Naomi Schaefer Riley spent two years researching The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians. She traveled the country to visit the various reservations belonging to Native American tribes, and she met with economists, educators, and government officials. Schaefer was searching for ways to explain the shocking statistics:
-Why Native Americans have the highest rates of poverty of any racial group;
-Why suicide is the leading cause of death among Indian men;
-Why the rape statistics involving native women are more than twice the national average;
-Why gang violence affects American Indian youth more than any other group.
In the book, Riley takes readers through many of her visits and conversations. She concludes that as a country we need to establish a new system for Native Americans---one that allows them to honor their heritage while still fully reaping the benefits of what land they still possess.
She writes that this must be accomplished without sacrificing the rights due them as American citizens. Right now, education, security, housing, and business opportunities are lacking to those who live on their tribes' reservations.
"The economic devastation in American Indian communities is not simply as a result of their history as victims of forced assimilation, war, and mass murder; it's a result of the federal government's current policies, and particularly its restrictions on Natives' property rights," she writes.
Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of The New Trail of Tears, is a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor. She has also authored other books on several different topics.
How the Book Came To Be
In the book's introduction, Riley explains that her curiosity about the subject was piqued by her second-grader's homework assignment that made it seem as though Native Americans were nothing more than a historic footnote to our history.
In her book, Riley makes it clear that white apologies for what settlers did to the Native American tribes is no longer meaningful, nor is bickering over sports team names. Education and an opportunity for entrepreneurial investment by Native Americans are topics that are not discussed often enough.
Her findings for the root of the problems center on the original methods under which Indian reservations were organized and ownership held: Some of the land that constitutes reservations is held in trust for the tribe by the U.S. government. Most of it, however, is owned communally by the tribe. As a result of this structure, individual tribe members own little of their own.
While some of the reservations have done well in the casino business, and a few found themselves on oil-rich land, the distributed income does not compensate for the plight in which Native Americans find themselves. Without owning anything individually, it is difficult for them to get a mortgage or borrow against their property to start their own business.
She describes many of the reservations she visits as small "third world countries in the middle of the wealthiest and most free nation in the world."
She also documents that the government entities responsible for managing the relations with Indian tribes (primarily the Bureau of Indian Affairs) has ballooned over the years, and the increase in spending and staffing has not improved the lot of the Native American. Riley particularly cites the mismanaged money for education. About $850 million goes to the Bureau of Indian Education. However, because the schools are known to be of poor quality despite the money lavished on them, many of the children are already enrolled elsewhere for school.
Some Effort by Congress
In an article for the Wall Street Journal ("The Loophole Economy Is No Jackpot for Indians," 1-27-2016), Riley updates the circumstances. She reports that some members of Congress have taken up the need for reform. The Tribal Recognition Act, introduced in October of 2015, would permit Congress to rein in the BIA. The Native American Energy Act (passed last October by the House and awaiting a vote in the Senate) may successfully facilitate more natural-resource development.
In sum, Riley writes: The [failed policies] are the result of decades of politicians and bureaucrats showering a victimized people with money and cultural sensitivity instead of what they truly need -- the education, the legal protections and the autonomy to improve their own situation."
The book is a thought-provoking work that brings light to a subject that deserves our national attention. For more information on the book, visit Naomi Riley's website for the book
Kate Kelly's work can be found at America Comes Alive.