]]]]]]]]]     AMERICAN INDIANS: SWEPT UNDER THE RUG     [[[[[[[[[[[[[
           In  South  Dakota, Oglala Sioux pay heavily   (12/27/1988)
                 for  their  artificial economy
        by Mia Dyson (nursing student, Columbia University)
          The Op-Ed page of The New York Times 12/26/88



             [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 07656GAED]

  This summer I worked in the field health nursing department on Pine
Ridge  Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Many people told me  that
the  reservation  system is the least the Government can do  for  the
Native  Americans.  No, it's the worst.  Native Americans  are  being
bought off.
  True,  any  attempt  at changing the system would  result  in  huge
struggles,  in an opening of old wounds, in the loss of  an  American
status  quo.  But struggles are preferable to stupor, pain to  ignor-
ance.  Native American culture is strong enough to withstand the rav-
ages  of change that would accompany the dismantling of the  reserva-
tions.
  The  reservation is home to 19,246 Oglala Sioux.  It is  a  rugged,
beautiful  land  devoid of trees and laced with  white  chalk  bluffs
tucked  among  grassy hills and wide lonely prairies.   Storms  glide
across the sky like huge ships, often thundering without spilling any
rain.
  The Sioux were herded onto Pine Ridge reservation in 1878 in  order
to  provide a  safer environment for the white American pioneers  who
wanted  to  settle in the area.  Decimination of  the  great  buffalo
herds  by  white  settlers  caused  widespread  famine  among  native
Americans,  and  this  made many Indians resigned  to  relocatiny  to
reservations.
  The  Sioux  had  a reputation among the Plains  tribes  for  fierce
nationalism  and  aggressiveness.  In the late  1800's,  they  fought
white  domination  heroically,  or  savagely,  depending  upon  one's
perspective.   But in the  end, the combined force  of  enemy  Indian
tribes  and the white military proved superior. In 1908,  the  famous
massacre  at  Wounded Knee on Pine Ridge reservation  was  the  final
major  armed encounter between whites and Native Americans  in  North
America.
  Subsequently,  the  Government implanted a welfare  system  in  the
infrastructure  of the reservation to meet the basic needs  of  these
people  who had lost much of their land.  Federal assistance  permits
Pine  Ridge to continue to function as a semi-autonomous society.   A
powerful  governing  body  of  Oglala Sioux  has  great  autonomy  in
managing the allocation of its public assistance.
  But  the  Oglala  Sioux pay dearly for  their  artificial  economy.
Because the governing tribal bodies want to keep Western influence at
a minimum, there is little commercial activity.  The result is an un-
employment rate pushing 75 per cent.
  The Oglala Sioux have responded to large-scale public assistance by
accepting  a  very low, but guaranteed, level of subsistence  and  by
largely  losing their initiative.  Why work when you can  earn  [sic]
more on welfare?
  Why does this system exist in the middle of one of the most  right-
wing,  capitalist  countries?   I  do not accept  as  an  answer  the
shameful  past behavior of the white Government.  Rather, the  answer
lies in political inertia.
  The  system is fairly invisible, has little effect on our  interna-
tional  reputation and doesn't demand much energy or  attention  from
policy  makers.   Just imagine the upheaval if  anyone  attempted  to
change  the  system.  Native Americans would resist a loss  of  their
rights as reservation dwellers, and many non-Indians would view  this
as another act of white domination over, and interference in,  Native
American society.  Yet maintaining fragmented, destitute cultures  as
viable  semi-autonomous  societies freezes Native Americans  into  an
unchanging tableau.
  Societies  have  a life span.  They are born, they  flourish,  they
decline and they evolve into aother societies.  It is sad enough that
American  society seems to be in a decline.  But sadder still is  the
fact that the Native Americans are living on a political  respirator.
The  few  seeds  for growth or for change are often  washed  away  in
floods of alcoholism.
  Certain  traditions, beliefs and mores have been salvaged and  con-
tinue to be passed down the generations.  But these historical  roots
have become cultural ornaments and rarely provide purpose and meaning
to individuals' lives.  Although the continued support of the  reser-
vation system has not prevented Western influence from seeping in and
displacing  this aspect of Native American culture, it  has  isolated
the  Indian  people  from  participation  in  mainstream  life.   Our
pluralistic  society,  enriched by so many peoples and  cultures,  is
barely influenced by Native American philosophies and traditions.
  Torn screen doors, flies droning over food encrusted dishes,  naked
babies crawling over grimy linoleum floors -- this is often the first
impression  of  family  life that greets the  field  nurses  on  home
visits.   Yet amid the lethargy and low morale, there is  still  room
for  statements of identity.  During pow-wow season, the  women  work
with  great  energy to create beautiful costumes for their  sons  and
daughters  to dance in.  Families are defined in much  greater  units
than  our  own nuclear families, and loyalties extend  through  these
enlarged circles.  These are cultural characteristics that we harried
and high-tech non-indians would benefit from being exposed to.
  I have often heard Indians at Pine Ridge say they wanted to be left
alone.   While they grant responsibility for satisfying  thier  basic
needs to the Government, and yet remain separate from its  productive
mechanism [sic], the Sioux are not being left alone.  They are  being
swept under the carpet.
  Let's  not  romanticize the Indians as an episode in  our  colorful
past,  but  rather  let us recognize that they are a  people  of  the
1980's as they were a people of the 1880's.  Then, and now, they  are
America's hidden shame.  History cannot be rewritten, but it need not
cripple the future.

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