From the Native American Times:
Blaming the victim
By Jim Gray
Native issues debated in state legislatures can get pretty dicey these days. Case in point. On March 9, in the Montana Legislature, two senators refused to apologize for remarks made in debate regarding an Interior department plan to an additional Indian reservation in the Big Sky state. The people demanding the apology were six newly elected Native Americans who are now members of the House of Representatives.
This news story should be important to Indian people everywhere because it addresses two issues that could impact tribes and Indian people across the country.
Let me address the last one first, in last year's election, a record number of Native Americans have been elected to house seats in the Montana House of Representatives. This came as a result of well-organized effort to get more Native people elected in decision-making capacities across the state. There are pockets in America where Indian people can move an election one way or another in tight races. When Indian people are organized and voting they can make things happen. By having more Indian people holding office in legislative offices they can be an effective force in holding the line on run away legislatures bent on eroding tribal sovereignty and undermining existing federal Indian policy. These folks should be commended for their stand on this issue and we need to support our Indian leaders when they do speak up and challenge them when they don't.
The second point lies in who gets to dominate the discourse in Indian country. The remarks made by three Montana legislators was that it made no sense to support the creation of new Indian reservations when it was clear to them that the policy of federal reservation was a failed policy. Pointing to the high rates of poverty that exists on many reservations across the country and specifically calling the reservations in Montana "Ghettos."
Here is where comments like this are dangerous to all Indian people in the country. When we hear of people (in a decision making capacity) suggest that reservations and/or tribal government be withdrawn or eliminated because the poverty rates in these areas are so high, it is like blaming the victim. For example, the federal governments obligations to honoring treaty rights are no where near full filled, and in particular when it comes to education, economic development and health care are concerned, the situation is extremely bleak in Indian country. But when someone has the audacity to declare the system a failure when it's obvious to anyone involved that when you fund Indian programs at less than 30% of need, you will end up with the very situation that exist today. No one denies that some of the poorest areas in the United States exist on Indian reservations. But only those who have no knowledge of the subject or have ulterior motives would suggest that going from underfunding their programs to eliminating them altogether is the answer.
So blame the Indian government for their social problems? Why don't you blame the aspirin we take for the headache you're giving us?
One final note: Even though the six Native American members of the Montana legislature failed to get the State Senators to apologize for their remarks, the Montana legislature voted 44-3 in support for the new reservation.
Oklahoma Indian Times Inc.
Editors and publishers: Elizabeth Gray and Jim Gray
P.O. Box 692050, Tulsa, OK 74169
Indians as welfare recipients
The "outdated" reservation system
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