We are at a threshold point in American history. Among the many issues that will be discussed and reconsidered is a new and contemporary vision of American Indian policy, which should be openly discussed and renewed at Congressional and Presidential levels.
The new administration should not carry on business as usual, but rather renegotiate many of the fundamental principles of Indian policy and set out new foundations for healthier, more respectful, prosperous and culturally empowered Indian communities. Despite the progress in Indian policy over the past 45 years, many Indian communities are impoverished, struggle to maintain self-government, and many Indian children are not well prepared to live in either American or Indian communities. We should have healthy Indian communities where culture, language and traditions are freely expressed and where culturally based solutions to self-government, market economy and community are respected and fostered.
Government policy alone will not achieve the re-establishment of healthy Indian communities, but it’s meaningful implementation is critical for promoting the well being of Indian communities and peoples. A more sympathetic and understanding American Indian policy will set the stage for greater cultural, political and economic achievements in Indian country.
Rethinking of Indian policy should start with extensive discussions and input from Indian people, governments and organizations.
Rethinking of Indian policy should start with extensive discussions and input from Indian people, governments and organizations. The best policies result from the government’s listening to the issues and suggested solutions for change and cultural realization among Indian communities and peoples. Assimilation policies were designed for programmatic application throughout Indian country, but any new government policy should be designed to understand and respect the cultural and political diversity of contemporary nations, and establish the conditions where many Indian cultures and communities will flourish and present their children and members as contributing forces within tribal as well as American societies.
The BIA should be reformed as a service organization to promote the issues and directions of tribal communities and Indian peoples. As stated in Mancari v. Morton, the BIA is an organization that promotes the economic and political welfare of Indian peoples. The relation between American Indians and the United States is based on treaties and political relations of alliance and friendship. Consequently, the BIA should be directly responsive to the issues and development plans of tribal communities, and Indian peoples should have considerably more input into policies and administrative orientations. A national board of Indian leaders and members should be established to provide continuing advice to the BIA and provide comments and policy statements to Congress. An annual policy conference should be convened by the BIA to gather input into decision making and policy directions. The BIA needs to become an instrument for the promotion of tribal and Indian community interests.
We should have healthy Indian communities where culture, language and traditions are freely expressed and where culturally based solutions to self-government, market economy and community are respected and fostered.
American Indians do not need a refashioned policy of assimilation or multi-cultural ethnicity. Indian policy and issues should not be reduced to a special case of multi-culturalism. Indian people should respect the American multicultural and civil rights progress, but at the same time the new administration needs to understand the history of Indian self-government and cultural diversity. The new administration needs to formulate a vision of American community and society that includes American Indians in ways that respect tribal histories, cultures, self-government and territories.
American Indians are not asking for exceptionalism, or special rights, but they are looking for new Indian policies that will create healthy communities that will preserve their rights and cultures. A new Indian policy must articulate and establish ways in which Indian peoples can participate fully in and contribute to American society while retaining aboriginal rights. This problem must be solved before American Indians can be welcomed into American society in ways that Indian peoples can truly embrace.