Co-Written by Richard Martin Oxman and Jerry Mander
“President Carter saturated sacred Indian lands with radiation, and Obama allowed that practice to continue. None of the local fifty-seven educators I interviewed knew about any of that in detail, and not a one had a clue as to what Obama’s father-figure Reagan said in his first inaugural address that compounded ignorance with ignorance about Native Americans.” — One of the authors’ home schooled youngsters, 2017
The Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946 was considered a liberal reform. At last a mechanism existed “to settle finally any and all legal, equitable, and moral obligations that the U.S. might owe to the Indians.” It sounded good, as many “liberal” efforts often do, but — as usual — there were some serious wrinkles. Those inclined to want to believe that the U.S. is essentially a good force in the world, of course, didn’t bother for half-a-century to even discuss the unconscionable creases in what unfolded. And to this day, still don’t do anything about the abomination.
First, the law provided only one method of grievance resolution: cash payment for lost lands. Instead of helping Indian nations to enforce their treaty rights, or to recover lands that had been encroached upon illegally, the law only allowed Indians to ask for money by asserting that their lands had been taken from them. Once money was awarded, Indian land title was permanently lost and the Indians were barred from seeking further redress. This messing with the minds and lands of Native Americans came courtesy of the Truman administration… not long after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Second, the law dictated that any tribal member could sue on behalf of the entire tribe. This claimant, or rather this claimant’s attorney, then became the sole representative of the tribe. As a result, those Indians who did not wish to file for the monetary awards, but did wish to fight for treaty rights or for confirmation of land titles, had no means to prevent the commission’s process. Imagine someone in your family being able to sell your house, or any property of communal interest and ownership, unilaterally. That family member’s attorney, actually.
There’s an old joke about why New York wound up with the lion’s share of lawyers, while New Jersey ended up with so many toxic dump sites. The answer is that New Jersey got to choose first.
But let’s get back to the third and, arguably, the worst element of the law. [Pause.] There was a stipulation that claims attorneys who represented Indians before the commission were awarded TEN PERCENT (!!!) of the settlement amount.
Now… what does that tell you? Well… in fact, that provision produced a new breed of attorney, one who got very rich by seeking out individual Indians willing to file claims. And in any society, as anyone knows who pays attention, there’s always someone willing to sell half-the-earth down the river for a free repeated rides to the nearest whorehouse.
The despicable provision also gave lawyers a compelling incentive to persuade Indian governments that the only viable course for their many grievances was to make cash claims.
The Indian nations were slow to recognize the limitations of the Claims Commission, or the true role of their claims attorneys. Just as it took quite a long time for the victims of our 1945 historic bombings of Japan to realize that future generations in their realm would be damned.
Often, Indian claimants began the claims processes thinking that they might gain confirmation of their aboriginal land title. Though claims attorneys knew this was impossible, they would sometimes fail to correct their clients’ erroneous assumptions, letting life-changing misconceptions stand at least until the process was too far along to reverse, and their legal fees were secured.
Eventually, the ripped-off Indians saw that instead of recovering land title, they were effectively giving up their claims for land, or selling lands they wanted to fight to keep. All of that amounted to life and death turns of events for Native Americans… contributing to everything from increasing incidents of alcoholism to record-breaking suicide numbers, as culturally, economically and spiritually the Indians were treated abominably. Although the two shouldn’t really be compared, I’d say — for emphasis here — depriving the Native Americans of their land (in any way whatsoever, let alone criminally, subsequent to other acts of genocide directed at them) could be considered tantamount to depriving the Japanese of their Emperor at the end of WWII. Which we didn’t do.
The 1946 Claims Commission finally revealed itself as yet another effective fraud upon the Indians.
Cut to a clean fifty years later, and we find President Bill Clinton giving his imprimatur to the Telegraphic Communications Act of 1996. And all you need to know about that abomination — for the purposes of this article — is that (among other horrors embedded in it) Bill’s legislative bill made it illegal to sue a cell tower company for environmental (read: health) reasons. Meaning, once the legislation was passed no citizen could initiate litigation against a cell tower company even if that citizen had definitive proof that a given tower had caused cancer or any other disease. We could no longer take such an abominable company to court. They were given a pass on that count. One could sue such a company if it could be proved that a given tower had brought down real estate values in a particular area, but causing death or debilitation — again, even if it could be proved! — was verboten.
For anyone who’s chosen to go down a different road than I’m trying to take here — the one that focuses on injustices that are part of the public record — I ask you to stay on track. To not go off on your misinformation about what electromagnetic pollution can and can’t do. To get straight on that count, please consult Dr. Martin Blank’s Overpowered; he’s a leading cell biologist who can’t get the time of day in academia (with his definitive take on cell towers, high tech gadgetry and the like), even though he’s from prestigious Columbia University.
But to get back on track. I’ve given you two Acts here. But the (governmental) play being put on — putting us all on) did not begin with Act I (titled Creation of the Claims Commission), for there were MANY abominations which were staged prior to that opening curtain… spelling curtains for untold millions, as you know. And between Act I and Act II (titled Bill’s Bull), the U.S. was full of fault respecting atrocities. Act III took place long ago. And the very unfair dramatic fare continues… way longer than the longest works of Eugene O’Neill. Strange Interlude(s), indeed.
The Claims Commission was essentially a mopping-up operation, established to clarify ambiguities about land ownership that still remained after a century of white assault. It simply asserted that the Indians had lost land that they often had not, and gave them money as a panacea. Usually these claims awards were dutifully hailed in the American press as if the U.S. was generously giving down-and-out Indians a gift, when actually the opposite was the case.
The U.S. Family is quite an entity. I mean The National Family. Somehow all this is tolerated on an ongoing basis. We at least owe it to ourselves to ask why. And to look into the role we play in the family. The root of the word family, by the way, does resonate with what is familiar to us. In a family, we can say, we know what to expect of its members.
Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerry Mander has written many great works; the one most germane to this piece is In the Absence of the Sacred.