Roberta Ulrich, author of American Indian Nations from Termination to Restoration 1953-2006, wrote the following guest blog about a recent proposal to abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs. For more information, visit the book's page on the Universityof Nebraska Press website.
More than most issues, Indian policy seems subject to those twin adages: "Those who cannot remember the pastare condemned to repeat it" and "The more things change the morethey stay the same."
The occasion for this observation is the recent proposal by Senator Rand Paul to abolish the Bureau of Indian Affairs.That would, in effect, put an end to most government Indian programs. The Kentucky Republican would have no reason to remember the disastrous termination policy of the mid-Twentieth Century; he was three years old in 1966, the year that the Poncas of Nebraska became the last tribe terminated under the 1950s policy. It was also a time when both Congress and the Administration were realizing that termination had been a huge mistake. By the time Senator Paul was 30 most of the tribes had been restored to federal recognition and, from the outside, perhaps appeared no different from tribes that had not been terminated. However, some of those tribes still struggle to make up for the dozen to thirty years of lost programs and organization.
As I wrote in American Indian Nations from Termination to Restoration 1953-2006 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010) the termination program of the 1950s and 1960s was just another name for the continuing policy of the United States government from its beginning: get rid of Indians. Like the other policies, termination failed to get rid of Indians. It did make many of them poorer, sicker and afflicted witha variety of problems. Restoration has put those terminated tribes backon the path to healthy societies.
Paul’s proposal already is raising alarms in Indian Country - as well it should. indiancountrytodaymedia network carried an extended story on the issue Feb. 12 under the headline "Sen. Rand Paul Set to Ignore Treaty Obligations to Indians."
The story, by Rob Capriccioso, quoted Tol Foster, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at ChapelHill, as saying, "Selective amnesia - as in the 1950s and early 1960s-can be a powerful weapon, particularly because Native Americans are such a very small percentage of the overall population ..."
Those who cannot remember the past ...