THE NEW TRAIL OF TEARS: HOW WASHINGTON IS DESTROYING AMERICAN INDIANS
By Naomi Schaefer Riley
Encounter Books, $23.99, 232 pages
American Indians have the highest poverty rate of any racial group in the country.
Think of any other category that any group should dread leading in — rape, child abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, suicide — and if Indians are not the very worst off in it, they’re very close.
Gang activity is more prevalent among them than among blacks or Hispanics. Child abuse is double the national average. On reservations one in four girls and one in six boys are molested before reaching age 18. Among Indian boys aged 10-14 the leading cause of death is suicide. Indian women report being raped at a rate two-and-one-half times greater than the national average.
Heartbreakingly poor, long mired in massive unemployment, locked into a miserable education scheme virtually designed to kill chances for betterment, treated like children by federal bureaucrats, and subjected to laws, rules and regulations most other Americans would not believe exist and would never tolerate, the prospects for the future are dismal if you’re an Indian.
Thus is the situation in which most of America’s 3 million Indians find themselves. I knew it was bad, very bad — but never realized that it’s this bad. Not until I read “The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians” by Naomi Schaefer Riley.
But turn on the evening news or pick up a newspaper and on the rare occasions when there is any coverage about what ails America’s Indians and what’s being done about it, it’ll likely be about some politician or group demanding that Washington’s NFL football team, the Redskins, change its name.
The daily newspaper of a city that is home to a team that plays against the Redskins dramatically boasted that never again in its coverage will it refer to the Washington team by its name. Nor, rest assured, are they ever likely to mention that reliable polling shows that by overwhelming numbers Indians are fine with calling the Redskins the Redskins and even rather like the idea.
Also widely covered are those working to eliminate or change the name of Columbus Day, apparently having convinced themselves that if Christopher had never shown up, all would be well with the Indians.
Reports demonstrating how these and other such muddle-minded, super-sensitivity silliness has helped a single Indian in need of help have yet to appear.
A whole lot of people make themselves feel better pretending they’re helping America’s Indians by calling them “Native Americans,” claiming this promotes “diversity” and “inclusion.” Truth be told, it’s rare to find a member of any Indian tribe who is offended to be identified as an Indian and far rarer to find one who identifies himself as a “Native American.” They usually identify as a Navaho or a Mohawk or a Lakota or a Cherokee or whatever. American Indian tribes are simply too numerous to be able to all fit in some diversity listing, so they get stuck with being called natives, a label once deemed offensive to Indians.
It’s long past time to drop this unrelenting pursuit of the silly and the trivial and begin seriously and intelligently analyzing and trying to remedy what ails our American Indian countrymen. “The New Trail of Tears,” the work of an author of several highly regarded books and numerous opinion pieces for leading publications, shows the way.
Ms. Riley packs in all that’s gone wrong with Indian policy, subjects it to solid thoughtful analysis and ventures what might be tried to fix things, if only there were greater receptivity to improving matters. Her book is a devastating indictment of long-running, failed public policy.
She says it was anger that drove her to write this book, anger ignited by “a deep sense of sadness.” Reading the facts and intelligent insights that Ms. Riley shares from her extensive research and from spending two years visiting reservations, holding serious discussions with Indian leaders and other Indians of all ages and status, and from questioning federal officials and outside experts should make any American sad and angry.
“We have what amounts to a third-world country within our borders,” Ms. Riley reports, and it’s “a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with modern liberalism.”
This is an important book — an intelligent, heart-wrenching and alarming call to action that summons America to wake up, wise up and finally do the right thing and help this long-suffering and largely ignored part of our country.
If all the people who get so worked up about the name of Washington’s NFL football team or similar silliness would instead be sad about and get mad about the serious matters that Naomi Schaefer Riley explains so well in “The New Trail of Tears,” it would result in something actually useful and good for American Indians.
• Fred J. Eckert, a former Republican congressman from New York and former U.S. ambassador to Fiji, is author of “Hank Harrison for President” (Vandamere Press).