David Wilkins: Federal Indian policy exists in paradoxical world

"The paradoxical state of Native America was dramatically reaffirmed on June 18, 2012 when the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that will have lasting effects on Native nations. On a positive note, the Court ruled 5 to 4 in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter that the federal government was required to pay contract support costs to tribal nations, like the Navajo Nation, that enter into formal agreements to manage federal programs. This decision, which may make tribal governments eligible for more than $1 billion, literally means that Native communities must receive all the money that the federal government has promised to them, even if it doesn’t immediately have enough money to pay all of the contractors.

On a negative note, the High Court held in an 8 to 1 decision, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak, that the Interior Department could be sued for having approved an application by the Pottawatomi, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, to have a tract of land acquired “for gaming purposes” placed under federal trust status. David Patchak, a non-Indian, had filed the lawsuit claiming that the Secretary of the Interior lacked authority to take title to the land in question and because the tribe’s casino would increase crime and cause economic, environmental, and aesthetic harm.

Justice Sotomayor, the lone dissenter, said the ruling will lead to many lawsuits and allows any individual to “sue under the Administrative Procedure Act to divest the Federal Government of title to and possession of land held in trust for Indian tribes….”

What is the basis for these seemingly contradictory opinions? And why is it that even those Native nations with impressive gaming revenues or those with significant natural resource endowments of coal, natural gas, timber, and oil still lag far behind the rest of society in virtually every socio-economic category? Why do American Indians suffer higher rates of poverty, domestic violence, suicide, poor educational attainment, and substandard housing? Why do they exhibit proportionately higher numbers of diseases such as diabetes, tuberculosis, and that devastating scourge, alcoholism?"

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David Wilkins: Federal Assumptions That Enfeeble Native America (Indian Country Today 7/18)

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