In these times of governmental austerity the question of continued federal subsidies to American Indian tribes inevitably will arise. Detractors will argue that Americans have paid too much already, and that they never really owed the "defeated" tribes anything in the first place. They will criticize the million-dollar windfalls for land-claims settlements based on old treaty rights, the federal tax exemptions for Indian tribes and the costly social services for reservations as excessive and unwarranted good will. Sympathizers will assert the moral obligation of the United States to compensate for past wrongs. They will refer to the ills that Indians continue to suffer as justification for federal expenditures.
This debate tends to obscure our understanding of the modern Indian. It does not consider that the primary beneficiaries of these federal dollars allocated for Indians have been lawyers, businessmen, land-grabbers, contractors and bureaucrats. Both James L. Haley and Nancy Wood present ample evidence of this, but because their focus is also centered on the moral question, they, too, obscure our understanding of the "Indian problem."
In his preface to "Apaches," Haley, a historian, argues that because Americans conquered the tribes and because the tribes had preyed upon each other for food and lands in pre-Columbian times, the United States has neither a legal nor a moral obligation to continue assistance. He does, however, go beyond the traditional debate to propose a desirable, but unrealistic, solution: "The only way to preserve Indian culture as a living and developing thing is to preserve it within its environment -- to enlarge the reservations, give the tribes internal autonomy and leave them along."
In describing the demise of the Apaches from the arrival of the Spaniards in 1503 to the tribe's pacification by the United States in 1886, Haley presents the reader with a long list of bad guys who were important in the history of these Southwest Indians. The Tucson Ring, a group of businessmen and ranchers, perpetuated the Indian wars for their own gain, often finding willing accomplices in zealous military men and Indian agents. Though Haley traces the development of the political, economic and social structures that continue to serve as barriers to tribal independence and freedom from exploitation, he does not take them into account in his proposed solution. His account of Apache history is well documented, but lacking in analysis, clarity and insight. Despite these flaws, Haley's inclusion of cultural information along with historical data helps one to understand the Apaches better.
Nancy Wood, a Colorado journalist, also focuses on the question of America's obligation to the Indian tribes. She sets the tone for her book with John Wayne's infamous rationalization for taking America from the Indians: "Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves." She then tries to expiate American guilt by launching a devastating indictment of the Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Indians. According to her account, tribal leaders are devoid of culture, inept (but crafty when it comes to getting money from the Feds), doomed to extinction and deserving of their fate.
While tribal leadership may or may not be complicitous, incompetent and complacent, as she charges, the lawyers, traders, bureaucrats and missionary Christians all share responsibility for the status quo on the reservations. Nancy Wood too easily forgive these non-Indians for their transgressions, and she spends too little time documenting their shady dealings with the Indians.
Wood set out to present the facts of the survival of the Utes, but her facts are colored by her bias. For instance, at one point Wood writes, "Today's Southern Ute population . . . represents not a thoroughbred stable of racehorse-quality Indians but a mixture of everything else," and a few pages later writes, "To save themselves and their Inidian image, the Southern Utes can only 'marry up' -- that is, to fellow Southern Utes -- creating even more problems with inbreeding. Though the book might have provided some insight into current problems on the reservations, her distortions and contradictions tend to prejudice rather than to inform.