Lloyd Omdahl: Helping Native Americans is complex

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Lloyd Omdahl

To begin with, maybe Native Americans don’t want help with education, health care, jobs and other blessings being experienced by the white society. They would rather live in a poverty they control rather than yield to white solutions proposed by outsiders.

So the first thing that needs to be done is a comprehensive analysis of their needs and start planning a Marshall Plan from there. If the gap between the aspirations of Native Americans and those of the white society is too wide, we would have to find a middle ground or nothing will happen.

The reservation populations have a disproportionate share of lower income, less educated people who suffer from a horizon that is limited to the present.

As a couple of sociologists reported: “In the analysis to come, the individual’s orientation toward the future will be regarded as a function of two facts: (1) ability to imagine a future, and (2) ability to discipline oneself to sacrifice present for future satisfaction.”

We shouldn’t forget that the white society has done little to convince Native Americans that they have any kind of future. Somehow, we have a debt to pay. We may not have been involved in the destruction of Indian hopes, but we are faced with the consequences of what our forebears did. Besides, we are still living on their land.


So if we could muster strong support for helping Native Americans regain lost ground, where would we start besides scientifically measuring their needs and aspirations? Let’s not base a plan on hearsay and anecdotes.

1. Clarify the roles of the state and the nation so that state participation can be effectively inserted into the present system.

2. Repeal the cruel Indian Child Welfare Act that is forcing the assignment of foster care children to dangerous Indian homes for the financial benefit of sponsors. It is a crude form of patronage. Besides, the welfare of children is more important than a tribal goal of saving tribal heritage. Norwegians and Germans have been doing pretty well at saving their heritage without endangering their children

(Two foster parents were charged with murder just last week for the killing of a 5-year-old foster child on the Spirit Lake Reservation. The news report included reference to other abused children in the home.)

3. Get the Congress and/or the North Dakota Legislature to create a Tomorrow Fund of sufficient dollars to induce tribes to step into the future by providing:

a. Audits of all tribal financial activities and reports to all residents.

b. Transform the tribal councils into a more representative system.

c. Eliminate the double dipping by council members for serving on multiple boards and commissions.


d. Eliminate the manipulation of meetings to the disadvantage of reservation residents. Codify the conduct of meetings, with advance notices of pending decisions to facilitate citizen participation.

e. Make transparent the names and salaries of tribal and casino officials and employees with reports sent to all reservation residents.

f. Use professional developers to plan economic opportunities on the reservations.

g. Employ qualified professionals in social work, health and education to do the specialized work required.

(A few years ago, one tribal leader on the Turtle Mountain Reservation developed an outstanding plan for governance that went nowhere because the sitting tribal council members saw their fat salaries disappearing in the reform.)

Thus far, we have had a difficult time addressing conditions on the reservation. Native-Americans deserve more than rhetoric and committees. They can’t stage the kind of demonstration it would take to wake up the state or national government. We will remain deaf until something outrageous happens. So far, nothing has.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.

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