An Aztec-style headdress. Photo: AJ Schroetlin

Gyasi Ross: Does Native American Heritage Month even matter in our nation?

It's that time of the year again: the inevitable stories in the media about powwows, Code Talkers and Thanksgiving. Then there's President Donald Trump acknowledging National Native American Heritage Month in his own unique way. But what's it really all about? Gyasi Ross offers some ideas:
Currently, thanks to a case called Johnson v. M’Intosh and the notion that Native people did not own the land that we’ve lived on for tens of thousands of years, the United States stole approximately 2.3 billion acres of land from Native people. Uncompensated. Real estate is getting kinda pricey these days too. Combine that with the wrongful deaths of, oh, a couple of million Native people and the tab starts to add up really fast. Now some non-smart people have insinuated that because some Native nations signed treaties and as a result some Native people receive health care or an some basic educational benefits, that was reparations. No, my ahistorical friends, that was actually pre-parations—that was simply paying off a piece of a contractual obligation that the United States owed. It was a contract, a treaty, and most of those treaties were broken and so there is likewise liability there. The United States has also entered into specific settlements for specific misdeeds—the Cobell settlement for example, or the Keepseagle settlement. Those settlements, however, were for specific events like leasing and mismanaging Native land and never touched on genocide or stealing Native land.

So how do you payback a group for genocide and wholesale land theft? There is literally no way that the United States could pay a dollar amount to square up with Native people (nor with African-Americans for 246 years of free labor, including the US Capitol, the White House and some of the US’s most beloved monuments). No way.

It would bankrupt the nation. Plus, individual reparations are sloppy and probably destructive toward the individuals who receive them.

But there are ways for the institution—the government— to contend with past bad deeds and create structures to help create future equity and fairness just like in the civil case of Rodney King. One example is to adequately fund Native American health care; Indian Health Services is currently criminally underfunded. Another is to ensure that Native students never have to pay for college. Ever. A by-product of displacement and the destruction of Native economies and kidnapping of Native children is we have always been at a huge disadvantage in our pursuit of western white educational achievement.

Read More on the Story:
Gyasi Ross: The Importance and Impotence of Native American Heritage Month (A Reparations Conversation) (The Huffington Post November 2, 2017)