Let Indians Control Indian Lands
Monday, December 13, 1999; Page A24

The Dec. 7 news story "U.S. Held Liable for Lost Indian Papers" discussed another in a long series of shameful actions taken by the government in the legal battle over the Bureau of Indian Affairs' management of Indian trusts. But while the article is important in teaching people about the bureau's mismanagement of the trusts, it fails to point out the real tragedy: that the government, rather than local Indian tribes, has control over Indian lands and resources.
Under the Dawes Act of 1887 the U.S. government views Indians as "incompetent." This racist law is still in effect.
Under the authority of the act, as "guardian" of Indian lands, the Department of the Interior can control everything from what crops are planted, to how many trees are harvested, to how much coal is mined on reservations. The act's ostensible objective was to privatize Indian lands so that Indian owners could become good farmers. In reality, though, the act opened up millions of acres of reservation lands to homesteading by white settlers. To stop this mass transfer from Indians, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 locked more than 50 million acres of Indian lands into permanent trust status.
While the current lawsuit to compensate Indians for the government's mismanagement of their assets is important, it is more important that American Indians be given the same freedom to control their land and resources that other Americans enjoy.
Bozeman, Mont.
Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company


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