The Wall Street Journal's drumbeat: Is this the way termination started?

The Wall Street Journal, once again, has used its editorial pages to decree who the Indians are and are not, and what Congress should do about that.

In the year since 9/11, the newspaper has made a practice of attacking Indians. Forget about terrorists and global threats or healing old wounds and not opening new ones. The chickenhawks at the Journal want to start the Indian wars all over again.

The Journal's Sept. 3 screed says if their readers took gambling vacations in Indian country, chances are they 'didn't encounter many Indians.' The paper says this is 'just one of the embarrassments about U.S. Indian affairs that Congress is finally noticing.'

Just because the Journal finally snapped to the fact that we are a small population ? less than one percent of the U.S. total ? doesn't mean that Congress is as slow on the pick-up.

In 1900, there were only 250,000 American Indians. Even though we were the fastest growing segment of American society last century, we started this one with fewer than 2.5 million people. A handful of Native nations have populations between 100,000 and 400,000, but the rest of the 550 federally-recognized tribes have considerably fewer people.

The Journal derides the Augustine Band of Mission Indians near Los Angeles because it has a casino, but only eight citizens.

Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall the Journal calling for Monaco to be turned out of the United Nations because it is a small country. That tiny principality bordered by France and the Mediterranean Sea has no natural resources and makes its fortune from its Monte Carlo casino.

For the sake of comparison, more than a dozen American Indian nations have more people than Monaco's 31,000 and more land ? it has 482 acres and the average sized American Indian reservation is around 300,000 acres. To use a domestic example, the two largest Indian reservations ? Navajo and Tohono O'odham ? are the size of West Virginia and Connecticut.

The Journal editorial doesn't mention ? if it even knows what the world knows ? that none of the Indian nations have the population or territory we once had or should have now, and many have not yet recovered from the onslaught of foreign diseases and foreigners.

The miracle is that there are any Native Peoples alive today. This is especially true for Indians in California. There, the miners murdered countless Indian people and ran the rest off their own homelands.

When federal commissioners sent negotiated Indian treaties to Washington, the California legislature encouraged the miners in their bloody business and demanded that the Senate renege on the treaty promises. The Senate hid the treaties and never ratified them.

It should be no surprise to anyone that there are Native Peoples in California and elsewhere in the U.S. who are in recognition limbo and who are just beginning to rebuild populations and recover lands.

The Journal sees the matter from the vantage point of privilege and with a mean and envious attitude ? all noblesse and no oblige: 'The Augustine 'tribe,' if that's the right word, is only one of many to take advantage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to cash in on casino riches.'

The Journal falsely claims that the gaming law 'made it easier for federal authorities to recognize tribes, which now means any group with the right combination of Indian blood and political connections to convince the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.'

It continues on to a false conclusion: 'Congress is finally figuring out that this process has become a recipe for political abuse.'

The editorial points to two items that, taken separately or together, do not a congressional realization or action make ? the Senate Indian committee's Sept. 17 federal recognition hearing, which is a hearing, not a conclusion; and a proposed Indian study that was rejected in July by nearly two-thirds of the House, 273 representatives the Journal dismisses as 'pro-casino Members who feared an anti-gambling motive.'

The Journal declares that federal Indian policy 'has long been a failed exercise in social engineering,' without offering any insight into what it means by that.

The failures in federal Indian policy came about when miners got state and federal legislators to knock down any Indians they left standing.

Policy failures result from the Indian-haters and the do-gooders who think they have the answer for what constitutes an Indian nation or an Indian. What does the Journal think is too small of a population to be considered a tribe? One or 1,000 or 100,000 more than the citizens of the Augustine Band?

The only tribe the newspaper seems to endorse is the largest one, Navajo Nation, and only because it has not approved gambling. Nowhere does the Journal mention that this disapproval is linked to the Navajo cultural figure, Gambler, whose return is considered neither positive nor desirable. If the Navajos were to vote for gambling and could no longer be pitted against smaller tribes with casinos, it is unlikely that Navajo Nation would be touted in the Journal.

Connecticut officials led by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are marching to the same drumbeat. They don't want any more tribes in their state recognized by the federal government. Given the history of Indian gaming revenues having retired Connecticut's debt, this seems ungrateful and improvident, but may be only a competition control mechanism for the existing tribes. The state's U.S. senators are trying to get a nationwide moratorium on recognition in order to appear even-handed.

A slightly different drummer in Oklahoma, Rep. Wayne Pettigrew (R-Edmond), wants to set tribal citizenship criteria by forcing Indian nations to adopt a 50-percent Indian blood quantum requirement, irrespective of longstanding law that Indian and tribal determinations are political, not racial, and that citizenship is decided by nations, not by outsiders.

Pettigrew says he will drop the whole thing, if Indian nations in Oklahoma agree to give tobacco profits to the state.

Is this what happened in the years leading up to the first congressional acts in the 1950s that severed federal ties with certain tribes and Indians?

During the WWII years, there was a clamor for Indian resources ? Indian forests in Oregon and Wisconsin for logging and development; Indian land and water in New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Washington for building and testing atomic and nuclear weapons, and for storing the poison wastes. Indians who didn't sell or give up their property were viewed as un-American.

Members of Congress and the Interior secretary from the key states came up with plans to terminate federal services and cash out tribal resources. In 1947, the BIA gave Congress hit lists of tribes that could be terminated immediately, in the foreseeable future or not for a long time.

In the first category were small tribes and those whose traditional religions and languages were extinct or nearly so, and whose majority populations were largely intermarried with non-Indians and acculturated.

Tribes in the second category had medium-sized populations or those who were predominantly English-speaking and Christian. They were characterized as a boarding-school generation away from being ready for freedom from federal services.

The tribes in the third category were those with large land bases or populations, or those whose people were considered incorrigibly Indian and needed more time under the ward-guardian relationship to be weaned away from their traditional ways and places, extended families and nations.

In a fit of social engineering, Congress began terminating tribes from the first and second categories, along with all individual Ute people who were less than one-half Ute. It was a federal policy that failed miserably.

Did termination begin with greed for Indian resources and a drumbeat from opinion-makers and policy-makers that sounds like the one we are hearing today? You bet it did.