Entitlement or Obligation?

I’ve been reading a lot about all of the places where budget cuts under the present administration are threatening services in Indian country. Rightly or wrongly, we hired our current president to straighten out the national economy and lead us to a better standard of living. So, it follows that there will be places where unnecessary expenditures will be trimmed away. The caveat however, as always, will be: unnecessary from who’s perspective.

There is always a lot of talk about the entitlement mentality; that somehow a segment of the population has gotten the idea that the government should be responsible for their sustenance. And I fear that Indian country is being lumped into that perception.

It certainly is a common public perception that Native Americans are beneficiaries of the state. The federally-recognized Natives are quick to accuse anyone who wants to find a place in their community of wanting a piece of their pie; that is also the crux of their opposition to any new tribal entities achieving Federal recognition. And I have heard wannabee individuals express an interest in gaining access to funding that has been set aside for Native individuals and groups; they want to be included in those entitlements.

The problem is, however, that many programs that are being labeled as entitlements are not. Social Security is not an entitlement; workers pay into the program and receive their investment back at a later time. Yet, somehow, we are hearing the sentiment that it is a government handout that needs to be curtailed. Similar observations are often made regarding the Indian Health Services and other services that are made available to Indian country.

What seems to be forgotten now is the relationship between the United States and Indian country. Each tribe remains a sovereign nation. The services offered to those nations are treaty obligations; they are foreign aid.

I have an acquaintance who is one of the chiefs of the Onondaga nation. I was told a story by a mutual acquaintance of his accompanying the chief to Washington DC to expedite some services for his nation. After being shuffled around throughout the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he finally got some satisfaction when he suggested that if the government did not wish to honor its obligations, they should give the Onondaga their land back!

I am afraid that the government is trying to place their treaty obligations to Indian country in the wrong budget column. They are not unnecessary, nor are they expendable.