Sixth Commentary on TNToT — Chapter 5: “Taking Indian Kids Away from Their Homes and Families”

This is the sixth full commentary on “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), a book written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author). The announcement post is here.

  • The first commentary, “Framed by a Friend,” is here.
  • The second commentary, “Turning Indian History against Indians,” is here.
  • The third commentary, “Indians are Saudi Arabia, Not Israel (Oh, and Crying Toddlers)” is here.
  • The fourth commentary, “”Indians as Unmotivated, Dependent Victims” is here.
  • Monte Mills’ guest commentary is here.
  • The fifth commentary: “Tearing Down American Indian Educators and Parents” is here.
  • Commentary on NSR’s DAPL column is here.

Chapter 5 is an outrage, with NSR implicitly advocating for the complete eradication of tribal communities because Indian tribes and the federal government have made them unlivable. This chapter deals with the Indian Child Welfare Act and Indian country justice. NSR continues to condemn Indian people for the same dog whistles — they’re lazy, ignorant, and dependent.

ICWA (or, Indian Country is Hell)

TNToT tees up a series of anti-ICWA advocates here, but never really makes the argument for why ICWA is bad. NSR’s goal here is to try to show that Indian country is an unlivable hellhole. NSR believes that “for too many children the best option is be raised elsewhere” [at 146]. TNToT quotes Elizabeth Morris (a vociferous anti-ICWA voicebox for the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare), who hopes that her own children won’t grow up in Minnesota Indian country [at 145]. Morris blames the federal government’s “subsidies” for her perception that Indian families are disintegrating. [at 150] For Morris, the government has “replace[d] the father in the home. . . .” [at 150] Further, “A man does need to feel needed. But the government took care of all that.” [at 150]

Morris is an evangelical Christian who firmly preaches the “drunken Indian” stereotype as fact. She also believes that Indian children should be raised by white families: “If they seriously wanted to protect children, they would have to send them off the rez and give them to white foster homes.” Morris is affiliated with the “Citizens Equal Rights Alliance,” a white nationalist group. These are NSR’s people, leading her down the primrose path to conclude: “[T]he reservation [is] no place for . . . children.” [at 167]

NSR also relies upon Mark Fiddler (the man who wants as many Indian children in foster care as possible: “If anything, there should be more Indian children put into foster care.”). Like Morris, Fiddler condemns Indian parents and reservation homes, referring to a “cycle of dysfunctional parenting.” [at 152] Fiddler also alleges: “And a disproportionately high number of Indian children are in danger every day.” [at 149-50] Foster care in off-reservation homes as a solution to the real problems in Indian child welfare is a really bad idea. I addressed these claims here:

Studies show what should be inherently understood—plucking children out of a community they know and putting them in stranger foster care is actively harmful to kids (there’s a reason Casey Family Programs is putting a billion dollars into reducing the number of kids in foster care). Eighty percent of child welfare removals are due to neglect. Our children do deserve better: better services, better wrap around care, a better understanding of the mental health issues and chemical dependency that plagues their parents. They don’t deserve to be taken from everything familiar—their neighborhood, schools, and extended family—because of system failures in our society.

Opposition to ICWA often comes from the private adoption market, as I wrote here:

Who benefits if ICWA tumbles? As usual, the answer can be found by following the money. Start with the beneficiaries of the $14 billion private adoption market. The adoption industry long has been a foe of ICWA. Conversely, Indian tribes do not profit from the termination of parents’ rights.

ICWA requires the state to seek an Indian family to adopt where possible, but private adoption agencies don’t get paid unless an adoption with a paying family goes through. In both direct placement adoptions and adoptions following failed reunifications with parents, money works against reunification with families and ICWA compliance. Some foster parents are encouraged by private agencies to become foster-to-adopt parents, altering the goal of foster care from reunification to termination for adoption. And being told they will be able to adopt their Indian foster children just as soon as the parents’ rights are terminated creates an adversarial relationship – not one that encourages the stated goal of reunification. In addition, fees charged by private and religious adoption agencies taint direct placement adoption petitions.

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Commentary on Schaefer Riley’s Column on the DAPL Case

Naomi Schaefer Riley offered commentary on the Dakota Access Pipeline matter in her regular column in the New York Post, “How the Standing Rock Sioux should have been able to stop that pipeline.” This column continues NSR’s mockery of Indian peoples’ economic and cultural interests expressed in The New Trail of Tears.

The lede says it all:

Quick quiz: What’s the best way to stop a company from building an oil pipeline on a piece of land you find valuable? Answer: Buy the land.

Assuming that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other affected tribes had the resources to do so, it probably wouldn’t have mattered — energy companies usually just confiscate the land under their delegated power of eminent domain, as Dakota Access has. Sure, property ownership helps, but in the end, the law is tipped in the pipeline companies’ favor.

NSR cites to the Mormons (huh?) in a strange fictional scenario, and the friends of Langston Hughes in a more realistic scenario, who could purchase cultural property that might otherwise be destroyed through development:

But the results haven’t been satisfactory to the tribe. So let’s imagine a different scenario — in which any group of people in the United States wanted to block development on a certain site. Perhaps it’s the Mormons who hear a skyscraper will be going up in the place where Joseph Smith saw the golden tablets.

Or take a real-life example: The home where the poet Langston Hughes once lived is up for sale. A group of people want to turn it into a museum. In order to do so they’re raising money to buy the building from its current owner.

A pipeline developer’s power of eminent domain would wipe all that out. Really, the only thing that could stop the exercise of that power by an energy or utility company is tribal trust property, the very thing NSR criticizes as “dead capital,” to borrow Hernando de Soto’s phrase. Inspired by de Soto, NSR recommends (in a massive non sequitur) confiscating tribal trust property (never mind the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause) and awarding that property to individual Indians (much like she does in TNToT). The US tried that when it was called allotment and then again when it was called termination — both failed miserably. Peru tried it, too, following de Soto’s recommendations. Was it successful? Not so much. Other countries too (quoting from a Slate article that described the failures):

Reports from Turkey, Mexico, South Africa, and Colombia suggest similar trends. “In Bogota’s self-help settlements,” writes Alan Gilbert, a London professor of geography who has done extensive research on land issues in Colombia and other parts of Latin America, “property titles seem to have brought neither a healthy housing market nor a regular supply of formal credit.”

Indian country is the subject of a lot of predatory lending and redlining — NSR’s ideas very likely would mean massive windfalls for businesses exploiting poor people (kinda like Donald Trump’s claim that profiting from poor people in the housing crisis is “good business” in last night’s debate). Something tells me NSR doesn’t have the best interests of Indian people in mind.



Fifth Commentary on TNToT — Chapter 4: “Tearing Down American Indian Educators and Parents”

This is the fifth full commentary on “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), a book written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author). The announcement post is here.

  • The first commentary, “Framed by a Friend,” is here.
  • The second commentary, “Turning Indian History against Indians,” is here.
  • The third commentary, “Indians are Saudi Arabia, Not Israel (Oh, and Crying Toddlers)” is here.
  • The fourth commentary, “”Indians as Unmotivated, Dependent Victims” is here.
  • Monte Mills’ guest commentary is here.

Chapter 4 of TNToT is about Indian education. NSR praises certain schools (St. Labre, Red Cloud, for example) because they are private or charter schools, and condemns public schools (Crazy Horse and Wounded Knee schools) and their teachers and administrators, especially Cecilia Fire Thunder.

Ben Chavis

NSR opens chapter 5 with Ben Chavis, a free market advocate, who formerly was the lead administrator of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, California. He was a conservative darling, written up in the National Review in 2009. He was often praised in those circles for these actions:

During his tenure at the chain from 2000 to 2012, he was criticized for lodging punishments designed for what he called in his book “extra embarrassment.” He once shaved the head of a misbehaving student caught repeatedly stealing; some unruly students were forced to wear humiliating signs. And Chavis often referred to black students as “darkies.”

Ultimately he was caught misappropriating $3.8 million in school funds and forced out. It wasn’t his physical and emotional abuse, or his overt bigotry, it was his money management (and some serious self-dealing). Sadly, this continues NSR’s trend of quoting critics of Indian people and tribal governments that have a history of significantly unethical behavior (see Keith Moore and Stacy Phelps in chapter 3 — NSR does mention Moore’s trouble with the feds on page 141-42, but not Phelps — must be rough to find out your sources are apparently crooks].

NSR points out that Chavis has relocated to North Carolina and started a new school in Robeson County, Lumbee Country. His new math camp was based on similar principles as the Oakland school. In a previous article praising this school, NSR asserted that “most” of students there were Lumbee [in the same article, NSR describes Chavis’ practice of putting campers in “detention” — I thought this was a camp!!!!]

NSR also continues a trend of quoting people who really do not like Indians. NSR reports Chavis “has been called racist by members of his own community.” [at 111] TNToT includes a quote from Chavis condemning “lazy ass Indians.” [at 111] NSR joins in by alleging that Lumbee parents “don’t care” about their children. [at 111] Chavis promised to start a new charter school like the one in Oakland, but that school was  blocked, according to recent news reports.

St. Labre Indian School

Ivan Small, who NSR introduced in Chapter 1 as angry at not being allowed to buy Indian lands as below-market value, is now introduced as the director of the St. Labre Indian School. [at 118] St. Labre is funded by private donations and not tied to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. A few years back, the school paid out $11 million to the Northern Cheyennes for “exploitation” of the poverty on the reservation (which created its own controversies).

TNToT lauds schools like St. Labre. Like probably way too many schools in and near Indian country and elsewhere, it kicks out the children with the most needs and problems, dumping those children on overtaxed and under-resourced public schools, then takes credit for the successes of the remaining students. NSR acknowledges the school’s “paternalistic policies” are what makes it successful. [at 117] No wonder Northern Cheyenne families don’t like Saint Labre. [at 118]

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Fourth Commentary on TNToT: Chapter 3 — “Indians as Unmotivated, Dependent Victims”

This is the fourth full commentary on “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author). The announcement post is here.

  • The first commentary, “Framed by a Friend,” is here.
  • The second commentary, “Turning Indian History against Indians,” is here.
  • The third commentary, “Indians are Saudi Arabia, Not Israel (Oh, and Crying Toddlers)” is here.

In line with the earlier chapters, NSR sets sights on specific reservations and tribes, in this chapter targeting Pine Ridge and the Rosebud, and yet more attacks directed at Seneca (a repeat player from Chapter 2).

Attacks on Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian People and Nations

This chapter delivers the lowest blows on Indian people in TNToT. This is classic blaming the victim, but with undertones of race-baiting. In the TNToT narrative, Indian people struggle and poor because of their own character flaws. TNToT, as usual, offers no tribal or reservation history whatsoever on either the Oglala Sioux Tribe or the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. That naturally would complicate NSR’s harshly judgmental conclusions.  

Here’s a bit of history, mostly from my reading of United States v. Sioux Tribe. The history is way, way more complicated. But I am trying more than NSR, who is actively ignoring or hiding the history.

The two reservations now known as Pine Ridge and the Rosebud are far smaller than the original Great Sioux Reservation, which covered all of the Dakotas and parts of other states. My sense is that the Black Hills were the keystone of the entire original reservation. It’s where there were resources in the winter and a gathering place for lots of tribes. The Rosebud and Pine Ridge cannot be considered in isolation without reference to the Black Hills. My guess would be that most of the federally recognized “Sioux”
tribes would rather live in and near the Black Hills than where they are in South Dakota, for example, if they had to choose. The US initially obliged itself in treaty language to protect that territory for the benefit of Indian people, but stupidly placed people like George Custer in charge of that mission, who promptly betrayed the tribes (and later died for it, one could say — remember that victory NSR called “Pyrrhic” on page 3?).

Of course, once the US started on the path toward greatly diminishing Indian land holdings, the Black Hills was the main target.  As far as I understand, there is no treaty consenting to the taking of the Black Hills by the US. There are statutes that confiscate the territory, ostensibly negotiated with tribal interests, but these are truly confiscation acts. Ultimately, the Supreme Court (and even Congress, which authorized the suit — it didn’t have to do so) held in 1980 that the taking of the Black Hills was compensable (over the objections of the Executive branch). The United States’ argued that the rancid meat the government provided on occasion to starving Indians in the winter was “just compensation.” [It’s maddening and tiresome that NSR advocates for property rights in Indian country — recall the “magic force” quote on page 15 — but simply will not acknowledge the property rights of Indians and tribes.] Still, the tribes refused the money in order to keep alive the claim to the actual land. Five years ago, the trust fund was at $1.3 Billion and likely far more now. This is far greater context, though ultimately just a snippet, of the history of the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations. TNToT wants nothing of that. Continue reading

Third Commentary on TNToT: Chapter 2 — “Indians are Saudi Arabia, Not Israel (Oh, and Crying Toddlers)”

This is the third full commentary on “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author). The announcement post is here.

  • The first commentary, “Framed by a Friend,” is here.
  • The second commentary, “Turning Indian History against Indians,” is here.

Chapter 2 of TNToT focuses on the Seneca Nation of Indians of New York and the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Chapter 2 is a continuation on the attacks on specific tribes for NSR’s perception that they have failed economically, though in the case of the Seneca Nation, which is pretty successful financially, TNToT resorts to name-calling to make the point. Chapter 2 also centers TNToT as part of the direct attack on Indian tribes and Indian people as having an inferior character generally, again using the tactic of quoting from other Indians to make these points. 

The Attack on the Seneca Nation of Indians

Seneca did not vote to commence gaming operations until 2002 (hey, they actually voted on this like a democracy), but they have been insanely successful in generating revenue since then, with casinos on the Allegheny Reservation, in Buffalo, and in Niagara. Recall in Chapter 1 how NSR criticizes Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and Indians in general for not trying hard enough to be rich?

Weirdly, NSR attacks the Seneca Nation and its people for being rich in the wrong way. TNToT calls gaming revenue per capita payments “annuities.” [at 48] And further argues that gaming payments to tribal citizens stunt their “entrepreneurial spirit”: “Truth be told, though, there’s not a lot of entrepreneurial spirit on the Alleghany [sic?] and neighboring Cattaraugus territories.” [at 48] More, NSR acknowledges that there are better opportunities for economic growth in western New York, with its proximity to Buffalo and Niagara, than there are in other areas of Indian country like the Dakotas [at 55]. So, the gist is, Seneca is rich, but not because of their “entrepreneurial spirit,” but because of their market location, and tribes in the Dakotas who do not enjoy a positive market location are just poor because of their similar lack of entrepreneurial spirit. Throughout TNToT, we see again and again that, for NSR, no Indians have “entrepreneurial spirit.” Remember NSR’s attack on a Northern Cheyenne official at page 21 for not caring enough about free enterprise? These allegations come again and again.

It gets worse. It turns out NSR is wrong about Indians’ character flaw of a lack of “entrepreneurial spirit” — in fact, as NSR points out, there’s a “loophole economy” at places like Seneca. [at 50, also identifying marijuana as the next stage of the loophole economy]. For NSR, the “loophole economy” appears to be everything Indian tribes and Indian people have done for the past half-century or more to make money is not a product of “entrepreneurial spirit” but instead is a product of a “loophole economy” that Indians (with their character flaws) have just accidentally stumbled upon. What a load of hooey!!!! Regardless of the billions generated for tribal government purposes by gaming, smokeshops, 8(a) corporations, sovereign lending (and apparently marijuana?!?!?), for NSR it’s just not “entrepreneurial spirit,” it’s just looking out for the “next sovereign advantage.” [at 60] Can’t wait to talk about this at the next ASU e-Commerce conference!

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Second Commentary on TNToT: Chapter 1 — “Turning Indian History against Indians”

This is the second full commentary on “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author). The first commentary, “Framed by a Friend,” is here. The announcement post is here.

Chapter 1 is a story about modern tribal economies, using the Crow Nation and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe as examples of failed tribes. But it also a story of the history of American Indian law and policy from the allotment era to the reorganization era, loosely the mid-19th century to 1934 or so. Students of American Indian history will see a lot of familiarity to the recitations of history in TNToT, but don’t be fooled: the conclusions drawn by NSR are geared toward the termination of the federal-tribal trust relationship and the confiscation and dispersal of tribal and Indian property rights.


TNToT’s Attack on the Crow Nation

TNToT’s description of the Apsaalooke Nation (and Northern Cheyenne, too) is truly unpleasant reading. In TNToT, the Crow Reservation is full of broken down cars and trucks, broken windows, children’s toys, lawn chairs, trash, and stray dogs. [at 6] The Indians there have a “dark sense of humor”; “They’ve seen it all before, and they don’t expect anything to get better.” [at 7] There’s “too little law enforcement.” [at 7]

TNToT alleges that the Crow Nation government is corrupt and/or incompetent. This is a frequent allegation by NSR about all tribal governments, usually comes from a disgruntled tribal or community member, and usually supported by no facts whatsoever. Here, NSR quotes a tribal leader as saying that the Crow Nation owes $3 million to HUD, and cannot construct new housing until HUD is repaid. This sounds weird. The tribe and HUD are in a protracted legal battle. Is that dispute the source of the statement? We sure don’t know from reading TNToT. All we get from NSR is implied corruption or incompetence. BTW, in FY 2016, HUD allocated $2.7 million to the tribe.

TNToT’s Attack on the Northern Cheyenne Tribe

NSR’s main source on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations is Ivan Small, the director of the St. Labre Indian School (though NSR doesn’t reveal that tidbit until chapter 4, when she praises Mr. Small and the school without referencing the controversial $11 million payment the school made to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe after being sued for “exploitation“). Small is quoted as criticizing Crow reservation residents as not respecting the maxim, “A man’s home is his castle.” [at 6]  He’s the first of several Indian people in the book NSR quotes as being angry at other Indians for a wide variety of character flaws. These informants usually are accusing Indians of flaws based on their status as Indian people — in other words, on their race. NSR brilliantly (and cynically) only quotes Indians to make these race-based commentaries about Indians; to quote non-Indians for the same propositions would be to quote racists. These Indians are usually described as slowly shaking their heads or muttering in frustration throughout TNToT (they must have very sore necks). Small is angry, but “mostly tired,” [at 6] and “past the point of anger.” [at 7]

NSR notes that there is a small casino there, asserting: “These gamblers are effectively taking money given to them by the tribal government for food or housing and giving it back to the tribe through its slot machines.” [at 6] It is my understanding that small casinos in small markets don’t make much dough. In my experience at Hoopa and at Grand Traverse Band (the Leelanau Sands casino), casinos might remain open to maintain some semblance of a job market at that location. Maybe the tribe makes little or no money from that casino, but it doesn’t lose money, and tribal employees are employed. And that can have important benefits — tribal members can establish an employment record at that casino, for one. Also, NSR’s reference to food or housing money “given” to tribal members is not supported by evidence. This kind of talk is just dog whistle politics.

Again, I’d love to hear more about the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations in light of NSR’s characterizations. Comments are welcome, or you can email me.

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First Commentary on TNToT: Introduction — “Framed by a Friend”

The Introduction to “The New Trail of Tears” (TNToT), written by Naomi Schaefer Riley (NSR or the author), frames the book as an attack on the United States’ Indian policies. For NSR, it the federal government’s poor governance in the area of Indian affairs that is behind the poor state of Indian peoples’ lives.

The trap for readers is that TNToT seems like a reform minded book with deep sympathy for Indian people, with the federal government as the bad guy. It’s not. At best, TNToT is paternalism, termination era- and allotment era-style liberalism. NSR characterizes the Indians that live in Indian country as poor, alcoholic, suicidal rapists. Or really, really sad people who are always slowly shaking their heads (classic Vanishing Indian stuff). 

At worst, this is paid propaganda for conservative organizations that tend to support the view that the federal government is a terrible thing. For NSR, Indians are either victims or perpetrators, and need to be saved or punished. Finally, and in my view most importantly, TNToT throughout ignores tribal and Indian property rights, which is ironic given that NSR will frequently refer to property rights as a justification for her conclusions.

Let’s begin with the Introduction.

TNToT Depends on the Myth that All Indian Nations are the Same

TNToT focuses on several specific Indian nations, but there are 567 federally recognized Indian tribes. Not all are the same. And yet on page viii, NSR writes that we have “what amounts to a third world country within our borders.” This might seem like nitpicking, but statements like these lead readers to believe that all Indian nations are the same. Readers likely know very little about any Indian nations. Some are very traditional and isolated. Some are very traditional and urban. Some have resources. Others do not. Each Indian nation has its own history, and each Indian nation has differences. There is no massive glob of federal/tribal land in the middle of the US somewhere that houses all Indian nations.

Throughout TNToT, NSR asserts terrible things about specific Indian tribes, and explicitly or implicitly applies those things to all tribes. Keep reading future posts and you’ll see.

TNToT Assumes that Federal Spending on Indian Affairs Continuously Rises 

TNToT paints a picture of federal Indian affairs policy as something as simple as federal money administered by federal bureaucrats on reservation lands. And that federal money grows and grows and grows. This is just false. TNToT ignores completely reports such as “A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs In Indian Country.” TNToT will often reference Obama era budget requests — budget requests are not budgets.

TNToT draws from anti-government commentaries and asserts there are 9000 BIA/BIE employees, 1 per every 111 Indians living on reservations [at ix]. Of course, that number is down considerably from the years before the beginning of the self-determination era — 16,000 — and has been falling ever since. I found that number in the first edition of Getches et al., Cases and Materials on Federal Indian Law at 125. This omission of fact is either sloppy reporting or selective reporting. Context matters.

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Announcing Fletcher Commentaries on “The New Trail of Tears”


Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing and commenting on a new book by Naomi Schaefer Riley, “The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians.” (link to Peter D’Errico’s review here). DO NOT READ THIS BOOK if you are a supporter of tribal interests and the future of Indian people, unless you’re interested in learning about a game plan to send 21st century Indian people on a new trail of tears. Because, to be blunt, that’s what this book is about.

There are five chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. I’ll have a short post on the introduction chapter later today, and will try to follow up on each chapter every other day or so.

This book focuses on a small number of Indian nations around the country — Crow Nation, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Seneca Nation of Indians, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Oglala Sioux Tribe, and Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The author has found a lot of extremely negative things to say about these tribes in particular, and implicitly is generalizing about all of Indian country when she does. If you’re a tribal member from these communities, or work with or for these communities, I’d love to hear your perspective (either on my commentaries or on the book itself). I know fairly little about these tribes (although I did work for the Seneca Nation appellate court from afar for a few years), and won’t have much to say about the details in the book. Feed me.

Additionally, I call upon anyone interviewed by Ms. Schaefer Riley to comment. I’m absolutely positive at least one of her interview subjects won’t be happy about how they are quoted or characterized. I know from personal experience how journalists can, even in good faith, misquote.