The New York Times had a long article describing how the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska (population 12) sells millions (yes, millions!) of alcoholic beverages every year because the town is just over the border from the local Indian reservation, where alcohol is banned. (Forgive me for calling them American Indians, but as nearly all the people reading this are “Native Americans,” it’s a much more descriptive and specific term.)
The situation is so bad that in Whiteclay, you can find dozens of American Indians lying comatose on the streets, drunk out of their minds, like a scene out of The Walking Dead.
Particularly in the warmer months, Native Americans can be seen openly drinking beer in town, often passed out on the ground, disheveled and ill. Many who come to Whiteclay from the reservation spend the night sleeping on mattresses in vacant lots or fields.
Even under the chill of winter, people huddle outside the liquor stores, silver beer cans poking from coat pockets. The street, busy with traffic from customers, is littered with empty bottles and scraps of discarded clothing.
Pine Ridge, one of the nation’s largest Indian reservations, is a catalog of social ills: Unemployment exceeds 80 percent, poverty affects more than 90 percent of those living on the reservation and alcoholism is rampant.
The story is similar on many American Indian reservations and has been caused by the federal government.
The government is the legal owner of all land and assets in Indian Country and is required to manage them for the benefit of Indians. But because Indians do not generally own their land or homes on reservations, they cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country.
All development projects on Indian land must be reviewed and authorized by the government, a process that is notoriously slow and burdensome. On Indian lands, companies must go through at least four federal agencies and 49 steps to acquire a permit for energy development. Off reservation, it takes only four steps. This bureaucracy prevents tribes from capitalizing on their resources.
It’s not uncommon for years to pass before the necessary approvals are acquired to begin energy development on Indian lands – a process that takes only a few months on private lands. At any time, an agency may demand more information or shut down development. Simply completing a title search can cause delays. Indians have waited six years to receive title search reports that other Americans can get in just a few days.
Reservations contain valuable natural resources worth nearly $1.5 trillion, according to a recent estimate. But the vast majority of these resources remain undeveloped because the federal government gets in the way.
That’s why I think Indians would benefit if their reservations were dissolved and they were governed like any other municipality. Removing a thick layer of government restrictions could unleash the free market, create jobs for American Indians, lift them out of poverty, and radically reduce the number who lie drunk in the middle of the street during the day.
The idea of “reservations” may have made sense 150 years ago, but by now we are all Americans, and the idea of separate “reservations” for different kinds of Americans smacks of paternalism and racism.
We should do away with reservations. And if liberals object, I would give the Indians back Manhattan as a form of reparation.
Ed Straker is the senior writer at NewsMachete.com.