Few things aggravate me more than the mess created by the U.S. government’s BIA mismanagement and in my opinion how it perpetuates social dysfunction among native peoples.
Well good news one of my favorite writers Naomi Schaefer Riley clearly explains the issue and solution in this article:
Uncle Sam’s Oil Slick
Quick quiz: What’s the best way to stop a company from building an oil pipeline on a piece of land you find valuable? Answer: Buy the land.
After staging protests over the last several weeks, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has managed to temporarily halt the construction of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, which would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois, doesn’t actually go through the reservation land of the tribe, but tribe leaders say it’s on land that has cultural significance to them.
They also worry that if the pipeline leaks, it’ll affect their water supply. Finally, they say, it’s land that was taken from them in the 19th century.
Fair enough. But by that logic, of course, American Indians could object to the development of most any part of North America.
It’s not as if the builders of the pipeline or the feds have completely ignored the Sioux’s complaints. The pipeline has already been rerouted to avoid certain cultural sites, and the tribe is now getting its water from a different source farther away from the pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers held 389 meetings with 55 tribes about the project and met with the Standing Rock Sioux a dozen times.
But the results haven’t been satisfactory to the tribe. So let’s imagine a different scenario — in which any group of people in the United States wanted to block development on a certain site. Perhaps it’s the Mormons who hear a skyscraper will be going up in the place where Joseph Smith saw the golden tablets.
Or take a real-life example: The home where the poet Langston Hughes once lived is up for sale. A group of people want to turn it into a museum. In order to do so they’re raising money to buy the building from its current owner.
Seems like a reasonable enough plan — until you realize that the Standing Rock Sioux are among the most impoverished American Indians, and American Indians are the most impoverished racial group in the country. According to IndianCountryToday, the unemployment rate at Standing Rock is 86 percent. Many people have no running water or electricity.
Why is life like this at Standing Rock? Ironically, the Sioux there aren’t in a position to buy land adjacent to the reservation because they don’t actually own the reservation land. Reservation residents have no property rights. Their land is held “in trust” by the federal government.
They can’t buy homes because they can’t get mortgages. They can’t get loans to start small businesses because they don’t really own their land. They can’t buy and sell land among themselves without the permission of bureaucrats in Washington. What they have is what economist Hernando de Soto calls “dead capital.”
If the federal government gave them the reservation land outright and allowed them to actually develop a private sector there, they might have some money. Indeed, there are plenty of farmers and ranchers living just off the reservation who make decent livings. When the oil company wanted to build the pipeline, it came to them and asked permission. They have decided to allow the pipeline to go under the land they own. They’ve been paid thousands of dollars to do so.
The Standing Rock Sioux, though, have no recourse. They don’t own the land, and they don’t have the money to buy it. Some tribes have been able to amass funds that could help them fight for their lands in court.
The leadership of the Senecas, which have made $1 billion off their gaming operation, say they’d never again be subject to the treatment they received in the 1960s when the Kinzua Dam was built. In the process, 10,000 acres of the Allegany territory were condemned, and more than 700 Senecas were displaced. As one of the leaders told me, “That would not happen today. If someone said they wanted to put our territory under water today, there would be so many lawyers and congressmen here.”
It’s true that in America, just as everywhere else, money talks. But so do property rights. Even taking into account the Supreme Court’s terrible Kelo decision (allowing the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another in the name of economic growth), American citizens can still reasonably expect that their rights as property owners will be protected. But memo to Uncle Sam: The Sioux can’t exercise property rights without property.