Peter d'Errico: Don't expect to find solutions in 'Trail of Tears' book

Photo by Stephanie Lafayette

In case you haven't noticed, author Naomi Schaefer Riley is popping up all over the mainstream media just in time to promote her new book. But is The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians worth a read, beyond its provocative title? Retired professor Peter d'Errico finds Riley championing all the wrong ideas and relying on anti-Indian sources:
The absence of fundamental analysis in Riley's book parallels that of many of her sources, such as the work of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), where writers promote the idea that individual Indians need to be "freed" of the "trust" rules to achieve economic success.

The history of the so-called "termination" acts of the 1950s demonstrates the inadequacy of this approach. To eliminate the "trust" by declaring individual Indians "equal citizens" of the U.S. only compounds the initial violation of Indigenous property rights. It destroys Native communal land holdings, parcels out individual and family homesteads, and "opens" the "surplus" land to non-Indians.

Riley repeatedly points to allegations of reservation government malfeasance to make her argument that individual Indians should be "free" to participate in the "market economy," to raise capital by mortgaging their land.

Riley says that ending the "trust" system would make Indian reservations just like cities. But here—as throughout the book—she betrays an inability to comprehend the meaning of community from a Native perspective. Native conceptions of community—the People as a whole—transcend the idea of an association of individuals. Riley and her colleagues at PERC don't understand this.

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Come Over and Help Us: ‘New Trail of Tears’ Follows Old Script (Indian Country Today 8/5)

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