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Agony in The American Wastelands

Updated on August 9, 2010

The Badlands, SD

There has been few times in my life where I have begged for the sweet release of death as the time I ventured on to a South Dakota Indian Reservation. If you have been to a typical, poverty stricken wasteland as I speak of--then you already know. If you haven't been, then maybe you should.

Sharp, sad eyes stared at me as I explored a forgotten world--certainly disregarded by our federal government. The poverty levels and low per-capita income are of another world. The only residents that lay on these lands are Native-Americans who are so poor that they cannot leave. The sick, the elderly, and the mentally ill sit quietly in front of their welfare supported households. The drunkards are of nightmarish stereotypical accuracy. I don't blame the people at all--it was a world that they were born into, for the most part.

I say this with concern--since I am part Native-American, I also speak with a critical tongue since the people are so unfriendly towards outsiders, whites mainly. I ask this one question as my thesis: What did I personally do to harm these people to deserve such treatment?

I understand their qualms (although I cannot possibly relate), and I know the history behind their pain. Yet the question still arises, why am I perceived as someone who deserves to be disrespected rather than at least half sincerely welcomed? Is it my skin color? Would that not be a paradox in itself?

A current professor of mine, Dr. Melcon, once ventured into an Indian Reservation with his mother. It was a sunday morning; they simply wanted to pray at a different church. One was present on this reservation in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Their appearance was awkward, the glares of fixed eyes kept them awake. An older man of the tribe decreed to them "When service is over, you should leave". They obeyed and never returned.

I recommend that you visit a reservation near you. No, not the one with a casino--go to one that does not enjoy that benefit.

An Indian Reservation in Montana

Photo courtesy of Laura Peters & Jamie Middleton 2001
Photo courtesy of Laura Peters & Jamie Middleton 2001

How did this situation get so messy?

Indian reservations have long been a perplexity to the United States Federal Government. The Feds simply have no idea what to do with these Americans. Should these people obey federal law? Absolutely. Should they pay taxes to the state, or to the feds? Depends on the state, and how much power the state holds in the union; certainly they shall pay the feds. Should these people recognize state laws? Not usually, unless there is a serious crime commited against the state in which they are present.

As you can see, the observation of the status of a given tribe and their land is subject to time, legislation, and arbitration. There is simply no concrete status for Native American peoples. It seems to be much less of a hassle for government forces to simply let the status quo be. Yet how are we to blame them? I wouldn't want to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, if I were them. How can we solve this problem, and better yet, how can we better integrate these forgotten peoples into society?

"Maybe they dont wan't to be integrated. Maybe they wan't to be left alone. As you said, there are many peoples, many nations. Each one will want different things and different statuses". - Anonymus

I hate you. You just made this article a lot harder. Nonetheless, you are absolutely correct. Each Native-American nation will want different things, and absolutely different statuses. Some California tribes that do indeed run Casinos on their land, may be OK with the status quo. A national concenus on the issue may never be reached. Perhaps we should leave it to the local governments and local tribes to reach new accords?

"Remember? Most tribes are not subjected to state or local laws when on premise. Taxes may be incurred, but are not always legal according to the 62,000+ page United States Tax Code. Native American nations seem to be quasi-independant states within the United States that do not interact with the correlating State they are present in... usually. Remember?" - Anonymus

I hate you. How did this situation get so messy?

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 9 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      It got so messy because when the situation could've been resolved about 100 years ago, the U.S. government was too stubborn to admit it'd been wrong to shut Native Americans away on reservations in the first place.  Uncle Sam would have to give back all the lands stolen from NAs to give to white settlers. That wasn't going to happen. Now the BoIF has so many layers of regulations that nobody has a clue where to start to undo them. Meanwhile, various tribes found ways to work the regs to their advantage.  So *they* don't want them undone.  It's only tribes like the one in South Dakota that are getting royally shafted.  They *could be* supporting themselves growing hemp, but it being marijuana's (benign) cousin, they aren't *allowed* to grow it.  Poverty and despair is all they know.

      I live near several rezzes, btw, all of which have casinos.  Ironic that tribes can "farm" gambling (which is illegal everywhere in our state) but can't legally grow a *real* cash crop...