The Lakota Tribe, whose indigenous lands span much of the American and Canadian northwest have withdrawn from 33 treaties signed over 150 years ago. Lakota tribe members are renouncing their US citizenship – a move that seems somewhat counter-intuitive, given their plight.
It isn’t widely publicized, but in the United States, the poorest areas are often Native-American reservations. Their circumstance is the product of years of institutional oppression; the government has seized fertile lands, water supplies, and even their children. Does anybody even learn about the Trail of Tears or the legends of Sitting Bull anymore? Our country has a very dark history of systemic genocide of indigenous peoples. We gave them blankets with small pox, and asked that they trade massive amounts of land for worthless trinkets. If we couldn’t barter for their land we would force them off, or exterminate them.
Stereotypes pervade the once proud native cultures. Tribe names have literally become synonymous with casinos, gambling and drunkenness. Many people don’t even try to hide their overt racism towards Natives. Most people think that because we allow the tribes to operate casinos that they are rolling in cash, and yes, some have become extremely wealthy, but those tribes are few and far between, with the majority of their gaming revenue going right back into the hands of the state. Is it any suprise that suicide rates among Lakota teens mirror that of other tribes, a shocking 150% higher than urban and suburban teens. Alcoholism, depression, and disease rates are significantly higher for Native-Americans than any other demographic.
With secession the Lakota tribe will no longer have access to social welfare programs risking greater poverty and perhaps the acceleration of the decline of their culture. It will be interesting how these events will play out. It is likely the tribe will confine themselves to a small piece of land in the Pacific Northwest and we might not hear from them again as their numbers dwindle and their descendants continue to assimilate into American culture. Then again, this could become front page news considering how the last attempt at secession turned out.
As the 2008 election continues to dominate the news cycle, it is likely that the plight of the Lakota will only be told from a handful of textbooks or perhaps a few obscure internet article. I would like to take this opportunity to blame identity politics. The media, pundits and everyday people bemoan the polarization of our country, but fail to realize that we’re all complicit in this system. It seems that these days citizens’ only concern in politics is how it will effect their lives. Homosexuals and pro-choice activists are petrified Republicans will roll back rights, while Christians and and businesses are worried that the Democrats will lead us to hell, taxing us all the way. WAKE UP PEOPLE! You’re giving the government far too much credit – they don’t accomplish anything, and haven’t for many years. Start making political choices that promote something other than your own selfish interests, and perhaps we’ll start to harmonize our diversity.