The observation of Martin Luthe King day this week should have given us all a reason to review the status of racism in America today. I believe that Dr. King would have been sad to see that, no matter how far things have progressed, there is still an astonishing degree of racism in this country. We hear about racism in terms of black and white but it goes far beyond that.
To prove the fact that black / white racism exists. I need only to cite the example of the buring of a school in Jena, Louisiana, an event that initiated the most widely publicized, abhorant recent acts of racial conflict. When the symbol of the noose came forward again the entire event became incinderary. The completed arson investigation revealed a remarkable act of racial cooperation because a group of six students, some white and some black, had torched the school to destroy evidence of their bad grades.
There are other acts of racism that do not make the news, that never attract the automatic publicity that a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton could bring to the events in Jena. Many of these arise from the manner in which the Government of the United States has, through the years, dealt with the Indians on whose land we were now building a new nation.
Beginning in 1887, the federal government of the United States instituted a land trust under which the govenment was to put aside the royalties received for the removal of resources from Indian lands. Since that time, there have been no payment and no accounting of the monies.
In 1996, a Blackfoot Indian named Elouise Cobell filed a class action law suit to force the government to account for the monies that were supposed to be held in trust. The plaintiffs claim that the value of the fund should be in the billions of dollars. Known now as Cobell vs. Kempthorne (Sec. of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne), this suit is still ongoing in federal court.
In 1999, Judge Labreth ruled that the Department of the Interior and Treasury had beached their trust obligation and ordered an accounting. The federal government is still stonewalling this case, asking for more time, claiming that a true accounting is impossible, doing every thing it can to prevent a final settlement.
Earlier this month, the Green Party gave recognition to the need for a just and equitable settlement of Cobell vs. Kempthorne. It will probably draw little media attention and will assuredly not be imitated by the major political parties. Doing the right thing is just not on their agenda.
This is not an unusual pattern of behavior for the government. In 1948 Congress of the United States passed the Central Valley Indian Lands Acquisition Act that reuqired payment to Indian tribes for any land taken and used in the construction of the Central Valley Project. The Winnemem Wintu tribe lost 90% of its land to the construction of Shasta Dam. The Bureau of Indian Affairs acted to decertify the Winnemem Wintu as a federally recognized tribe, thus denying them payment that they were due: like lands in compensation for the lands now under Shast Lake and payments for infrastructure that had been destroyed. Those payments have yet to be made.
One of the remedies to these issues was attempted during the Clinton Administration. He issued an Executive Order requiring all federal agencies to develop policy protocols for working with Indian tribes on a government-to-government basis. While this order still stands, it has not been carried out.
There is probably not a single environmental or energy issue that does not involved negotiation with the Indian tribal governments. Most of the large remaining SuperFund sites are on Indian lands.
The past history of our government is one of ignoring the rights of the Indian tribes and the current practice is that of an entrenched federal bureaucracy seeming to care more about protecting its budget from year to year than it does about fulfilling its leagal and treaty defined obligations. Government should at least be willing to follow to Clinton's executive order.
There is probably no clearer example of instituional racism than this. We can not afford to think of racism as just a black / white issue but need to expunge it forever from our government. We need to end the identity politics that draws attention to one segment of the population while hiding others. In short, we need to live up to the ideal on which this country was found, something that we have not yet learned to do.