Some Wyoming legislators are again asking Congress to give federal lands to the states. The proposal has one major flaw. It’s the inconvenient fact that the federal government doesn’t hold clear title.Of two-and-a-quarter billion acres of land in our country, federal stakes amount to 28 percent or 640 billion acres. Thirty million acres lie within Wyoming’s borders. That’s 48 percent of the Cowboy State, making it almost as much Washington’s country as God’s country.
The word “Wyoming” is a Delaware Indian word meaning alternating valleys and mountains. Those alternating valleys and mountains belong to several Native American tribes known as Plains Indians. The historic owners included the Arapaho, Shoshone, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, and Ute tribes.
This land is not your land. This land is not my land. This land is their land. If ownership is relinquished to anyone, it should be returned to Native Americans, not the states, the Bundys, or other so-called Sagebrush rebels.
Native American claims have better legal standing than claims made in political circles by ranchers, farmers, miners, or loggers. They have no better claim to this land than someone who received your car from the thief that stole it from you. Receiving stolen property is a crime in most states.
All of Wyoming and most of the land within the United States was stolen. Our forefathers were not above employing brutally immoral means to take it from Native American tribes. And this is not ancient history. The theft was completed during a generation in which my great-grandfather lived.
As white people moved west, the U.S. government made a decision. White lives mattered. Red lives didn’t. The settlers and the government that stole the land they wanted were people of European heritage whose holy book taught how a homeland is central to one’s faith.
They slaughtered vast herds of bison upon which Native American lifestyle and culture depended. The U.S. military used systematic violence and genocidal strategies. They negotiated treaties and violated them without regret. In the process, our government did what it could to eradicate Native Americans and, in the end, settled on herding them onto reservations, land which was inadequate to sustain the vitality of any culture.
Taking the land of a land-based culture birthed the inevitable.
The result some 150 or more years later is the hopelessness Wyoming Senator John Barrasso encounters on reservation after reservation. As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Mr. Barrasso held hearings on Native American youth suicide. He said, “Native youth suicide isn’t a new issue,” asking Robert McSwain, Indian Health Service Director, “When are we going to see results?”
Swain said reservation children suffer from chronic poverty and a sense of hopelessness. “Our children believe they are destined to suffer the same history and injustices our ancestors suffered,” Swain said.
White people destroyed their culture. Instead of blaming victims, the heirs of the destroyers should right the wrong.
In her book “Ceremony” Leslie Silko says, “The (Native) people had been taught to despise themselves because they were left with barren land and dry rivers. But they were wrong. It was white people who had nothing, who were suffering as thieves.”
There’s a deeply adverse spiritual impact knowing that even the land on which we preach the Gospel is stolen. Wealth and sustainable cultures arise from the land. Restore their land and you’ll restore their culture.
Some will reject this because, they will assert, they had nothing to do with what happened in the last half of the 1800s. But we are beneficiaries of America’s two greatest sins, slavery and the destruction of the Native Americans. This is their land. They have the inherent skills and motivation to make certain these assets provide the means of resurrecting their great peoples, America’s First Nations.
The Christian nation some say we are must atone. The land stolen from Native Americans, which is now under federal ownership should be returned to the land’s rightful owners.