Rand Paul’s Indian War

Feb 17 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

A Dangerous Lunatic by any other name...

We have seen this before in our nation’s history: the government ignoring its treaty obligations toward the various Native American tribes into which it has entered various agreements. There have always been various excuses offered but Senator Rand Paul’s is particularly unconscionable: we can’t afford you, Indians!

Now, correct me if I’m wrong but don’t all those corporation sponsors of Rand’s Tea Party still expect to get paid, whether you can afford to pay them or not? And these are treaties we’re talking about here, actual treaties with sovereign nations. A deal is supposed to be a deal; you can damn well bank on your credit card companies holding you to your agreements with them. Money being a little tight is no excuse.

But on January 25 Rand Paul introduced his ideas to Congress:

  1. Elimination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the part of the Department of the Interior that has historically overseen the reservations and other federal Indian programs, meaning the death of those programs as well.
  2. Cut the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service nearly in half.

The health service is already underfunded, a fact recognized by both Republicans and Democrats over the years. The Koch Brothers, speaking through their public face, the “Tea Party” apparently feel differently.

Rand Paul could, of course, shrink the deficit in other ways but the Koch Brothers refuse to trim the defense budget or tax corporations. So the Middle Class has to bite the bullet. So do the Native Americans trapped on the reservations by the treaties Rand Paul now wants to ignore.

I’ve recently looked at some of the lies and misconceptions perpetrated by America’s conservatives with regard to our Nation’s treatment of the Native Americans. My goal was to school Bryan Fischer. But Rand Paul clearly needs to get the message as well.

It must be recognized that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not always been the Indians’ best friend and we will look at that record in a moment. A brief look at its origins might here be in order.

The Federal Government’s relations with the continent’s native inhabitants lay in the hands of a civilian department under direction of the Secretary of the Interior; this was the Bureau of Indian Affairs, sometimes referred to as the “Indian Bureau” or “Indian Department.”  As a body, the bureau owed its creation to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, whose order of 11 March 1824 established it.  Its autonomy was strengthened in 1832 when an act of Congress authorized the president to appoint, with its consent, a Commissioner of Indian Affairs under direction of the Secretary of War.  The bureau remained under military control until 3 March 1849, when it passed to the Department of the Interior.[1] From this time on, charges, counter-charges and vituperative rhetoric accompanied repeated calls to return the bureau to military control.  It was never done.  The BIA remained, and is to this day, a civilian department of government.[2]

The whole government apparatus for dealing with the Native Americans was incredibly dysfunctional.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been characterized by historian John Upton Terrel as the “outstanding cesspool” of the Federal Government at a time when “cesspools were a commonplace in Washington,” and a “thieve’s market.”[3] Despite removal from military authority, no major overhaul was to take place in the Bureau during the frontier period, leaving its charges to stew both on and off reservation as various administrations came and went, muddying the waters with an incomprehensible swirl of policy decisions.[4]

John Nairn, a government carpenter at the lower agency who built houses there and helped erect Ft. Ridgely, relates a story told him by a trader’s clerk:

Two old Dakota men begged a piece of tobacco and squatted on the floor of the trader’s store for a smoke.  The clerk, hearing them laughing over something, listened.  One of the men took a whiff and said, “Have you heard the news?”

“No, what is it?” said the other.

“We are getting a new great father.”

“Oh, that is news indeed.”  With a laugh, he added, “I wonder if his pockets are deep? Our great father always sends us a new father with deep pockets and the Dakotas have to fill them.”

The two men smoked and laughed at the image they had conjured.[5]

Rather than attacking our Native American population, as Rand Paula and Bryan Fischer do, or as Tea Partiers do in claiming treaty rights are “out of date” or “irrelevant” we ought to be doing what we can to make the various departments of the federal government more efficient, the BIA included. We ought to be upholding treaty obligations, not trying to find ways to weasel out of them, something we’ve done quite ably throughout all our history.

Republicans say multiculturalism is “raping” the West, and that’s what this is really about – about protecting right white privilege by rooting out all the “brown people” who make life so difficult for them and cut into their profits. Let’s be clear about that.

What’s really raping the West is greedy corporations run by rich white men who care nothing for the middle class, nothing for the poor, nothing for minorities, nothing for immigrants, nothing for women and children, and have an interest only in lining their own pockets and increasing their personal wealth at the expense of everyone else.

That is the enemy, not the Native Americans, not the BIA, not the Department of Health and Human Services, not the federal government. The Republicans and the Tea Party, and Rand Paul himself, are the enemy; they are the rapists, and we are the victims. Not only the Native Americans, but all of us, because the war on multiculturalism is a war against America itself.


[1] See Prucha, Documents of United States Indian Policy, 80: “…the Secretary of the Interior shall exercise the supervisory and appellate powers now exercised by the Secretary of the War Department, in relation to all acts of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs…”

[2]  Federal Indian Law (New York, 1958), 217.

[3] John Upton Terrel, Land Grab: The Truth about “The Winning of the West”. New York: The Dial Press, 1972.29-30.

[4] Utley, The Indian Frontier, 41-42.

[5] “A History of the Sioux Massacre: The Personal Recollections of the late John Nairn” in Dakota Conflict of 1862 Manuscripts Collections, Minnesota Historical Society, roll 3.  Nairn was born in Scotland in 1828, coming to America in 1852. He died in 1894.

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