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Why are Indian Reservations So Poor?
December 14, 2011 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Why are Indian Reservations So Poor? Forbes writer John Koppisch says it's because of a lack of individual property rights. In a detailed response, the executive director of non-profit organization Village Earth says: "I find it ironic how academics and journalists try to come up with new theories to explain poverty on reservations but fail to take into account the obvious. The government owes Native Americans at least 45 Billion dollars yet, in the settlement offered by the Obama administration, they are being compensated for less that .06% of that."

Property rights cause conflict within the Crow reservation as it struggles with whether to approve a coal plant (NYT).
From the beginning, the proposed C.T.L. plant has been divisive among Crow tribal members. A group called the Crow Allottees Association feared their water would be taken or polluted by the project. In its place, they are planning wind development for their land.

Division among the Crow tribe has historical roots in the General Allotment Act of 1887, a bid by the U.S. government to grab land and disrupt the social cohesion of communal tribes by dividing up reservations into small land parcels, individually owned.
The conflict also concerns water rights that were not clearly decided for over 160 years, which led to failing infrastructure as responsibilities were not clarified. Last year, Obama signed the Water Rights Settlement act, which provides $461 million for improvements and guarantees 650,000 acre-feet of water per year. However, the tribe had to ratify the act, and a contentious debate ensued between allottees and other tribe members.
Bill Eggers, another opponent, said he believes the water compact takes away the allottees’ water rights without compensation. Among other things, Eggers questions whether he will be able to use the groundwater that’s on his land or if he’ll have to figure out a way to get water from the river 60 miles to his acreage.
(The settlement was finally ratified.)

In 2010, a class action lawsuit against the United States government concerning the mismanagement of Indian property rights was settled for $3.4 Billion.
...the government illegally withheld more than $150 billion from Indians whose lands were taken in the 1880s to lease to oil, timber, minerals and other companies for a fee. Back then, the government started breaking up reservations, accumulating over 100 million acres, giving individual Indians 80 to 160 acres each, and taking legal title to properties placed in one of two trusts. The Indians were given beneficial ownership but the government managed the land, believing Indians couldn't handle their affairs. With leases for oil wells in Oklahoma, resorts in Palm Springs, and rights-of-ways for roads in Scottsdale, Arizona, some descendants of original owners receive six- and even seven-figure sums annually. But the prototypical beneficiary, now poised to share in the settlement, is a poor Dakotan who struggles to afford propane to heat his quarters and has been receiving as little as $20 a year. More than $400 million a year is collected from Indian lands and paid into U.S. Treasury account 14X6039. (source)
posted by desjardins (101 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why are Indian Reservations So Poor? Forbes writer John Koppisch says it's because of a lack of individual property rights.
Wow, it's like a banner week for Forbes writers sticking their feet in their mouth, right?
posted by delmoi at 5:45 PM on December 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm always kind of shocked when white people seriously ask themselves Christ, why are these Indians so poor?!?!? while sitting on a trillion acres of formerly Indian land.
posted by Avenger at 5:47 PM on December 14, 2011 [104 favorites]


Wait, the government screwed the First Nations over something like 130 years ago, and then KEPT screwing them for the entire time afterwards, and it's OBAMA'S fault for them getting 3.4 billion in the settlement?
posted by FatherDagon at 5:49 PM on December 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


Wow, reading the article is even more mind-blowing.
To explain the poverty of the reservations, people usually point to alcoholism, corruption or school-dropout rates, not to mention the dusty undeveloped land that doesn’t seem good for growing much and the long distances to jobs. But those are just symptoms.
Yes, the fact that they live on shitty land is totally due to the fact that they don't have property rights, and not due to the fact that they were forced from where they originally lived and put into camps on the shittiest possible land available.
This leads to what economists call the tragedy of the commons: If everyone owns the land, no one does.
Wow, that is not the tragedy of the commons.
posted by delmoi at 5:55 PM on December 14, 2011 [66 favorites]


"I find it ironic how academics and journalists try to come up with new theories to explain poverty on reservations but fail to take into account the obvious.

I agree with this but also thought "the obvious" was going to be the 500 years of occupation and disenfranchisement.
posted by Miko at 5:55 PM on December 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


Gah, if you want to bring up the Tragedy of the Commons, cite overfishing or climate change.

But I guess those aren't so good for Forbes, because changing those would be bad for business.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:57 PM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


500 years of occupation and disenfranchisement and white people sitting on a trillion acres of formerly Indian land sound like pretty much the same thing to me, actually.
posted by Forktine at 5:58 PM on December 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh god, this article, I can't even begin to express my anger. I used to live in Northern New Mexico and would occasionally visit the pueblos. They were heartbreakingly poor. To write an article like this and say the problem with Indians is they can't have mortgages.. To ignore the centuries of genocide, repression, slavery, outright theft of property.. Where do you start?

Related, I really enjoyed reading the book 1491 awhile back, a revised picture of the New World just before the arrival of Europeans. One point that's stuck with me is why so many parts of the Americas seemed so empty when the Europeans first arrived. Because, duh, smallpox got there fifty years ahead of the white men and killed 95–99% of the Indians. You'd be pretty weak too if you'd just suffered that.
posted by Nelson at 5:59 PM on December 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


OH HAI GUYZ. IT'S ME AMERICAN RICH DUDES.

LOL Y U SO POOR?

I HAZ IDEA. TOTALLY NEW IDEA U'VE NEVER HEARD OF B4.

U PUT UP UR LAND AS COL@ERAL AND IF U DFALT WE TAKE LAND FROM YOU. DON'T WORRY U WONT DFALT, JOBS AND STARBUX WILL APPEAR NO JOKE. LONG TERM FOREVER PROPRSERTIY, PROMISE. ARE ECONMY IZ UNSTOPPABLE INJUN 4 GOOD HEH.

JUST SIGN OVER LAST THING U GOT AND PROBEMS WILL B SOLVED.
posted by fleacircus at 6:01 PM on December 14, 2011 [53 favorites]


Man, if I were a poor black kid, I could certainly teach those Native Americans a thing or two about the invisible hand of the free market.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:02 PM on December 14, 2011 [49 favorites]


500 years of occupation and disenfranchisement and white people sitting on a trillion acres of formerly Indian land sound like pretty much the same thing to me, actually.

that's why the "also"
posted by Miko at 6:03 PM on December 14, 2011


white people sitting on a trillion acres of formerly Indian land

Well everyone kind of sits on it now. Nothing we can do about it. The Trail of Tears wasn't caused by anyone currently alive, and there is a society now that you can function in while still keeping your heritage intact. Many people do it all the time.

There's no good answer to this, and everyone in the world wants money for free. It's not these descendants (I am one of those descendants) land. Native Americans are not going to get it back. It's just not going to happen. That's like when I hear some Mexicans talk about the day they're going to take back half of the U.S. Just move along and make due with what you have now. There's a whole lot more things to be worried about these days than a horrible thing that happened so long ago.

There may not be land or money to fight over soon enough.
posted by Malice at 6:05 PM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]




that's why the "also"

What, you want me to read your comments word by word? Amazing how one word can matter, isn't it?
posted by Forktine at 6:08 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there's one thing I've learned from the Israel/Palestine conflict, it's that they have a claim to their ancestral land regardless of who's been living on it for a few centuries.
posted by mullingitover at 6:08 PM on December 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


Just move along and make due with what you have now.

The problem is that it created historic inequalities which, due to the magic of compound interest and early advantage, amplify over the generations. An enormous transfer of wealth went from Natives to whites (as it did from blacks to whites) considered as large groups. The idea that there's just nothing we can do about that doesn't feel right to me. It may be that cash payouts aren't the answer, but saying "sorry the events of history really sucked for your ancestors leaving you in a godawful position today, but don't look at me, I wasn't there" is against all of my politics, regardless of what class of people we're talking about.
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on December 14, 2011 [24 favorites]


Heh, Forbes. Yeah, this is also one of the few Indigenous issues that ever shows up on Fox News, the terrible terrible tragedy that people on reservations can't sell their land.
posted by XMLicious at 6:09 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "my ancestors did it, not me" thing seems to me like a form of "I was just following orders".
posted by XMLicious at 6:12 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


We have 9 billion tons of high-quality coal sitting under the reservation, going largely untapped,” says Yellowtail. “Natural gas, too. Potential development galore, but that potential is never realized.”

You have to wade through a lot of claptrap to get to the meat of the concern. Of course Forbesians want Native land privatized! Private land can be bought, sold, and traded and there's gold in them that hills. But it sounds a lot nicer when you talk about "improving your house" or growing more crops.
posted by Miko at 6:16 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ooh, I thought this was going to be about the disenrollment thing going on in CA but now I have something else to be impotently outraged about instead.

Let me apologize in advance in case I start shrieking about how wealthy white men should sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up instead of flapping their damnfool gums in a magazine for other wealthy white men lest they have the taste slapped right out of their mouths.
posted by elizardbits at 6:21 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


This leads to what economists call the tragedy of the commons

Actually, this illustrates what I like to call the tragedy of the moral commons. There will be no repercussions for John Koppisch for writing such ignorant, hateful and ugly things. He will still collect a paycheck and enjoy a byline on a national publication. Given the internet traffic his controversial article generates, he may even get a bonus. His social standing in his community will continue as it has, despite his evident sociopathy. At worst, his buddies will chuckle with him on the back nine over his roguish opinions. With no one to take responsibility for his odious ideas or to challenge him for having articulated them in public, our social fabric will continue to fray.

When inherited civility is treated as a common good, its worth is progressively diminished by those who abuse it without sanction.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:22 PM on December 14, 2011 [25 favorites]


As a collective, we in the US have always done wrong by the natives. ALWAYS.

I won't even try to outline all the bullshit which has gone on (and is still going on) with the BIA Native American Trust Fund, but if you want to feed your outrage, google will have plenty of links which are each a delicious morsel.

It's shameful, and I doubt there's any real way to make it right at this point.

But I'd love to see us try.
posted by hippybear at 6:32 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, it's like a banner week for Forbes writers sticking their feet in their mouth, right?

Banner week?

TBH I haven't read a damn thing in Forbes that wasn't "part of the problem".
posted by edgeways at 6:32 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here in Canada, we have similar proposals coming out pretty frequently. For example, Tom Flanagan (who wrote a whole book on the issue)1. Frances Widdowson makes some similar arguments in her book (and articles).2

Of course, the general problems with this theory are exactly the same in Canada as they are in America. Minor differences of course, due to the local Aboriginal law, but whatever. Nthing everyone above who thinks this is a terrible solution based on privilege, ignorance of the history, and quite likely a desire to bring the land into our oh-so-wonderful economic situation.

On the other hand, there are certain things that a property-rights approach can help solve. Right now our department of aboriginal affairs has the proposed Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. Essentially: since reserves are a federal-government issue (which I believe is also true in America), the provincial family law doesn't apply. So in widow(er) cases, or custody disputes, or even abuse situations, the "correct" person can't get access or exclusive access to the matrimonial home.

It's not quite a real property situation, but it's something similar. Here are some scenarios of the problems that currently exist.

1: Although I would say he's right in line with the Forbes writers, a Calgary-based, Harper-advising, neoliberal dude.

2: I critiqued that book for a course in Aboriginal law last year. Personally, I found it to be based heavily on straw men and terrible generalizations like those about language "complexity" as indicators of cultural evolution. She's friendly with my prof, who said she's a firebrand and, surprisingly for her similarity to Flanagan, very much a Marxist, but of the late 19th century variety, with a focus on cultural evolution and saying that Aboriginals are still pretty much in the Stone Age.

posted by Lemurrhea at 6:33 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Koppisch. That's German, right?

Fuck him.
posted by spitbull at 6:33 PM on December 14, 2011


I'm sure that $45 billion will be paid to the right people and put to good use. Oh wait.

The U.S. federal bureau of Indian affairs already spends $2 billion a year every year, and has been doing so for decades (and this money isn't spent on health care -- that's another department). While it's not exactly mountains of dough, relatively, it's not money being well spent now, so pouring $45 billion isn't going to make problems go poof, gone, either.

If you spent $2 billion a year improving the lives of 4.1 million Americans, a significant dent could be made in just about any problem. Hell, just cut them all a check. But somehow, nothing seems to happen. This isn't conspiracy. This is incompetence.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:34 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


The vast majority of land on reservations is held communally. That means residents can’t get clear title to the land where their home sits, one reason for the abundance of mobile homes on reservations. This makes it hard for Native Americans to establish credit and borrow money to improve their homes because they can’t use the land as collateral...

He's proposing that we break each reserve into little plots of land owned by individual band members. Every time a band member wants to move into town or gets in debt trouble they'd end up selling their plot of land to...interested parties, probably at cut rate prices given current conditions on reserves. Destroying reserves piecemeal certainly is (ahem) one way to eliminate all problems on reserves. My only question is whether that outcome is his conscious hope or a matter of careless indifference.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:36 PM on December 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is there a non-profit that uses donations to buy homes on formerly tribal land and give it to native families? Perhaps one that accepts real estate as donations? That would be a good way to protest against things like this article.
posted by michaelh at 6:42 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Native American communal rights was also in the news today.
posted by Brian B. at 6:43 PM on December 14, 2011


So, people are poor because no one has paid them $45 billion? I guess I can see that.
posted by planet at 6:52 PM on December 14, 2011


Forget the trillions of acres stolen and just focus in compensating the people fucked over in the last 30 years:
-Indian Farmers discriminated against by the USDA on loans
-the horrifying situation in South Dakota covered on NPR recently
-The clusterfuck that is the BIA's record keeping for royalties in oil and gas revenues in Indian reservations.
-The American Football team that represents the nation's capital.
posted by humanfont at 6:52 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Indian Farmers discriminated against by the USDA on loans

Any NI farmers who were denied farm loans are part of a class action settlement. They have two more weeks to file for up to $50,000 in compensation plus other funds which would do things like help cover the taxes due on such an amount.

More information can be found here. Please pass it along.
posted by hippybear at 7:02 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


COME ON FORBES WRITERS! IS THERE ANY TOPIC ABOUT WHICH YOU CANNOT BE STUPID AND TONE DEAF? I'm sure that the native american kids can somehow use TECHNOLOGY and free google scholar type resources to improve their lot in life. is there some kind of stupid in the air lately over at Forbes?
posted by rmd1023 at 7:02 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The vast majority of land on reservations is held communally. That means residents can’t get clear title to the land where their home sits, one reason for the abundance of mobile homes on reservations. This makes it hard for Native Americans to establish credit and borrow money to improve their homes because they can’t use the land as collateral–and investing in something you don’t own makes little sense, anyway.

This leads to what economists call the tragedy of the commons: If everyone owns the land, no one does. So the result is substandard housing and the barren, rundown look that comes from a lack of investment, overuse and environmental degradation. It’s a look that’s common worldwide, wherever secure property rights are lacking—much of Africa and South America, inner city housing projects and rent-controlled apartment buildings in the U.S., Indian reservations.


So you're all saying this is incorrect? Or just a relatively small part of the problem? I'm honestly curious.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:03 PM on December 14, 2011


-The American Football team that represents the nation's capital.

Ugh, the Washington Redskins name evokes nothing but hate and bigotry. It should be changed to just The Redskins.

YYYYYEEEEAHHHHHHHHHH

(I stole that from a joke about the Washington Bullets.)
posted by michaelh at 7:06 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


So you're all saying this is incorrect? Or just a relatively small part of the problem? I'm honestly curious.
Look, if we had any idea where wealth came from, we'd be wealthy and we'd write for Forbes. It's fun to rant about white men, though.
posted by planet at 7:08 PM on December 14, 2011


I would guess it's a relatively small part of the problem compared to the ways the US has historically fucked over the native americans.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:13 PM on December 14, 2011


We stole their land. We killed them in vast numbers. We relocated them to unfamiliar surroundings and coralled them on the worst land around. We willfully tried to eradicate their cultures and languages, for generations. We've broken our promises and left entire peoples in a perpetual state of uncertainty for generations, dangling nebulously the spectre of making right on our misdeeds.

They're poor, though. Like, they're crazy poor, even for America, and nobody can figure out why.

Huh, must be that the uncertainty created by community property. Nothing else makes sense. That must be why they all live in trailers, too.

Oh wait, aren't they all drunks? I bet that's part of it too.
posted by LiteOpera at 7:13 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you spent $2 billion a year improving the lives of 4.1 million Americans, a significant dent could be made in just about any problem. Hell, just cut them all a check.

Sending each person $500 a year will raise them out of poverty?
posted by snofoam at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


Sending each person $500 a year will raise them out of poverty?

Lining up now for the Reparation Check Sale at Best Buy.
posted by michaelh at 7:21 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Next from Forbes: Why Don't All These Poor People Just Get Jobs? Geez! McDonald's Is Always Hiring!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:26 PM on December 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why do NPR and Hollywood choose to focus breathlessly narrating about who brain-farted in the presidental debates, and what celebrities are reproducting, and on and on about the Israelis and Palestinians at each others' throats, with occasional side trips to the genuine and very real tragedies in Africa, but no one seems to feel a need to discuss this? Just kind of so, oh, two centuries ago, whattya gonna do?

I think people who would like to help the Native Americans develop their infrastructure should focus on getting stars to adopt Native babies or find some terrorists out there. The good kind, you know, international. Then we'll pay attention.

Till then it would be best to - ooh, TMZ is on. Gotta go.
posted by lon_star at 7:27 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


gottabefunky : The theory goes that lack of access to credit, and lack of ownership creates economic hardship. The problem seems to be that proponents of the theory are reasoning backwards, "Wealthy people have access to credit, therefore creating access to credit will make people wealthier".

There may be something to this concept in general, however it appears that making credit available to impoverished communities actually makes them poorer. Since you can pretty well define poverty as not having enough money to pay for the basic necessities, it's very easy for people in poverty to find themselves having to take out a loan for something vital, and getting trapped in debt they cannot repay. More on this previously as it relates to microfinance Mefi and previously to that . Closer to home, take a look at the number of Payday loan places in depressed communities and areas of town, and ask yourself what easy access to credit is doing for those communities.

Property rights are another case where proponents of the theory have always struck me as reasoning backwards. "Developed societies have strong property rights, undeveloped societies don't, therefore property rights are a way to foster development". Apparently proponents of this theory never cracked a textbook and looked at what happened during the enclosure movement. Property rights without equal representation and the rule of law are just a way for a few people to get very rich.

Advocating for property rights as a means of allowing poor people to take out loans, strikes me as either particularly cynical way of making sure that those that have not loose even that which they have, or something that could only have been written by someone who has drunk deep of the "market solutions are the only solutions" Kool-Aid.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:29 PM on December 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yeah, Forbes' "White Man's Burden Week" was a spectacularly ill-conceived idea.

I lived in Bartlesville, OK during high school, right near the Osage Nation. The story of the mineral rights there is basically watching this property rights plan play out historically, and it was horrifyingly detrimental to the Osage.

Also, is this where I can bitch about how the face on the $20 Bill should be changed to, really, anyone else?
posted by Navelgazer at 7:31 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Crow actually got their historic tribal lands but sentiment and legend don't always equal commercial success. And then there's the Pequots.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2011


Sending each person $500 a year will raise them out of poverty?

Five hundred a year spent by a pool of 4 million people would buy quite a lot, actually.

And I'm sure a $500 check is more value than they get out of the Feds right now, anyway.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:46 PM on December 14, 2011


The American Football team that represents the nation's capital.

Wow. For all this time, I thought the Redskins were from Washington state. My mind has been blown.

(I'm not an American football fan, not that it matters.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:47 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. For all this time, I thought the Redskins were from Washington state. My mind has been blown.

That's because the Seattle Seahawks suck so much everyone tries to forget they even exist.
posted by hippybear at 7:51 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


RICK

RICK

RICK

FORBES IS WRITTEN BY A BUNCH OF DOUCHEBAGS RICK

[Am I doing this right?]
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:56 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


Oh! Can I also say that one of my favorite moments from my youth was watching then-presidential candidate Steve Forbes introduce Rage Against the Machine on SNL?
posted by Navelgazer at 7:59 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fucking poor people, how do they work?
And I don't wanna talk to an economist
Y'all motherfuckers lying and getting me pissed

--Insane Forbes Posse
posted by neroli at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


So you're all saying this is incorrect? Or just a relatively small part of the problem? I'm honestly curious.

Blaming this specific thing for the poverty issues of the reservations is like placing the entirety of the blame of your stolen car on a window that mysteriously smashed itself.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:51 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It may be that cash payouts aren't the answer, but saying "sorry the events of history really sucked for your ancestors leaving you in a godawful position today, but don't look at me, I wasn't there" is against all of my politics, regardless of what class of people we're talking about.

The problem with this is it puts your politics against reality. It's hard to hold someone responsible for something their ancestors did. Some injustices simply will never really be correctly punished.

Glibness aside, the article does emphasize correctly the weirdness involved with communal property as it exists in so many reservations. It's simply difficult to enjoy any of the fruits of prosperity under a system so out of sync with the rest of the Western world. It's like living on a ranch with extended family, for better or worse. That reservations started off with the deck incredibly stacked against them is bad enough. That the US government continually treats Indian affairs as an afterthought at best, is an ongoing problem. That the tribal system of property and governance does little to bring prosperity to its people is the vinegar topping on the shit sundae.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:14 PM on December 14, 2011


So, people are poor because no one has paid them $45 billion?

People are poor because we stole their land and tried to exterminate their ancestors.

(Oh, yeah, and we owe them $45 billion)
posted by dirigibleman at 9:20 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


So you're all saying this is incorrect? Or just a relatively small part of the problem? I'm honestly curious.

Well, I'm not sure how I feel, but The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was awarded to Elinor Ostrom in 2009, and her entire body of research says that interpretation of the commons is bullshit.
posted by one_bean at 9:29 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


Dear Forbes writer,

The Dawes Act didn't work, you dumbass. It was an absolute disaster.

Oh... you don't know what the Dawes Act was? Go study before you write something so ridiculous.

Sincerely,
Anybody who's ever studied American history
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:29 PM on December 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


It's hard to hold someone responsible for something their ancestors did.

But it's easy to hold modern Indians responsible for being in the way of our ancestors' land.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:29 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well said Grimgin...

Although seemingly well-meaning, the privatization of a group of poor peoples land, people who are not well versed in business and wealthy or informed enough to acquire proper legal consultation on the matter, may very well lead to nothing more than a debt trap. The framing, of course, is that the magic hand of the market will be the "tide that lifts all boats" - but I highly doubt that a scheme for privatization would be concocted purely for the gain of the Native community - a community who is, by way of historical and cultural circumstances, not in a position to leverage newfound privatization into something beneficial for all.

If Native Americans can use their land as collateral, being as poor as they are, many will lose that land to interested non-native third parties. Ironically it was quite literally this maneuver that has been used throughout history to wrest Indian land away from them. Thomas Jefferson writes about it in his letters to Meriwether Lewis with regards to the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. He envisions using the Fur Trade as a way to get the Natives of the west dependent on American and British goods and specifically advises for the use of the extension of credit. As it happened, Natives did indeed come to rely on the iron goods, beads, whiskey, broadcloth and so on from the trade and when they couldn't pay their debt they would, in some cases, trade away parcels of land.

I also think this is a major part of the issue:

"We have 9 billion tons of high-quality coal sitting under the reservation, going largely untapped,” says Yellowtail. “Natural gas, too. Potential development galore, but that potential is never realized."

You can bet that any money made from exploiting Native natural resources would go to a select few within the tribal community and a whole heck of a lot more to a large multi-national energy company. The plight of Amazonian tribes in the face of logging and oil companies bears out a bleak template of what they might expect...

I also tend to think that Native American's have a deeper historical memory than the dominant class of privileged whites. The massacres of Sand Creek and Wounded Knee are recent memories, not to mention the entirety of the Indian Wars and the history of their experience with whites. I think the last thing a Native American would want to do is trust a smiling, white, pro-business face telling them to make a decision "for their own good." Been there, done that.

Finally, as an anecdote - my father used to do business arranging loans to Central and South American communities to build roads etc. At one point he had to attend tribal negotiations regarding construction of a road. The Natives were assured that the road was just a road and not necessarily the spearhead of exploitation. One of them looked at my dad and said, "I hope you're right, because if you're lying...I will cut off your balls with a chainsaw." I'll have to call my dad to find out what the ultimate outcome was...

Nonetheless, I think an attitude like that is precisely the kind to have in light of the power disparity in issues like this...

By the way, the rebuttal essay is fantastic and totally on point.
posted by jnnla at 9:43 PM on December 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


There's no good answer to this, and everyone in the world wants money for free.

It's not fucking "free money" if it's payment for something that was stolen. Christ, I hate that phrase. It's bullshit.
posted by rtha at 9:45 PM on December 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


The government owes Native Americans at least 45 Billion dollars yet, in the settlement offered by the Obama administration, they are being compensated for less that .06% of that.

You'd have thought that President One Who Helps People Throughout the Land would have been more, well, helpful.
posted by homunculus at 10:09 PM on December 14, 2011


Wait, I thought we already tried allotment and it caused really huge problems that are still ongoing today?

Checkerboard reservations, criminal and civil jurisdictional issues, ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS. I should really be studying for my Federal Indian Law final that is tomorrow rather than paying attention to this thread though.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:16 PM on December 14, 2011


Tomorrow on Forbes "Why hasn't science reversed entropy yet?"

SPOILER: Turns out it's public funding.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:16 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you are interested in learning more about some really poor reservations and some really horrible things the government is doing, check this story out.

NPR story on Indian Child Welfare Act and its (lack of) enforcement.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:18 PM on December 14, 2011


...are you fucking kidding me? Like insectosaurus said, the whole point of allotment was to bring the gospel of individual property ownership to Indians, in order to civilize them, or "kill the Indian to save the man." It went catastrophically badly, in ways that are still playing out today. Gah.
posted by Tesseractive at 10:20 PM on December 14, 2011


I watched this Diane Sawyer piece on Pine Ridge reservation, and it was heartbreaking. Just - I don't have the words to describe it.

I don't think it's online anywhere, which is really too bad - it is absolutely worth watching.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:22 PM on December 14, 2011


Gottabefunky: There is an attractive logic to "tragedy of the commons" arguments, but the argument is simplistic and doesn't hold up to empirical analysis. That is, there are many historical and present-day examples of successful common property management regimes.

Here's Wikipedia on criticisms of Garrett Hardin's classic model, citing the work of Nobel laureate (in economics, although she's a political scientist) Elinor Ostrom:
In particular, some authorities have read Hardin's work as specifically advocating the privatization of commonly owned resources. Consequently, resources that have traditionally been managed communally by local organizations have been enclosed or privatized. Ostensibly, this serves to protect such resources, but it ignores the pre-existing management, often appropriating resources and alienating indigenous (and frequently poor) populations. In effect, private or state use may result in worse outcomes than the previous management of commons.

If other, non-market regimes for management of resources (whether that's housing, land, access to resources like water or fishing rights) are absent, then sure, you can imagine that instituting a market in individual property rights might help in some given situation. But it's just one mode of managing the distribution, use, and transfer of resources. There are others that may be more straightforwardly suited to addressing inequality: the provision of social housing, cash transfers, basic income, and so forth.

Besides which, calls for titling as a simple solution for poverty are (a) not new and (b) not supported by the evidence: here's a couple of choice quotes from a recent (paywalled) review of research on land and other transfers in Africa:
Critics of these views point to the large amount of research dating from the 1970s (see above) that showed the failure of the registration and titling programs across Africa to increase productivity and access to credit for the poor mass of people. More recent cases support the skepticism about an “easy” jump from titling land to using titles to gain access to credit. [...]

From the colonial positions on communal and customary tenure to current claims about the power of property ([currently popular Peruvian economist and prominent advocate of the views we see in the Forbes article Hernando] de Soto, 2000), a repeated caution from the research has been to avoid separating land tenure or property from their social, cultural, and political-economic matrices. Gaining “title” to land has never been a “simple” recognition of unused capital but has always involved severe social struggles with distinct winners and losers, from the enclosures in England (see Thompson, 1993 for one account) to contemporary processes across Africa (and elsewhere).


So yes, it is incorrect to say "if everyone owns the land, no one does." And calls for blanket privatization or for relying largely or exclusively on titling to address poverty are not particularly supported by the evidence (and smell strongly of pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstrapsism). Further, the economic science behind these calls can be tightly bound up in ideological projects on the part of economists: see this 2005 case study of a Peruvian titling program and its uptake in economic circles.
posted by col_pogo at 10:30 PM on December 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


The cart is before the horse. Dispossessing peoples of their ancestral lands is a fantastic way to commit bloodless genocide, but it's difficult if the people who own the land are wealthy, or even comfortable... or even minimally empowered.

The Indians are poor because we need them to be, in order to steal what's left at the lowest possible price.
posted by klanawa at 10:35 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wasichu.
posted by Twang at 10:38 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


the tragedy of the commons...So you're all saying this is incorrect? Or just a relatively small part of the problem? I'm honestly curious.

Giving the devil his due, Koppisch is right that giving poor people private property rights has helped lift poor people out of poverty in many countries. Hernando de Soto Polar* has done defensibly good work on this theme. However, there's a big difference between band members and favela dwellers. Favela dwellers have zero legal protection for their homes and zero rights to the value of their land -- that's why giving them title is a huge deal. Band members already have have communal title to the lands of the reserve. They get a share of any natural resource earnings, and they know for sure that the government will not violently chase them out of their homes again. The analogy to South America and Africa does not hold.

Koppisch has vastly overstated the significance of tragedy of the commons issues on reserves. People in Attawapiskat are living in poorly insulated shacks through an Arctic Ocean winter because they can't even afford even the most desperately needed repairs, not because they're miffed that they can't increase the resale value.

His solution to tragedy of the commons problems on reserves is to break up the reserves. Sage.

* Hey wait a second, why is my comment better annotated than the original article?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:43 PM on December 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


On postview, what col_pogo said.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:45 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


lol Forbes.
posted by polymodus at 10:58 PM on December 14, 2011


To fully tease apart your argument you have to examine two central questions. 1. Is your basic premise correct, are Native American’s selfish-utility maximizes and do they share the same notion of “progress” as European settlers? And 2. Considering that western notions of progress were forced upon them through the Reservation system and policies such as the The General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) – was/is the poverty we see today really because there hasn’t been enough privatization. I challenge this notion and argue there might other, more obvious factors?

The people at Forbes are incapable of entertaining these questions because it would destroy their worldviews. Simple as that.
posted by polymodus at 11:01 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Australia:

Aboriginal people have all this awesome land, but, like, it's all tied up in these pesky inalienable community land tenure arrangements! If only we could draw some lines on the map, and say 'this square is yours', we'll fix everything!

What we'll do, see, is we'll negotiate subleases of other, new and different leases on inalienable Aboriginal land. No, it'll be a breeze, you wait and see. And then we'll build houses on that land, creating local jobs for Aboriginal people. And then we'll give those Aboriginal people some money management training, and then we'll give them a loan to buy the house. We reckon we can do, like, 400 or 500 loans.

What's that? We had four years and only gave out 15 loans? And we spent $10m for public servants to administer $3m worth of loans? We spent a total of more than $40m so people who weren't homeless could enjoy individual property rights, sorta kinda? And none of those homes were built by Aboriginal people? And we built another bunch of houses using money from this program at communities that weren't program targets? And instead of selling those houses we just made them public housing stock?

but srsly black dudes why u mad?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:38 AM on December 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Well everyone kind of sits on it now. Nothing we can do about it. The Trail of Tears wasn't caused by anyone currently alive, and there is a society now that you can function in while still keeping your heritage intact. Many people do it all the time.

I don't understand the relevance of the fact that no one living caused the problem. People living now knowingly benefit from horrific actions in the past. The problem has nothing to do with whose ancestors were the problem. It has everything to do with continuing to benefit from a crime. The same logic applies to slavery. "It wasn't my fault" doesn't cut it when you continue to benefit.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:23 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well it's coming soon to a country near you!

...fuck. I should have expected that, I suppose. Worth noting that the head of the Assembly of First Nations is opposing it.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:17 AM on December 15, 2011


You know I have to wonder at the process that creates a proposal to privatize reserve land in Canada within a few days of an article in Forbes on the same topic. It's almost enough to make me believe in a global conspiracy of the elite.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:18 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, then, why are the reservations here financially sound, then?

They are held by the tribe, rather than individuals. Where is their tragedy of the commons?

Many reservations are poor, oftentimes, for reasons that are actually really simple: they are remote, so jobs are far away, and public transit is non-existent, and cars are really expensive. There is a show on Hulu, "30 Days on an Indian Reservation" that actually does a really good job illustrating this.
posted by Leta at 6:47 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Next article by Marks in Forbes Magazine: "What I would do If I was a poor Native American kid"...
posted by Renoroc at 7:03 AM on December 15, 2011


I was wondering how to make some sympathetic, relevant snark about casinos.

Then it hit me: STOCK MARKET. Because that's what a casino is - or rather a stock market is a casino. The legal basis for Indian tribes to conduct business on their lands has been established. It would be awesome for Indian tribes to set up up financial markets to compete with NYSE and Nasdaq. Except these would be Galtian paradises of completely unregulated financial innovation! After the tribes get their cut, of course. You can imagine the consequences, but it would be delightful to watch. Until of course, the Feds sent in the troops to shut things down.
posted by Xoebe at 7:22 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This leads to what economists call the tragedy of the commons: If everyone owns the land, no one does.

"I didn't do that great in Econ 101".
posted by polymodus at 8:30 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The galling thing is that it isn't even on the agenda. The federal government (in Canada and I assume in the US) literally doesn't care about the horrible conditions that Native people live in. The lack of respect and paternalism is shocking.

The current Canadian government cannot get it's head out of it's ass to respond reasonably respond to an acute housing crisis in Attawapiskat. Instead, it sends a third party accountant, to be paid for by the community, to check the books. Can we make sure people have a roof over there head first? There is more to this story, the links above don't begin to describe the asshattery.

On a more positive note. I highly recommend Revision Quest for a funny and sensitive show about Aboriginal people in Canada. There was a great episode recently
posted by Gor-ella at 8:54 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The people at Forbes are incapable of entertaining these questions because it would destroy their worldviews.

within a few days of an article in Forbes

Next article by Marks in Forbes Magazine

To be sure, although Koppisch (of the reservations article) is in fact a Forbes Asia staffer, I don't think this was a magazine article. I think it's just a blog post on their ideologically somewhat more heterogenous platform, which includes Marks (of the poor black kid post) and Rick Ungar (of numerous progressive and pro-labor posts).
I admit they do not strain to make the difference clear, but stuff that's in the magazine does get a separate byline to that effect.
posted by dhartung at 9:11 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a lot of discussion here about the amount of money the government pays to Native Americans and it made me think of the very direct ways money can help.

I work in Arctic Alaska and have visited several native villages of different nations. Several of them are very poor, but in Alaska there has been a settlement where native corporations control the natural resources of their areas. There are good point and bad points to this but it does bring in enough money for schools and basic infrastructure improvements and allows for somewhat local control of the resources.
posted by JayNolan at 9:16 AM on December 15, 2011


I hesitate to express a view because it doesn't feel appropriate (being from the UK) but wanted to address this:

"Well everyone kind of sits on it now. Nothing we can do about it."

This is true to a degree as far as the physical disposition of the land in question goes, but that's surely not to say nothing can be done - reparation is reparation whether it's the return of land, a restrospective fair price for what's been stolen / cheated away or even something more intangible as required or requested by the affected community. If it was wrong and can be righted or recognised in some way, there should surely be some sort of moral imperative requiring any necessary actions to be undertaken?

And one small plug for one important book - mea maxima culpa.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 9:30 AM on December 15, 2011


Another question:

How far down the line of descendants do you want to go to give this money to? Because here in Texas a great majority of people considered 'white' technically are actually also descendants of Native Americans.

Do you say only those of 'pure blood'?

Why not just give everyone a good chunk of money for everything the government has ever done wrong to them and call it a day?

It won't be enough. It's never enough. How much money can the German government give to the Jews to erase what was done or even make it better somehow?

The answer is zero.
posted by Malice at 10:07 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lemurrhea: You know I have to wonder at the process that creates a proposal to privatize reserve land in Canada within a few days of an article in Forbes on the same topic. It's almost enough to make me believe in a global conspiracy of the elite.

It may have actually been the other way round, the Fraser Institute (right wing Canadian 'think' tank) was bringing the eugenicist's theory into play back in 2002:
“[T]hese large amounts of land, with their attendant natural resources, will never yield their maximum benefit to Canada’s native people as long as they are held as collective property subject to political management. … collective property is the path of poverty, and private property is the path of prosperity.” (Fraser 2002: 16-17)
(re)quoted from: Debunking the `Tragedy of the Commons' By Ian Angus

A couple more links that are good on the topic:

Hardin's Myth of the Commons: The Tragedy of
Conceptual Confusions.
(PDF) - Good overview of some of the awesome variety of types of 'ownership' there have been (Graeber's Toward an anthropological theory of value is also good in that respect, especially that weird one with the trees...)

No Tragedy on the Commons (also PDF)

Specters of Malthus: Scarcity, Poverty, Apocalypse (counterpunch)

It's amazing how many experts are completely unable to open up a history book to check if commoning actually did lead inexorably to tragedy (SPOLIER: nope) . Perhaps they don't have E.P Thompson for free on google scholar.
posted by titus-g at 10:08 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Lemurrhea: "You know I have to wonder at the process that creates a proposal to privatize reserve land in Canada within a few days of an article in Forbes on the same topic. It's almost enough to make me believe in a global conspiracy of the elite."

Privatization of all public and reserve land has been a Fraser Institute policy all along. It's not a new idea in Canada, at all.
posted by klanawa at 10:08 AM on December 15, 2011


Go back and read those jokes about the DC football team and consider your reaction if the team was named the Washington N****rs. It is that offensive.
posted by humanfont at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2011


How far down the line of descendants do you want to go to give this money to? Because here in Texas a great majority of people considered 'white' technically are actually also descendants of Native Americans.

There is already a procedure for establishing your membership in tribes which are federally recognized. This is a mostly solved problem, and doesn't mean that every "my great-grandma was a Cherokee princess" person in Texas will be able to line up and get checks.

I don't mean to go to bat for cash reparations as I'm not always sure that direct payments make any sense. But there are a lot of other ways to invest in Native communities, including business and public sector development grants, funding for education, agricultural programs, infrastructure development, and so on. I'm not a community development specialist nor have I researched all the potential impacts of cash reparations, positive or negative, so I really haven't gotten an informed opinion yet. But I am convinced that there is an extremely strong case for ameliorative programs of some kind for wrongs perpetuated by the government which is the same government we are working with today. The books need to be balanced.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on December 15, 2011


How much money can the German government give to the Jews to erase what was done or even make it better somehow?

So, reading about it, there were no reparations paid directly to Jewish people in the form of currency but there were plenty of reparations, and also you could say that the sanctions on Germany and requirements of Yalta were also a form of reparation. Also, the idea of righting wrongs is continuously visible in the negotiation of return of looted assets such as art and cash which continues to this day.

I think this shows that it's reasonable to presume a system of justice which, though it cannot reverse wrongs, can return gains made through wrongs to their original communities and can also demonstrate a will toward justice and a good faith effort to renew relations for the future.
posted by Miko at 12:35 PM on December 15, 2011


It won't be enough. It's never enough. How much money can the German government give to the Jews to erase what was done or even make it better somehow?

The answer is zero.


Maybe you should check out what the people who had things - land, art - stolen from them say. It's all fine and well for you to have an opinion about this, one which conveniently allows for the continued doing of jack shit.

The class action lawsuit linked in the fpp? That's the plaintiff's answer to the question "How can this be remedied?" *You* think there isn't anything that can be done. They do. They are the injured party; you are not.
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Go back and read those jokes about the DC football team and consider your reaction if the team was named the Washington N****rs. It is that offensive.

While driving through some of the reservations in Arizona/New Mexico earlier this year, I was very surprised to see multiple high schools with giant signs out front proclaiming them, "Home of the Redskins!" in front of a football helmet or some other sports equipment.

What I took away was that it's a more complicated situation for the people living there than I had previously thought, who have a far more personal history with that word and all that it implies than I ever could.
posted by Copronymus at 12:51 PM on December 15, 2011


They do have that history, but it's also possible they didn't choose their own team names or organize those schools.

As with n*, I always think the "well, when CAN I use the word?" answer is kind of "never" if you don't have the background that better informs you about its nuances and the solidity of the ground you're claiming when you assert that as a community member you can use it. There will be debate even within the community in question but if you're from outside the community, you may not have much authority to take a stance on it. Or you may have authority that's sort of locally granted you but may not fly if you try it out in a new context.

Complicated, best to avoid and use terms you can be fairly sure are always interpreted as respectful, if you want to be seen as respectful.
posted by Miko at 1:10 PM on December 15, 2011


...and it could be those names are a holdover and a vocal contingent is working to change it.
posted by Miko at 1:13 PM on December 15, 2011


Complicated, best to avoid and use terms you can be fairly sure are always interpreted as respectful, if you want to be seen as respectful.

Oh, without a doubt, and I wasn't trying to give excuses for white guys to run around calling people that, I just thought it was an strange little side note and reminder that every slur has a different history and meaning to the people it offends and you can't just substitute one for the other and expect the same reactions.

On preview: ...and it could be those names are a holdover and a vocal contingent is working to change it.

That's entirely sensible, and does make me think (as you suggested) that the schools may well have had the team names forced on them.
posted by Copronymus at 1:22 PM on December 15, 2011


How far down the line of descendants do you want to go to give this money to? Because here in Texas a great majority of people considered 'white' technically are actually also descendants of Native Americans.

First, tribes have their own standards for membership. This should not be set by outsiders.

I myself am (a small) part Cherokee, but I don't look it and I wasn't raised with any Cherokee traditions. I didn't even know until I was in my teens. I don't have a good handle on my grandmother's family history, but I know they were poor, and I don't know that that would have been the case if they were not Indian. So, my grandmother didn't get the best start in life, and my mom was born in a one room house with no plumbing at the end of a dirt road.

Who's to say where they might have started from if their ancestors hadn't had to walk the Trail of Tears?* What might have happened if they hadn't intermarried with whites? I am very lucky that by the time I was born, my mom had gotten through a few years of college and married into a middle-class family. I have a master's degree and I'm doing quite well.

For membership in the Cherokee tribe, you have to prove an unbroken lineage from someone listed on the Dawes rolls. I could probably do that if I took the time, but I think it would be disrespectful in my case. Even if I were entitled to money because of my bloodline, I wouldn't take it, or I'd give it away.

My personal feeling is that if someone is disadvantaged, I don't really care how they got there, it's society's responsibility to lift them up to a decent standard of living. No one can go on the reservations and tell me that's a decent situation. We have the money in this society for everyone to have a roof over their heads, enough food to eat, and health care. What people do beyond that point is up to them. If you're a dirt poor Texan who's 98% white and 2% Indian, in my view you should get help regardless.



*It should be noted that Cherokees did everything they thought they were supposed to do in order to appease whites - from taking up farming to assuming Christian names - and still got fucked over.
posted by desjardins at 3:13 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget owning slaves.
posted by XMLicious at 3:25 PM on December 15, 2011


How far down the line of descendants do you want to go to give this money to?

Yes, because lines of conservative white Texans will be lining up outside gubmint offices wearing headdresses and asking for sweet, sweet moolah. The modest sums will be more than enough to compensate for being branded an octoroon or some equally tasteful nom de fraction and hearing 'where's your bow, Geronimo?' jokes for the rest of their lives. No social pariahs, they.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:19 PM on December 15, 2011


Before we start totaling up the costs of ancestors misdeeds perhaps we might try to stop the ongoing violations and settle up for those things done in recent memory. Te boarding schools only closed in the 1970s. This isn't ancient history.
posted by humanfont at 4:34 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course, Copronymous, and I didn't mean to appear to be coming down on you. It is all complicated.
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on December 15, 2011


There is one nation in Canada that has a limited form of private property rights the Nisga'a in Northwestern BC. This may not be 100% accurate, but my general understanding of it is that the Nisga'a band acts something like a condo corporation does (setting rules on what the land can be used for, overseeing the community, etc) but that plots of land can be bought and sold just a condo is. The Nisga'a appear to be happy with the arrangement, but I doubt it would work equally well for all FN communities.
posted by Kurichina at 10:37 AM on December 16, 2011


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