When ever privileged male voters in the United States believe their status and privileges are about to be challenged, they turn on the economically weakest with a vengeance. “Wealth has its privileges” and that means manipulating government to serve the wealthy and the privileged. Government becomes the bogeyman that must be paired down, that must be weakened if government becomes only slightly favorable to the huge majority that pay the taxes and spend their modest earnings on products like oil, food, water, and houses to enrich the already wealthy. (We have to remember that the wealth that pays for gated private residences, yachts, private schools, and private jet planes comes from the vast majority of ordinary work-a-day earners in the form of a daily “tax for goods and serves.”) The rage against government among the privileged so popular in the United States (and increasingly in other countries too) has accelerated to “turn back welfare programs,” eliminate federal support for education, privatize social security, reverse recently enacted health reform laws and financial reform laws that protect the health and wallets of ordinary citizens.
What has all of this to do with the re-emergence of an Anti-Indian Movement (originally so vigorously launched in the middle 1970s and promoted in the 1980s) that rears its head every time there is an economic downturn? In the 1970s, Indian communities were targeted by extremist political organizers calling for the elimination of treaties between Indian tribes and the United States. Organizers of campaigns like Protect Americans’ Rights and Resources (PARR), United Property Owners of Washington (UPOW), Interstate Congress for Equal Rights and Responsibilities (ICERR) and Citizen’s Equal Rights Alliance offered slogans like, “Enough is Enough,” or “Equal Rights and Responsibilities,” claiming that Indians are “super citizens” and “receiving special benefits from the federal government.”
I wrote about this Movement in the 1980s and 1990s in a monograph entitled, “Anti-Indian Movement on the Tribal Frontier” after a multi-year study. Bigoted extremism and “wealthy exceptionalism” are rearing their ugly heads again and Indian people will once again become targets. In the last three years, African Americans, Hispanic immigrants, anyone of eastern Mediterranean heritage, and the poor, have been the targets of bigotry spewing from the mouths of the well-off. Just as in the past, American Indian communities with land and resources will become the target of malicious federal legislation aimed at denying treaty commitments of assistance and protection.
In the Washington States’ 7th congressional district (the most liberal district in the state) a bigoted extremist was elected in the 1980s serving one term. In that two-year stint, the Congress saw bill after bill introduced to terminate treaties, cut budgets, and eliminate treaty protections guaranteed under law. A former State Attorney General won a senate seat to advance the same anti-Indian agenda.
Indian leaders worked furiously to beat back legislative and administrative efforts to deny their people the rights and protections long guaranteed as the price for the United States taking of lands, resources and wealth over more than two hundred years.
The Tea Party, as it is called, is funded by wealthy corporate leaders to mobilize the fear and anger of a small group (18%) of US voters. This pattern repeats what occurred in the 1970s, 80s and early 1990s. The Tea Party has the same roots as the Anti-Indian Movement, motivated by the same worry among the wealth and privileged that they will lose what they believe is theirs. In the 80s federal support to American Indian communities was slashed by as much as 80% forcing Indians to find ways to support their health, education, and infrastructure (now you know why casinos became so important to Indian tribes).
The global economic collapse has hurt the vast majority of people including American Indian peoples–forcing millions into poverty that they only recently rose above. In such a climate, the most common public response is to find a “scapegoat.” Blaming a class, ethnic or social group for economic insecurity has historically produced horrific dislocation and violence and, yes, genocide. (See Cambodia’s mass murder of more than 1 million people, Sudan treatment of peoples in the Darfur area, Germany and its treatment of Jewish people, homosexuals, Polish people.) In the United States bigotry toward ethnic groups, language groups, and the poor in periods of economic uncertainty or collapse has repeatedly scared its history.
France’s President Sarkosy has chosen to practice his own bigotry by promoting the removal of Roma from French soil and setting in motion a policy to make illegal the wearing of the Burka by Islamic women.
American Indian people are likely to be targeted in public ways again by the wealthy and the privileged inciting an Anti-Indian Movement again. American Indian leaders must be prepared to push back and expose the bigotry that threatens them again.