US Indian Country: Common sense and a clear direction

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Feb 6 15:50:55 UTC 2009

Common sense and a clear direction
Story Published: Feb 6, 2009

Story Updated: Feb 5, 2009

The Obama administration has promised protection of sovereignty and a
package of programs. Indian policy is ripe for change and needs a
stronger, more accountable set of programs that yield measurable
results and improvements to communities and individuals living in
Indian country.

The United States measures and rates numerous indicators of economic
development, health, education, quality of life and environmental
well-being. Very few systematic statistics or measures of change or
improvement are taken for Indian people and communities. The most
systematic is the 10-year census counts, which include some statistics
on economic well-being, language use and other social statistics.
Furthermore, the few statistics that are collected for Indian country
are not used to gauge progress or examine shortcomings in existing
Indian policies and programs.

Federal Indian policy has not been accountable to the progress and
well-being of Indian communities. Policy makers do not go to Congress
and show the advances in education, economic development, language
recovery, protection of sovereignty, land returned to trust, increase
in community ceremonial activities or decline in suicide and crime

In the past, Indian policies were made to serve the interests of the
United States, and policies were often implemented without consent
from tribal communities. In the 21st century, Indians are citizens of
the U.S. and, at the same time, members of tribal communities. U.S.
tribal citizens have the right to an Indian policy that is
accountable, and need to see measurable improvements in the conditions
on Indian reservations. It only makes sense. Administrations should
and can be rated by the positive or negative effects their policies
have in a variety of measures of well-being in Indian country. Federal
administrations can be rated by their ability to facilitate retention
of language, language recovery and cultural renewal, as well as aiding
tribes' powers of self-government in conjunction with measures of
economic, health, political freedom, education and cultural
Administrations should and can be rated by the positive or negative
effects their policies have in a variety of measures of well-being in
Indian country.

American Indian and Alaska Native communities should not accept
substandard and ineffective policies and programs that do not
strengthen tribal well-being. Indian students should graduate from
high school with college preparation skills comparable to national
averages. Indian life expectancies and health indicators should be
comparable to national health rates. The economic health of Indian
reservations should be measured in Gross National Product and should
approach national averages of per capita income. Each Indian
reservation should have comparable economic opportunities and living
standards as those non-Indian communities living near them. Measures
and discussions of the strength of tribal sovereignty, cultural
community, community and cultural well-being, should be used to
evaluate change and progress. Negative indicators like consumption of
alcohol, crime rates and incidences of domestic violence, drug
addiction, suicide and extreme poverty need to be collected and
improvements discussed.

Programs, tribal community mobilization and Indian policy should aim
to eliminate or significantly decrease negative indicators and improve
positive indicators of tribal community well-being.

Indian policy in the 21st century needs to be directly accountable to
Indian people, and needs to demonstrate improvement in Indian country
that every U.S. citizen would require. Indian policies need greater
coordination and direction to address the critical social, economic
and cultural issues of Indian country. Administrations and federal
agencies should be held accountable for making tangible and cumulative
progress that is approved and welcomed by tribal communities as real
improvements. Federal agencies need to develop and implement
long-range strategies that enable tribal communities to take the lead
in achieving tribal economic, political and cultural goals. Indian
people and communities need to participate in the formation and
implementation of policy.

Federal Indian policy needs a clear direction on how it will assist in
achieving comparable national rates of economic, education, health and
cultural well-being, while promoting tribal and individual

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