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Myths About Indians

Myths

Myths
All Indians are alike.
“Our” Indians are unique.
Indian Tribes are Conquered Nations.
Break a treaty/end a treaty.
The U.S. treats tribes “special” because they are a racial minority
Indians are on the “government dole"
Indians don’t pay taxes
Indian tribes are rich
Indian economic success hurts non Indians

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a myth as a fiction or half truth that appeals to the mind of human beings and expresses some deep, commonly felt emotions. Many myths have developed around American Indians that have contributed to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes. They have also contributed negatively to the economies of both Native communities and the state or region in which they are located. Here are some of the most common.

All Indians are alike.
Many non-Indians view Indians or Native Americans as a single group. This is certainly not accurate. There are three very distinct ethnic groups among Native Americans—American Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos. The Aleuts and Eskimos are in Alaska, along with three Indian tribes. Of the 560 federally-recognized tribes, 333 are in the “lower 48 states” and 227 are in Alaska. While there were over 600 distinct native languages at the time of Columbus, today only 150 extant native languages are spoken in tribal communities.

The difference among the tribes is underscored by their ethnocentric focus. Often the name a tribe gives to itself can be translated as “The People” or “the Principal People.” This ethnocentricity is probably why tribes still exist today. Other differences include:
• Religion
• Type and structure of Government
• Size and nature of land base & natural resources
• Unique history
• Unique political relationship with the U.S. Government
• Art forms and culture

Kirke Kickingbird

“Our” Indians are unique.
The flip side of the "all Indians are alike" myth is the notion that Indians in a certain state or region are “unique” or “different” from Native Americans generally. This phrase typically comes from politicians, bureaucrats and economic interests who prefer not to accept the tenets of American Indian law, particularly with regard to the authority of tribal governments. People from states like California, Oklahoma, and the northern tier states from the Dakotas to Washington, are most likely to claim this. These states, not coincidentally, have been litigious against Indians in the past. In some areas “anti-Indian” groups have promoted the notion that Indians should be treated the same as all Americans. On one hand, this sounds right to democratic ears. Most often, however, it really is a disguised attempt to remove Indians’ property rights and special relationship to the U.S. government. In areas, such as Oklahoma, people will say, “Our Indians are different because we don’t have ‘reservations’”. Yet, because of the allotment policy promoted in the last decades of the 19th century, which divided Indian lands into parcels for adult males and declared all remaining lands “surplus,” nearly all Indian reservations have been “allotted.” See discussion article about “Indian Country.” Like nationalities throughout the world, individual Indian nations (including Alaska Native communities) are distinct while sharing many similarities with each other.
Kirke Kickingbird

Indians are on the “government dole"
This myth generates from several sources. First, many people object to the “special” services and programs the federal government provides to Indian tribes and their citizens. This relates to myth number 5 above. As stated above and elsewhere on this web site, these services are due to the federal government’s trust responsibility to Indian tribes based on treaties and agreements made with them over the years in exchange for land and resources granted to the federal government. Payments and servies provided to Indians are for lands and rights sold to the federal government by Indian governments. They are not gratuities or donations. Second, it is not uncommon for individual Indians and tribes to cash or bank their “government checks.” The sources of these monies are trust funds that come from one of the following:
• The tribes may have received monetary payments from the federal government for lands purchased from them. These funds are "trust property" that is held in the United States treasury with federal law usually requiring a minimal interest payment to the tribes on such funds. All of these payments are first made to the federal government which, in turn, writes a “government check.”
• Tribes may also receive income from renting or leasing the land for farming and ranching purposes. The tribes may also lease the land for mineral development and receive bonus payments for signing the lease, annual rentals and royalty payments if minerals are discovered. The person renting or leasing the Indian property makes payments to the federal government as trustee. The trustee then pays the Indian landowner.
• Tribes may receive payments from the U.S. government under lawsuits to settle claims for breach of trust duties and obligations. Between 1944 and 1978 such claims were handled by the Indian Claims Commission. Now they are handled by the U.S. Claims Court.
• Tribal members may receive income from lease or sale of trust properties that are also considered trust funds.
• If you overpaid your federal income tax and received a government check to repay your money, you are on the same kind of “government dole” as Indians.

Kirke Kickingbird

Indian tribes are rich
This myth is a recent one due to the growth of Indian gaming. However, only a handful of Indian tribes have gaming. Success of gaming relates to the geographic location of tribes in relationship to population centers and Interstate highways as well as the legal environment of the states in which they are located. Less than one-third of the 560 Indian tribes are involved in gaming and only 10% of these are extremely profitable. Regardless of how small the scale, gaming has enabled these tribes to generate revenues to provide essential governmental services. Such services may include educational programs and scholarships, expanded health and community services for children and senior citizens, diversified economic development, improved court systems and the development of cultural institutions like museums.

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