’s a disgrace.

          • Coconino

            The Nation is currently negotiating with BHP to purchase back the Navajo Coal Company lease in NM. If the purchase goes through (should know by July), the Nation will be running it through a contractor to 2016 and then by themselves. At that point, all revenue associated with the sale of the mined coal to Four Corners Power Plant (it’s a mine-mouth operation) should go to the Nation, not just the Nation/BIA/BLM-negotiated lease fees.

          • Coconino

            On the 50% homes with no electricity, no running water goes along with it. In a society with generally between 60-70% unemployment, the travel costs associated with trucking food and water (for both people and livestock) to the remote Nation home on 4WD roads are pretty high.

            • Western Dave

              This. Although the electricity thing is something of an undercount, because it’s usually done by an “on the grid” measurement and many Navajos have access via generators. However, there should be a massive solar effort (I think Second Mesa over at Hopi did this), that could get every home electrical and provide jobs via a solar panel plant although I suspect that environmental costs would be high. And not sure if there is water for such a plant. Locating a plant in Grants or Gallup would be as good (and in some ways better) than Crownpoint, Window Rock or other rez industrial parks. The experiments with rez industrial parks in the 70s were a bust. When the incentives ended the companies left.

    • BigHank53

      Did the Department of the Interior ever get around to paying out the billions in mineral royalties they’d been “administering*” for Native American tribes?

      *Neglecting, losing, stealing, and not bothering to collect in the first place.

      • Western Dave


    • DrDick

      It is also worth noting that all the supposed federal benefits for Indians (much more meager and inadequate than most whites imagine) are part of the purchase price for their lands, specifically proposed by the US government. Virtually all Indian treaties are actually land sales contracts, wherein the tribes give up some or all of their lands in return for cash and services.

  • Joshua

    What? John Stossel told me that nobody has been helped more by the government than American Indians.

    • Alan Tomlinson

      Yet another moustache of wisdom.


      Alan Tomlinson

    • commie atheist

      “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.”

      It is, indeed, a mystery as to why they’re not doing better 200 years after we stole their land and made them wards of the state.

      • Hogan

        This just in: there is no National Association for the Advancement of White People.

        • sharculese

          We finally got rid of the Senate?

          • expatchad


        • Chester Allman
          • JKTHs

            Not quite. That’s actually the offshoot National Association for the Advancement of Straight White Males. It’s easy to get them confused.

            • Chester Allman

              Those damn militants and their ridiculous splinter factions!

      • DrDick

        Actually, the reason that there is a BIA is twofold. The first and earliest was to manage affairs between the United States and the Indians (at a time when they were still independent sovereigns) in such a manner as to prevent the crazy crackers in Georgia and along the frontier from starting another ruinously expensive Indian war. Secondly, it was needed to administer all the economic development and educational programs designed to assimilate the Indians (and make it easier to steal their lands), as well as those payments and programs provided for in the treaties (most Indian treaties are actually land sales contracts) purchasing such lands (at well below market value).

  • Cody

    Americas favorite past time resumes: Shitting on the natives.

    And here I thought we had gotten past that. Mostly by eradicating all of them, making it tough to destroy their lives.

    Luckily, Business Insider has the scoop that we can all just pretend to feel sorry for them and use it as an excuse to point and laugh at them. Clever white people.

    • Jon H

      To be fair, that’s been everyone’s favorite pastime at some point.

  • Njorl

    But if we as a nation were serious about expunging the sins of our ancestors, maybe we’d give incentives to business to invest in the reservations, provide meaningful job training, language recovery, and other social programs; work with the reservations to increase wild bison populations and recapture traditional hunting skills, and/or, yes, provide reparations for the past.

    Your heart might be in the right place, but this makes no sense.

    Either we adopt a “hands off” attitude that respects their independence, or we assist them to assimilate into our culture. The idea that we will make them be better, more functional Native Americans is not one we should even begin to explore.

    I can see broad economic measures which avoid creating specific incentives, but we have no business telling them what to do culturally.

    • Well, obviously you’d be working with local people to ask what they want and need. I mean, I could go into a deep discussion of these issues, but it wasn’t really appropriate to go into that level of detail here.

    • Richard

      Clearly correct. I can’t think of a program more apt to backfire than to have BIA employees training Native Americans to be hunters like their ancestors were (or training them to be dependent on bison populations). Give them money to develop cultural programs but dont, under any circumstances, tell them what cultural traditions to maintain or revive.

      Richard (1/16th Blackfoot ancestry and proud of it)

      • Njorl

        I would be even less restrictive. Give them economic assistance because we said we would in treaties, and because it is the moral thing to do, not as a price we are paying to preserve their culture. It’s their culture, they can do what they want with it. Expecting Native Americans to hunt bison is like expecting European Americans to churn their own butter.

        • Linnaeus

          Although I could see where that could run into some problems, e.g., the revival of the Makah whale hunt here in the Northwest was not without its detractors.

          Not saying you’re wrong, though.

    • witless chum

      As somebody who grew up next door to a reservation in the U.P., I would tend to think the general native attitude is something like “Sure, this reservation sucks, but it’s OURS.” Any sort of solution that doesn’t respect that more tribal, or collective, way of thinking isn’t any kind of solution.

      A fair number of my Ojibwa classmates have moved away from the reservation and, from all appearances, assimilated in “our culture.” I don’t think that’s as much of an issue, though racism is certainly still alive. We got stuff yelled at our basketball team when we traveled to play in the less-cultured parts of the U.P., but I think it’s probably lessened.

      But a lot of Indians also seem to want to stick with the idea that they’re a tribe and a community that lives in that one place. I’m not interested in telling them they can’t and I don’t mind the U.S. government living up to at least the letter of its treaty obligations.

  • rea

    “everything is for sale on the Rez — sex, drugs, booze, houses, tires, trucks”
    All those things are for sale pretty much everywhere.

    • Julian

      That’s true, and you can expect a hard-hitting Atlantic Monthly article on it any day now.

      • BigHank53

        I thought Ms. McArdle had moved to Newsweek. Just in time for the bus plunge.

  • Joe

    “take pictures while driving because he was afraid to stop”

    Where did you get this from? Some of the photos don’t seem to be taken “while driving.” See, e.g., reference to a “walk around” (#34) at a school.

    “may well be made up”

    ditto. Is “her cousin” (#33) also made up?

    The author did often focus on the negative, but not just, and noted a “more than week-long stay.”

  • MAJeff

    Point 3 reminds me of all the stuff going on in NoDak over the “Fighting Sioux” nickname the past several years. During the 2011-12 sessions, the legislature passed a law mandating that UND keep the nickname. They defeated bills dealing with Native American health problems, housing and the like. They care enough to provide “honor” with a nickname, but not enough to pay attention to actually existing problems.

    • Chester Allman

      Wow, that is unbelievably depressing.

      • expatchad

        But, It sure sounds like Idaho

  • Nobody wants to be portrayed as being only victims without any agency of their own. So I can definitely see why the indigenous peoples of Wyoming would object to constant portrayals of them as people defined solely by their social problems. There probably is another story that could be told. I am not too familiar with this specific case, but I know that not everything was gloom and doom in the Navajo nation as a result of the efforts of the Navajos themselves. Certainly there must be people among the Arapahoes or Shoshones that are doing good things? The other thing aside from reinforcing negative and frankly racist stereotypes of dysfunction and inherent inability to succeed that such constant focusing on poverty and misery does is that it encourages policies that perpetrate these problems. If you solved the problems of poverty for indigenous peoples in Wyoming it would put a lot of quite rich white people out of work. Much of the same dynamic is at work regarding European and US relations with post-colonial Africa. Policies claiming to “help” the victims of colonialism more often than not create serious problems of dependency and are geared to helping interests in the former ruling powers not the indigenous people. If Dr. Loomis writes too many articles like this criticizing the results of “progress” he will be stripped of his credentials as a “progressive”, branded a “reactionary”, and permanently exiled to Africa. The “progressive” model for dealing with indigenous peoples during the 20th century can be best viewed by looking at Soviet policy towards the Chechens, Chinese policy towards the Tibetans, or the Sandinista policy towards the Miskito Indians. None of which had much respect for traditional cultures and societies.

  • If you really want to see how racism to First Nation’s people is alive and well read pretty much any reaction to “Idle No More” in Canada



  • Erik the Parrot





    • Malaclypse

      You were marginally more original as a robot. Very marginally.

      • Failing to understand the concept of things is, in fact, central to his point

    • Latin Declension Mynah Bird

      *chirp chirp croak*


      *chirp chirp croak*

      • Rhino


      • spencer

        Heh +1000 indeedys.

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  • duckbilledplacelot

    OK, this is super late to the thread, but there ARE native language reclamation and recovery projects funded by the government. NSF, mostly, but some others. And they’re pretty big grants, too, not all-paper-work-no-support ones. I mean, the racism is endemic and serious, but – and I say this as someone who writes grants mostly for First Nations groups – there is federal money available for just those kind of projects you mention; job training, language recovery, health, transportation…at least one part of the problem is the dying-small-town issue, which throwing a finite grant at won’t fix.

  • Western Dave

    So maybe Wind River is different from the Navajo rez and the problems are really different, but I’m guessing not. I didn’t do a drive by, I spent a decade looking at economic development on the eastern Rez/Checkerboard and lived on site for two of those years. For people like Erik and me, here’s why we say it’s pure sensationalism and little more than stereotypes.

    1). Nothing in this article looks out of place from a discussion about any Rez since 1973. Maybe the drugs are different but the whole “caught between two worlds” thing, been there done that was over it well before Smoke Signals came out. Apples? Does anybody use that term anymore? I thought it died in about 1975. Again, Wind River is perhaps an exception, but in most communities education is considered the only path out. However, there are a lot of tensions; continued schooling means going far away which means not being able to help out your family with labor or income; many native cultures place heavy sanctions on young folks not speaking out in a group setting, especially when elders (like a teacher) are in the room. Most teachers that go to work on a rez or work with First Nations students are told not to use Socratic Method but use group work or written responses with around the rooms where everybody takes a turn instead. One on one work also works well. If my FB page is any indication, tons of Navajos celebrate the academic achievements of anybody who earns a blue ribbon in just about anything. There’s more “So proud of my little niece “so and so” who just aced her math test” than in a Greenwich, Conn. weekly newspaper.

    Two: “Reservations breed cultures of dependence.” Has this guy never heard of the Dawes Act? Termination? Relocation? All attempts to wean Indians of the government (or whatever the latest excuse for not fulfilling treaty obligations was). You couldn’t bother to crack an overview of the last 100 years of Indian History? The last 50? Christ, almighty do your research bub.

    Three: Drunk Indians. Yup, drunk white people too. But you don’t see them as much because they mostly drink at home. The shot of good Christian whites juxtaposed against drunk Indians in the park was especially egregious.

    Four: No acknowledgement at all that anybody of working age who has a job probably isn’t on the rez because there are no jobs there. What you have on most rural rez’s is old people, kids, their caretakers and the unemployed because everybody else is working somewhere far away and sending money home. The comparison here isn’t really urban ghettos it’s Ireland in 1840.

    Okay enough for starters. Maybe I’ll have time for more later.

  • Breadbaker

    Native sovereignty is sort of like the 3/5ths compromise, which is to say that it looks like one thing but was intended for another. The purpose of sovereignty was to allow Native American tribes to enter into treaties that disowned and disenfranchised their people without just compensation. The theory of dependent sovereignty is basically, you can give us stuff in exchange for promises we won’t keep, but we’ll sure as hell keep the stuff.

    That sovereignty may also have other attributes that need to be taken seriously is of course something that ticks off certain people no end, as witness the debate about the related provisions of the Violence Against Women Act that passed the Senate this session and last. The conservatives who oppose it don’t even pretend that there’s any possibility that a tribal court could deal out justice to white people, even though of course white people’s courts haven’t exactly done a stellar job in the other direction for a couple of centuries.

  • Mike L.

    I spent the summer of 2008 living quite near the Wind River Reservation and didn’t think of it as being all that bad by the (admittedly poor) standard of native american reservations in the US. Maybe we could do something about this problem of poverty by just giving people money, instead of mucking around with incentives to preserve culture and what not.

    • DrDick

      As late as the 1950s, the average house on Montana reservations was a one room log cabin with a dirt floor, no running water or electricity, and a wood stove or fireplace for heating and cooking. At that time the BIA Area Superintendent reported that there were no jobs on the reservations and that local whites generally refused to hire Indians.

      • We’re probably lucky we don’t have a zillion glibertarians raving about the wonders of such a Galtian paradise.

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