Half the land in Oklahoma could be returned to Native Americans. It should be. A Supreme Court case about jurisdiction in an obscure murder has huge implications for tribes.
On the morning of June 22, 1839, the Cherokee leader John Ridge was pulled from his bed, dragged into his front yard and stabbed 84 times while his family watched. He was assassinated for signing the Cherokee Nation’s removal treaty, a document that — in exchange for the tribe’s homelands — promised uninterrupted sovereignty over a third of the land in present-day Oklahoma. That promise was not kept.
Sixty-seven years later, federal agents questioned John’s grandson, William D. Polson. They needed to add him to a list of every Cherokee living in Indian Territory to start the process of land allotments. Through allotment, all land belonging to the Cherokee Nation — the land John had signed his life for — would be split up between individual citizens and then opened up for white settlement. And by this grand act of bureaucratic theft, Oklahoma became a state.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the land that John Ridge not only died on, but for, could be acknowledged as Cherokee land for the first time in more than 100 years. John signed the treaty of New Echota knowing he would be killed for it but believing that the rights of the Cherokee Nation enshrined in that blood-soaked document were worth it.
One hundred and seventy-nine years later, the grass is still growing, the water is still running and, in eastern Oklahoma, our tribes are still here. And despite the grave injustice of history, the legal right to our land has never ended.
Sadly, the idea that government is a problem has consumed American politics to the point that it is ridiculous. Politicians decry the very job they are requesting, then once in office, continue the dismantling of the government from the inside, defunding agencies, reducing government income, and so on. This is often a right wing concept, unfortunately, not exclusively. The hypocrisy is more rank when natural disaster relief becomes a television talking point, such as when enemies of the civilized world like Senator Tom Coburn demand national spending cuts to offset Oklahoma disaster relief, but when this proved to be unpopular with his fellow Senators1, then there were mealy-mouthed phrases from co-conspirator Senator James Inhofe about how Hurricane Sandy relief was filled with pork, and relief for Oklahoma is totally, totally different.
Remember a day when people became politicians to help their nation? Not line their pockets and their friends pockets?2
Talk about taking the country back, I’d like to take the government away from those who would destroy it. The entire point of having a civilization is to collectivize responsibility, ideally with consent of the governed. Disaster relief, maintaing sewage systems, roads, educating our kids, parks, and so on, paid for with voluntarily collected taxes from all of us. The government should be responsible for more than just fielding a military and monitoring women’s uteruses.
I Doubt That Is True
David Sirota writes:
It all suggests that the anti-government zeitgeist in America has become so powerful that public officials now feel compelled to downplay the public sector for fear of being tarred and feathered as a socialist, a Marxist or an opportunist unduly “politicizing” a tragedy.
Of course, avoiding a discussion of the government’s role at times like these is, unto itself, a politicized decision — one promoting the illusion that we don’t need government. And no matter how much anti-government conservatives deny it, that is an illusion.
Think about it: When you find yourself riveted by disaster response coverage on television, what you are really watching underneath all the graphics and breathless punditry is footage of government in action.
Think about it: Whether dealing with a hurricane on the East Coast, a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas or a tornado in Oklahoma, government remains the best, most powerful and most reliable defender against and responder to large-scale emergencies.
Think about it: For every headline-grabbing story of a private citizen rescuing another individual, there are scores of never-told stories of police officers, firefighters, first responders, public school teachers, government-created warning systems, public hospitals and emergency management agencies saving hundreds of lives and/or rebuilding whole communities. Those stories, in fact, are rarely told because for all the petulant anti-government whining that dominates American politics, we’ve come to so expect such a strong public sector response that it’s barely even considered newsworthy.
That expectation, by the way, is not something to lament.
It’s worth emphasizing that there may not be a fight over disaster relief because a congressional bill may ultimately be unnecessary — FEMA has not yet exhausted its reserves.
But if a funding bill is necessary, there appears to be little appetite for another political fight like the last one.
Here’s hoping we’ll see a return to traditional American norms when it comes to post-disaster aid. For generations, Congress didn’t fight over offsets in the wake of a crisis, it simply moved to help American communities in their time of need. That changed after Republicans took control of the House in 2010, but given GOP reactions yesterday, we may be seeing the first signs that the party is rethinking the utility of its posture.
We’ve written for years about America’s politicians puzzling reluctance to invest in infrastructure repair. Instead of forcing ExxonMobil or General Electric or Apple to pay taxes, Washington diddles, and the infrastructure continues to decay. I guess if a bridge collapsed outside of Tulsa, perhaps some of our nation’s D grade bridges could get repaired. Well, at least those in that state. Maybe if the bridge that collapsed was in Virginia, the government might pay attention. Or not.