Chris Edwards

he movement to rid sports teams of Indian-themed names has picked up steam in recent years. In Washington D.C., activists have long pressured the Redskins to find a new name, but so far football team owner Dan Snyder is not budging.

Last week, however, Snyder launched an initiative to try and diffuse some of the bad press he has been receiving. Snyder has created a foundation to provide aid to needy Indian tribes. Recently, he and his staff visited a couple dozen reservations, an experience that has prompted a promise to help “tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country.”

Those realities are very troubling. There are about 1 million American Indians living on reservations, and their income levels are far lower, and poverty levels far higher, than other Americans. So let’s take Snyder at his word, and hope that his Original Americans Foundation can help to address some of the problems facing the tribes.

For its part, Congress spends little time addressing Indian issues. It hands out more than $8 billion a year in aid to reservations and it gives special preferences to some tribes that are good at lobbying. But Congress puts little effort into tackling long-term structural problems on reservations. To make matters worse, the main federal agency that tribes are forced to deal with—the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)—has long been one of the most dysfunctional in government.

Let’s do a brief review of federal policy. American Indians and the government have had a long, complex, and often sordid relationship. The government has taken many actions to deprive Indians of their lands, resources, and freedom. The aims of federal policies have gyrated wildly over two centuries, and most policies have failed, as is evident from the poor economic conditions on many reservations.

Historically, the federal government micromanaged Indian reservations with subsidies and regulations, and that top-down control had the damaging effect of stifling private initiative and private enterprise. Some good news is that there has been a movement towards Indian self determination in recent decades, which is a step in the right direction.

Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, and editor of Before joining Cato, Edwards was a senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an economist with the Tax Foundation.

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