The Obama administration has promised protection of sovereignty and a package of programs. Indian policy is ripe for change and needs a stronger, more accountable set of programs that yield measurable results and improvements to communities and individuals living in Indian country.
The United States measures and rates numerous indicators of economic development, health, education, quality of life and environmental well-being. Very few systematic statistics or measures of change or improvement are taken for Indian people and communities. The most systematic is the 10-year census counts, which include some statistics on economic well-being, language use and other social statistics. Furthermore, the few statistics that are collected for Indian country are not used to gauge progress or examine shortcomings in existing Indian policies and programs.
Federal Indian policy has not been accountable to the progress and well-being of Indian communities. Policy makers do not go to Congress and show the advances in education, economic development, language recovery, protection of sovereignty, land returned to trust, increase in community ceremonial activities or decline in suicide and crime rates.
In the past, Indian policies were made to serve the interests of the United States, and policies were often implemented without consent from tribal communities. In the 21st century, Indians are citizens of the U.S. and, at the same time, members of tribal communities. U.S. tribal citizens have the right to an Indian policy that is accountable, and need to see measurable improvements in the conditions on Indian reservations. It only makes sense. Administrations should and can be rated by the positive or negative effects their policies have in a variety of measures of well-being in Indian country. Federal administrations can be rated by their ability to facilitate retention of language, language recovery and cultural renewal, as well as aiding tribes’ powers of self-government in conjunction with measures of economic, health, political freedom, education and cultural creativity.
Administrations should and can be rated by the positive or negative effects their policies have in a variety of measures of well-being in Indian country.
American Indian and Alaska Native communities should not accept substandard and ineffective policies and programs that do not strengthen tribal well-being. Indian students should graduate from high school with college preparation skills comparable to national averages. Indian life expectancies and health indicators should be comparable to national health rates. The economic health of Indian reservations should be measured in Gross National Product and should approach national averages of per capita income. Each Indian reservation should have comparable economic opportunities and living standards as those non-Indian communities living near them. Measures and discussions of the strength of tribal sovereignty, cultural community, community and cultural well-being, should be used to evaluate change and progress. Negative indicators like consumption of alcohol, crime rates and incidences of domestic violence, drug addiction, suicide and extreme poverty need to be collected and improvements discussed.
Programs, tribal community mobilization and Indian policy should aim to eliminate or significantly decrease negative indicators and improve positive indicators of tribal community well-being.
Indian policy in the 21st century needs to be directly accountable to Indian people, and needs to demonstrate improvement in Indian country that every U.S. citizen would require. Indian policies need greater coordination and direction to address the critical social, economic and cultural issues of Indian country. Administrations and federal agencies should be held accountable for making tangible and cumulative progress that is approved and welcomed by tribal communities as real improvements. Federal agencies need to develop and implement long-range strategies that enable tribal communities to take the lead in achieving tribal economic, political and cultural goals. Indian people and communities need to participate in the formation and implementation of policy.
Federal Indian policy needs a clear direction on how it will assist in achieving comparable national rates of economic, education, health and cultural well-being, while promoting tribal and individual self-determination.