By Darrel Smith
For over a hundred years it has been known that the federal government has plenary [total, complete] control over Indian policy and Indian reservations. In the past the federal government has used this plenary power to remove tribes west of the Mississippi river, disestablish tribes through a policy of assimilation, reestablish tribal governments, embark on a plan to terminate reservations and finally to establish tribes as “sovereign nations.”
Strange things happen in politics, however. While the federal government officially controls reservation Indians, radical tribal governments informally control the federal government’s Indian policies. In fact, it really isn’t that unusual for regulated industries to slowly gain control of the regulation process for their own benefit. A similar process has evolved with federal Indian policy.
The process starts with lots of money. Modern Indian policy involves billions of dollars of federal tax dollars annually. Specially protected casinos, local governments and foundations add billions more. Perhaps only six to twelve percent actually reaches Indians on reservations. The remaining billions buy impressive influence throughout our country. From Washington to Main Street, this money buys the allegiance of armies of bureaucrats and others. A significant amount directly and indirectly influences national and state elections. Other money is used to establish impressive networks of tribal lobbyists and law firms.
Part of this money establishes a very effective public relations campaign. Tribal representatives have spent years successfully cultivating a sympathetic relationship with the media and the public. Books, movies, television, newspapers and educational materials focus on a one-sided, distorted view of history. A primary purpose of this campaign is to establish a sense of guilt in America in order to justify special entitlements for tribal governments.
Another part of the process involves federal staffs. Essentially every office that deals with significant Indian issues hires Indian staff. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is roughly ninety percent Indian, is only one example. Congressional offices often have Indian staffers that focus on Indian issues. This means that when tribal chairmen and lobbyists come to Washington to negotiate with the federal government, they are usually dealing with members of their own “club.”
In this environment, few senators or representatives relish the thought of opposing this powerful financial and public relations lobby. Referring to her boss, one Senator’s aid asked a simple question, “Why would he?” To answer that it would be in the best interests of Indian people and our country would, unfortunately, be hopelessly naive. As a result, very few laws have passed Congress in the last few decades against the organized opposition of tribal governments.
Another powerful way that tribes control Congress is through the power of human nature. It is a part of our nature to seek to justify ourselves. Congressmen and bureaucrats who sell out the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of American citizens, consigning them to continuing poverty and social destruction convince themselves that they are making good tough decisions. The alternative is simply too painful for many of them. Some of them even become principled advocates of the nonsense they perpetuate.
Unfortunately, a similar process explains why the federal government has become so extreme on many issues. Too often, radical special interests control the process. Fortunately, it appears that the Supreme Court is intent on reestablishing constitutional protections and a growing number of citizens are becoming aware of the devastation that federal Indian policy creates.