The all too early death of Elouise Cobell, as well as the successes she scored so close to the end of her life, provide an opening into this conversation. It’s a question that many people ask not really expecting an answer because they think they already know it – it’s because they suffered so much, because white people feel guilty, it’s because society is stuck in historical events.
These answers provide useful reinforcement of for a variety of previously held political philosophies, but are particularly great for the John Stossel-variety condemners of ‘freeloading’. Of course, they aren’t correct. The money Elouise Cobell was fighting for, and many of the other benefits provided to American Indians, are theirs not because white people are so generous or because Indians somehow deserve it because they suffered so much. American Indian advocates like Cobell aren’t appealing to white guilt or some idea of higher justice – rather, they asking for what was promised them – and not campaign promises, but written agreements and treaties.
And frankly, the government is getting off easy in Cobell vs Salazar – it doesn’t require a full accounting, and it stops far short of how much money might be required by one. And either way, giving people money you earn with their assets is hardly charity or guilt money. As to the few remaining treaty rights granted to the tribes, they are a mere fraction of what is owed by the original treaties.
A country whose foundation was a treaty, whose most populous state was won as the result of a treaty, whose current place as the dominant power in the world was secured by a variety of treaties, and that has enlisted a Treaty Organization to take over its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan and Libya shouldn’t need to ask why nation’s with whom it has signed treaties get ‘special treatment.’