The economic heyday in America is over. The reigning philosophy that the free market system best serves the U.S. economy has reached a dismal conclusion, as lawmakers negotiate a historic, $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. While lavish offices in New York City’s financial district empty out and Capitol Hill fills up, the turmoil echoes around the world. The steep downturn matters greatly to American Indians and Alaska Natives. They are concerned that fledgling and stagnant reservation economies will remain so, and that slight gains in federal funding for Indian programs may disappear as both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama propose tax and spending cuts to boost economic recovery.
Lack of oversight and responsible regulation, combined with bad government, set the U.S. market on a path to ruin. For sure, American Indians know well the consequences of depending on any system that operates with little oversight and depends on a trickle-down effect to grow wealth. Tribal governments that are stable tend to reap more benefit from their economic development than those that are not. Bad governance, like that exhibited by the George W. Bush administration, helps a tiny few reap the lion’s share of riches, leaving most everyone else in the dark, figuratively and literally.
Slight gains in federal funding for Indian programs may disappear as both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama propose tax and spending cuts to boost economic recovery.
This economic disaster has been creeping toward the obvious precipice for the better part of this decade; but corporate profits have steadily increased during that time, rendering those in power oblivious to the conditions of most Americans. Nowhere is this widening economic disparity more glaring than in Indian country. The numbers are alarming. The most recent census data shows that a quarter of American Indians live in poverty, double the national rate of 12 percent. According to the same census information, rural Ziebach County on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota leads the United States in child poverty, the effects of which are lifelong.
It is a terrible shame on the United States that its leaders act so quickly to craft emergency legislation to address financial failures on Wall Street (and oversight at the Interior Department for its latest ethics scandal) while citizens suffering the consequences for bad government can’t seem to win despite years of testimony. As Elouise Cobell put it, “We’ve brought these problems out over and over. Nothing gets done. We expect Congress to do something. Look at how many reports we’ve had. All those reports were out there, but nobody did anything.”
Rising prices for basics like food, fuel and minimal health care will worsen the struggle for working-class and poor families. The record participation of American Indians in the coming presidential election has everything to do with these numbers, and the philosophy that those with little have the most to lose.