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New vision for Indian policy is needed

Now is the time to rethink Indian policy. While most Indian people have come to accept Indian policies, U.S. government policies toward Indian people continue to have mixed results. Perhaps the most effective changes in Indian economic development and welfare have come through initiatives pressed by the Indian people themselves.

The struggles to establish Indian gaming is probably the best example of self-help. Gaming, however, is often a mixed blessing. The benefits of gaming are distributed unevenly throughout Indian country. At the same time, many tribes have gained considerable access to capital and ability to invest in their communities, cultures and futures. Many Indian reservation communities are not so lucky, and find themselves significantly dependent on federal funds.

The achievement of effective tribal sovereignty will be possible whenever tribal communities have enough economic wherewithal to support community culture, goals and political ends. Continued federal support should continue as part of treaty agreements, legislation and as part of U.S. government.

The recent campaign statements of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain indicate that their advisors were well-acquainted with the economic and social needs of Indian country. The statements assured Indian country of continued federal program support and protection of tribal sovereignty. Both Clinton and Obama have very little first-hand knowledge about Indian issues and legal status, while McCain is a seasoned veteran of the Senate Indian Committees and has a significant Indian population in his state. Nevertheless, the campaign statements of all three major candidates presented a business-as-usual approach, which promises to maintain the status quo.

Indian community goals and values need to become the foundation of Indian policy.


While given the present economic and political times, the status quo may be a significant and achievable goal, we, however, should not be satisfied with the economic, cultural and social conditions on present-day Indian reservations. A status quo Indian policy will not address the continued poverty, legal, market development, and cultural issues that most Indian communities continue to suffer and work through every day. A status quo policy will prevent many Indian people, including children, from acquiring adequate health care, a sufficient education or sound economic opportunities. Under current policies the effects of culturally and mentally unhealthy reservation environments will persist.

Indian policy needs to address the goals and values of Indian communities and peoples. Most Indian policies originated in the periods of assimilation, and government officials then had clear aims and long term goals. Now there is less clarity in the goals and aims of Indian policy. The new directions in Indian policy need to account for the limited economic conditions of reservation communities, and provide a new vision of supporting Indian nations and communities within American government, but also within the visions and long-term goals and interests of Indian peoples themselves.

The most effective changes in Indian economic development and welfare have come through initiatives pressed by the Indian people themselves.

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Indian community goals and values need to become the foundation of Indian policy. The U.S. government and Indian nations need to restore the alliances and treaties of friendship that brought them together in the first place. As in early historical times, both sides must respect the position of the other, but both sides need to agree on the value and goals, and desired end products of American Indian policy. The campaign statements did not give any future vision of how Native people and Americans will relate to each other economically, politically and culturally in ways that will forge greater respect and understanding, and restore Indian abilities to affect the futures of their communities, governments and upcoming generations.

We need a new vision of Indian policy, one that works toward cooperative relations within American society and at the same time secures and supports the distinct, diverse and healthy cultural, political and economic continuity of Indian communities.