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Termination Redux: Republicans and Native Americans


In our long history with Native Americans, there is much we should be ashamed of. First and foremost, it’s that even today and even on the left, Native issues simply don’t get the attention that racism against other minority groups receive. Part of that is because most Native communities of size are far away from the big media centers, even though California has more reservations than any other state. Part of it is that there are very few Native commenters with big public platforms. Part of it is that people see these issues as something more of the past than the present; we can be ashamed of the genocide, but what does that have to do with me today? These issues are complicated.

Anyway, part and parcel of this history has long been the combination of whites telling Native people to stop living their traditional lifestyle and assimilate into white society while at the same time, undermining every possible economic means to do so and fearing they will become “dependent on welfare.” Self-reliance, that’s the ticket! Well, they were self-reliant until we committed genocide against them! In the 1950s, led mostly by congressional Republicans and Eisenhower’s odious Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay, created a new program called Termination, which would end reservations and the traditional relationship between the tribes and the federal government in exchange for one-time cash payouts. This went very, very, very poorly. One of the two big tribes targeted was the Klamath in southern Oregon. They had major timber reserves. McKay’s timber industry buddies wanted them. This is basically the Winema National Forest today. And so Termination took away the relatively stable tribal economy and turned the Klamath into paupers in less than a decade. The struggles of the Klamath and other tribes turned the tide against Termination and the Kennedy administration killed the policy. The Klamath eventually did get federal recognition back, but not the land.

Of course, for modern Republicans in states with sizable Native communities, the idea of Termination still has appeal. Check out this jerk, running for Congress from South Dakota, a state with arguably the biggest racial prejudice in the nation, except that because it is against Native peoples, it never receives the attention of Alabama.

A Republican candidate for South Dakota’s U.S. House seat is calling for an end to the reservation system for Native Americans.

Neal Tapio, a state senator from Watertown, said the current system in which Indian tribes are sovereign entities within designated trust lands is a system that has failed generations of Native Americans. Tapio said the majority of people living on reservations are victims of “incest and molestation” leading to welfare dependence, despair and high suicide rates.

“To continue down the same path is simply wrong,” Tapio said in a telephone interview. “We need to address the system, not just the symptoms. We need to renegotiate the treaties that are holding down a once very proud people.”

Uh huh. Yeah, if there’s one thing white Republicans from Watertown care about, it’s Native American pride. I wonder what the tribes think?

South Dakota’s reservations are among the poorest places in the United States. But Steve Emery, the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said Tapio’s proposal would be deeply unpopular in Indian Country.

“I know that both tribal members and tribal governments in the state would be very opposed to it,” Emery said.

Ending the reservation system would entail breaking treaties that the federal government signed with tribes. Congress has the power to pass legislation superseding those treaties.

Tapio said he hadn’t spoken with tribal leaders about his proposal, but felt it was important to start a conversation as tribal leaders and the state officials hadn’t done enough to improve conditions on the reservation.

Sure, I haven’t talked to anyone affected? But why would that stop me? I’m white after all!

In conclusion:

“The reservation system doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “It’s a failure of American socialism. In that way, reform is clearly needed.”


Allow me to also note that one sign of racism toward Native Americans is that tribal names such as Klamath are not recognized by Spell Check as words. Small issue, but significant as representative of the whole.

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