It’s about Ancestral Rights stupid! What part of those two words don’t people understand, Ancestral or Rights? It is almost as if you have never even thought about how we went from Native Americans living in peace and in harmony with nature here as the ONLY American citizens on the continent to the ugly history of genocide and forced exile of Native Americans to barren lands we call “reservations”. It is like you never even stopped to think about the deplorable conditions imposed on Native Americans on those reservations or the countless ways that cultural and sacred sites have been violated and destroyed. It is also that you seem to have turned a blind eye to the dire poverty, alcoholism, school drop out, poor health care, and early death that the history of reservations have brought to Native Americans.
So if you are one of those that never even cared enough to take even a brief moment to ponder that part of American history and government policy then I expect you are totally clueless about totally devastating these elements are to things like: cultural preservation, Tribal pride, Native American independence and self determination or Indian Souvernty.
The concept of “the ugly American” is based on our gross cultural ignorance of traditions and customs of people in foreign countries and how we arrogantly try to impose our customs and values on them. But the truth is that Americans are largely ignorant about their own country. Most Americans have a hard time identifying the three branches of government, the name of a single member of the Supreme Court, or often even things as simple as the name of the Vice President or the Speaker of the House. It is often our obsession with consumerism and our often single minded focus on sports or religion that is the reason for our ignorance. But the struggle to survive and build our careers is definitely part of that equation.
Ancestral Rights, A historical Perspective
Still, if we are to begin to understand any of the issues involved with Indian gaming and bringing a casino project to Barstow, it is imperative to fully examine the history and significance of Ancestral Rights and how that relates to the history of our government’s treaties and other agreements with Native Americans. From the creation of the “Reservation” system, Native Americans had to be coerced, bribed, and rewarded into relocating on to these lands that were usually the most remote, barren, and basically the least desirable real estate. Often they were bamboozled into agreements that our government, only to discover that it would be another broken promise for which our combined history has been disgraced with a long legacy of lies and broken promises with Native Americans.
What developed out of those history of treaties and other agreements, was that we established the principal of Indian Sovereignty which established tribes and independent and separate nations. In exchange for being restricted to reservations, Native Americans were granted rights to self determination and control over their ancestral lands. These rights established by the U.S. Government is hardly compensation for the atrocities we committed or the loss of most of their original ancestral lands. But it did offer a glimmer of hope and a scant glimpse of how Native Americans could, with a lot of hard work and a whole lot of luck, just maybe have the opportunity to enjoy the life style that most other Americans take for granted.
Decades before the advent of Indian gaming, Tribes have been fighting for recognition by Congress in order to enjoy those ancestral rights granted in the history of treaties and other related agreements, along with legislation. Some tribes had to jump through all kinds of hoops, lobbying efforts, and even litigation in order to gain that recognition. In fact in many cases it came to identify the struggle of a given tribe as the primary cause they were fighting for so that they too could enjoy the rights and protection afforded the “officially recognized tribes”.
Even with that recognition, the hope and promise of a better life went largely unfulfilled for most of our combined histories. Mostly reservation had stayed in a state of economic depression, extreme poverty, and with out much hope of escape. It is depressing for an “outsider” to spend even a short time visiting those reservations. After graduating from Davis, I decided to take a break from academics and spent six months traveling the “Great Northwest”. Along the way, I had the opportunity to visit numerous reservation scattered over several different states. This was in 1977 and years before Indian gaming had showed up on the radar.
What I witnessed on those reservations made me sick to my stomach. It caused me to recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, that: “I fear for my country when I consider that God is a JUST God; and that his justice doesn’t sleep forever.” The stereotype of the “drunk, alcoholic, unemployed, Indian” was way beyond just a stereotype. The feeling that came over me was a feeling that my patriotism was tarnished by the knowledge of what we had done to these people and how we continued to neglect and abuse them with these deplorable conditions.