Fox News Commentator Shows Ignorance About American Indian Issues

Fox News contributor John Stossel said last week no group has had more help than American Indians. On a rant on Fox & Friends, he decried the concept of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, wondering why there was no Bureau of Irish Affairs or other group. He then attributes this to the fact that America stole their land and violated many treaties, or is bound by those that it has honored.

American Indians are treated differently for a number of reasons. First and foremost, American Indians have a legal status with the United States government, unlike, say Irish Americans, because: 1. American Indians were not immigrants, but were and are members of sovereign nations of the United States; 2. The United States entered into treaty agreements with the American Indians as they would have sovereign nations; unlike Irish immigrants; and 3. This legal relationship is codified in the U.S. Constitution, which spells out Congress’ responsibilities towards Native peoples. As part of that relationship, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was created to maintain the federal government to government relationship with Indian tribes that are federally recognized.

The impetus for Stossel’s outburst? He learned that a Bureau of Indian Affairs employee is being paid a salary of $115,000 per year, something that he took as justification to decry the reason for the department’s existence (never mind that employees in Congress or other federal agencies are earning similar wages), as well as government assistance for Indians in general. He lambasted reservation systems, saying without individual property ownership no one would “improve the land” (clearly not understanding that individual property ownership is anathema to Native principles) and saying that Indians would do better if the government would just butt out—in other words, walk away from their legal obligations under treaties and the U.S. Constitution, as they have with regard with American Indians again and again.

Unfortunately for Stossel and others that share his poorly-informed opinion, it’s a little too late for the government to butt out. It has stolen million of acres of land, and, as determined under the Cobell case, cheated American Indians out of billions of dollars in lease payments for lands (and destroyed documents in attempts to evade accounting for that). The federal government has a legal duty to American Indians.

It’s too bad people like Stossel don’t do their homework before they speak. These kinds of outbursts merely foment more ill will without enabling discourse that can lead to healthy solutions for all.

To see the comment on video, go to http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/03/stossel_no_group_has_had_more_govt_help_than_ameri_1.php

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