THE NEW TRAIL OF TEARS
How Washington is Destroying American Indians
By: Naomi Schaefer Riley
Published: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Encounter Books
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a Harvard graduate in English and Government and a regular columnist for the New York Post where her writings focus on higher education, religion, philanthropy, and culture. Her newest book looks at the problems facing American Indians and the reform necessary to stop the decline of their culture. The title of the book immediately puts the reader into blaming mode, making it appear that government failures are the reason behind the increased crime, poverty, and alcoholism found in many of the tribes. But, can the government really be at fault? Schaefer Riley describes the fallout of too much government control, too much dependence on tribal annuities, and failures in the education systems in her thorough research of American and Canadian Indian tribes and reservations.
Living near a reservation and seeing first hand the level of poverty and splintering families, I found myself nodding along to many of the author’s points. Many tribes have become so dependent on the government and tribal handouts from casinos and programs that there is no desire to be educated or to work. Those that want to escape the stronghold of the tribe can’t because they are limited by tribal rules regarding loans and property ownership. The government bureaucracy is such that the help provided has become a hindrance, yet the political structure is so deep that changing the system would be nearly impossible.
Schaefer Riley has interviewed tribal leaders in Montana, New York, and South Dakota with some finding ways to get around the laws and others feeling defeated and have given up. I found the most frustrating part of her research to be their educational system. To me, everything depends on education and without it, no one can succeed. My nephew is a high school English teacher on a Minnesota reservation and has talked frequently about the difficulties teaching his students. Many have to walk miles to get to school and in the winter, under feet of snow, students just won’t show up for days, even weeks. Attendance is spotty due to severe poverty and violence in the home. School may be the only place they can get a meal that day and truly feel safe, yet the obstacles to getting there are too many. How can you make reading and writing important when their parents’ only importance is focused on their next drink or how soon the next annuity check is coming?
Reform is needed in many areas including the allowance of land ownership, education, and effective law enforcement. Some reservations, like ones in Northern New York, have found ways to succeed by circumnavigating the government and creating their own businesses and schools. Finding ways for the rest of the reservations across the country to follow suit will be difficult, but necessary to save the future generations of American Indians from the prevalence of suicide, poverty, crime, and drugs. The personal stories shared in this book are quite depressing and frustrating. It’s hard for the reader to determine who to express anger to, the Bureau of Indian Affairs with its billion dollar budget and thousands of employees or the local leaders who are turning a blind eye to the needy families right in front of them. I hoping this book makes it way into the right hands to start the conversations that need to be had.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer whose work focuses on higher education, religion, philanthropy, and culture. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in English and Government. She lives in the suburbs of New York with her husband, Jason, and their three children. For more, check out her website, HERE.
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