Should the American Government have to pay reparations to Native Americans?

Since time immemorial, the issue on land ownership is very chaotic because men are willing to wage war just to get hold of a piece of land. In primitive times, a certain ethnic group skirmishes with other ethnic groups over territorial supremacy. Land ownership is a bloody business because of the price it entails. When a certain assembly successfully dominated other’s land it means that their goal to expand their territory is realized, but most importantly, domination of a territory also implies that the dominator also take control of the resources of the grabbed territory. And worst, it has been a practice that the dominator of a territory would likely use the people of their grabbed land, and eventually treat them as slaves. In 1830’s a prominent execution of land grabbing transpired in North America between President Andrew Jackson’s administration and the Native Americans, and more specifically to the Cherokees. During this period, President Jackson endorsed a law that was designed to eliminate the Indian people in their own territory and relocate the latter in other places[1]. The ratification of Indian Removal Act took many years of trial but eventually did not succeeded because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native Americans. The objective of the said policy is to exchange lands with Native Americans and to eliminate them from thriving in west of the river Mississippi. According to President Jackson, during the deliberation of Indian Removal Act, that he was so concerned of the plight of the Indians because as civilization progresses and as the whites increasingly occupy the land, the Native Americans conditions are being jeopardize[2].

At its first implementation, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw was successfully relocated. But the Seminole and the Cherokees did not falter, they resisted all forms of aggression of land grabbing because they believed that no one owe their ancestral lands. Desperate measures was implemented, violence against Indians was manifested by use of arms and force. Seminole people triumphed in Second Seminole War against the massive troops of military and volunteers. But in the third installment of war the Seminole people was defeated[3]. The last remaining tribe was the Cherokees, and in a very unfortunate event, they were forced to engage in death march, which was later on called Trail of Tears. President Jackson’s administration successfully seized the ancestral lands of the Indian tribes, but its promise of better life, equal opportunities, and relocation is nothing but a farce. The Indian tribes did not receive a permanent land that they can rebuild their lives. The policy failed to reinforce a voluntary expulsion, and worst, their dreams and promises was decimated due to fraudulent land agreements. This historical event is the foundation of a human right debate about the moral responsibilities of Americans to Native Americans[4]. According to human right advocators, the means to fulfill this moral responsibility is through reparations. In this paper, I will provide a nitty-gritty discussion of reparations such as its definition, elements and significance. The paper will also outline several standpoints in line with anti-reparations. And most importantly, this paper will provide arguments pro reparations. The Americans must necessarily pay reparations to Native Americans to lessen interracial issues because they have deprived the latter of something that they own. The Americans should pay the Native Americans for the moral damages that they caused the latter, specifically for grabbing their ancestral lands, for providing them fraudulent promises, and for putting their lives on jeopardy. And lastly, the Americans should provide reparations for Native Americans to alleviate their existing condition because the effect of their acts is still existent among Native Americans, meaning, the latter is still suffering from the ill-fated event, which was catapulted by the Americans.

The Debate

Since the concept of reparation is the core of this debate, it is a necessity that we provide a definition of the term. Lexically speaking, reparation is an act of amending and alleviating one’s suffering due to the committed wrongdoings of others. But in terms of moral duty, reparation can be defined given the following criteria: 1) acting responsibly upon the crime of the past, 2) restoration of dignity and reinstatement of property that has been loss, 3) refurbishing the moral animosity between two parties, specifically of the aggressed and the aggressor, and 4) reconciliation of the aggressed and the aggressor’s differences.

Having defined reparation, it is now justifiable to lay down the arguments on the validity of why Americans must necessarily pay reparations for Native Americans. First reason is the fact that Americans undeniably deprived the Indians of the latter’s own property and rights. It has been established on natural law that man will own a certain property if he cultivated it and nourished it. In terms of land ownership, one can claim a certain land if he developed and took care of it. And this practice has been considered before the conceptualization of the law. When one develops and nourishes a piece of land, he automatically acquires rights over it. Ancestral land is the embodiment of all the efforts that a group of people exerted to ensure that a piece of land is well taken care of[5].

But man created laws, which aims to advance human welfare and human progress. Objectivists argue that when laws are created it overpower natural laws because the former curtails the primitive nature of the latter, and eventually promotes interest of the majority. In case of the Native Americans, objectivists postulated that the deprivation of their property and rights are permissible because this deprivation is geared towards a better end, which is to protect their culture from the increasing population of the whites and the advancement of the majority’s interests. Therefore, the objectivists concluded that Americans does not own anything from the Indians because when the law was enacted for the progression of human welfare, the Indian’s concept of property and rights has been superseded [6]

However, advancing interests in expense of other’s interests is morally unjustifiable because it does not only curb one’s rights but also annihilate one’s existence, in the sense that in the pursuant of the law people go to the extreme just to ensure that the interests was promoted[7]. It must also be noted that majority’s concern does not always perpetuate a reasonable act, or to put it simply, majority is not always right. In the case of the Native Americans, President Jackson created a law in the guise of the Indians concerns, stating that their culture will be jeopardized if they will not be relocated. But the truth is, the law was created for the majority’s volitions to dominate an ancestral land and to economically use it. In the end, the Indians culture was catastrophically destroyed and was left with nothing. The Americans enjoy the fruit of other’s labors, while those who preserved and cultivated the land for hundreds of years were suffering from poverty. It has been established that a law is a law. But a law is not a law when it violates other’s rights. The law must only protect the majority of the population but the entirety of the population. It must serve everyone’s interests regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, culture, and practices.

Secondly, the American government should pay reparations to Native Americans for all moral damages that they have done. When President Jackson government took over the ancestral land of the Indian tribes they did not provide them any payment or any land title. In order to pursue mass mobilization of Native Americans, the government misled these people through providing them fraudulent promises such as the assurance of better life and better land location, though in reality there is not better future awaiting the Indian tribes. According to documents, Native Americans jumped from place to place because the government failed to provide them a permanent place to live. This happenstance is also considered as a medium to diminish Indian culture[8].  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Native Americans, President Jackson blatantly ignored this ruling; instead, he let his administration to engage in manslaughter, almost to the point of genocide. These acts are morally damaging and morally unjustifiable. The moral problem of taking over one’s own property is the undeniable fact that while the American government is succumbing themselves to the benefits of other’s property, those who must taste the fruit of their property is suffering from deprivation[9]. And the worst part of it; those perpetrators of wrongdoings do not even initiate any acts of alleviating the sufferings of the Indian people, or even sharing the benefits of that property. On the other hand, the immorality of deceiving people is basically founded on the concept of veracity. Lying in expense of others is awfully wrong because by doing so, others existence are put into dangerous situation. In the Native American terms, they were deceived by the American administration to let them fall from the pit of vicious and cyclic affliction. And the immorality of disposing one’s life is unforgivable, how much more if we let hundreds of people died because of the interest that we want to realize. Killing someone is never valid especially if the reason was only based on the need to expand territories.

Tenets of anti-reparations argue that President Jackson’s act was reasonable because it was geared towards a better end, and that the consolidation of United States of America. They posited that if this act was not implemented United States will not reach its present status. They also added that in aiming for revolution or changes to guarantee a brighter future, chaos is of necessity. Progress should not be impeded because there is a minority that will endure pain and suffering. Therefore, they affirmed that if violence will be a necessary element of progression, then violence must be used because the situation necessitates it. Proponents of dirty hands politics furthered this kind of advocacy because also see a better consequences of the act. Dirty hand politics is a predicament when one is face to decide between two immoral acts but one must choose the lesser evil[10]. And in this case, the moral dilemma is between choosing the progression of humanity in expense of a specific ethnic group or letting this specific ethnic group to stay on their ancestral land in exchange of human’s progression. And since the advocators of this kind of politics always look at the interest of the majority, they uphold the importance of human progress in expense of an ethnic group because this decision is of lesser evil.

The postulate on significance of human progress is novel and valid; however, it should not resort to any act of deception and violence. It is a contradiction to promote human progress in expense of human lives. Tenets of anti-reparations were correct in saying that because of President Jackson enactment of Indian Removal Act paved way for the consolidation of our nation. But it must be noted that it does not satisfy the evilness and the cruelty that these Indian people had experienced[11]. The advocators of dirty hand politics was mistaken in saying that we have to choose lesser evil for the betterment of humanity because it misconstrued the concept of what is right and of what acts are morally justified. The danger about these kinds of beliefs is that people can always use the alibi of lesser evil to make their immoral acts seems to be right. And worst, it confuses our delineation between being humane and inhumane because we can always opt to do things that are innately inhumane but argue that we engaged ourselves to such act because the situation calls for decision, and we just choose what lesser evil is[12].

Lastly, the Americans should provide reparation among Native Americans because the latter is still agonizing from the aftermath of act of the former. Up to this modern period, most Native Americans do not own anything specifically of land property. The sad thing about the plight of American Indians is that because of the Indian Removal Act most people thought that they are already nonexistent. The American government does only provide a poor relief as a form of reparation to Indians because what they lost is actually priceless, but giving them permanent settlements, opportunities to broaden their horizon, and most importantly, to give them due respect to rebuild their dignity. For the longest time, Native Americans are not receiving enough aid from the government that is why their emotional wounds and their spiritual scars have incarcerated from the past. The help that has been long due is still not delivered to those who deserve it. The lives of Americans Indians are not yet alleviated because as of the time being, they have not receive justice from any injustices that Jackson’s administration has cast upon them. The sufferings of the American native are insurmountable, and reparations is not enough to compensate it, still reparation must be given to them because it can somehow reduce their burdens[13].

Proponents of anti-reparations argue that mistakes of the past should not be transferred to the future because there is not connection between the two time frames. According to them, the unlawful activities of past should only be attributed to the past because the future generations do not participate in that unlawful activities. Having said this, if the past generation failed to provide reparation for Native American it does not necessarily follow that future generation must fulfill the lacking of past generation. They also added that reparation is futile because it will answer the needs of the Native Americans, and significantly, it will not restore things that they have lost along the way. Anti-reparation advocates conjectured the four reasons why reparations should not be executed among Native Americans. First, they see that reparation will be the unfair to the state because there is no means to qualify and quantify those Indians who deserved the reparations. If reparation is given, most likely, those who will take pleasure in it are those descendants of the past, meaning, they have not experienced any cruelty at all, therefore, reparations must not be given. Second, if implementation of reparations is possible still the state must ask for entitlement to differentiate those who must earn it and those who do not, then it will not be unfair to the state and to the present generation. But how can Native American prove their entitlement? Third, if entitlement was proven then they must also establish that their current condition is directly affected by the past wrongdoings. And lastly, since the funds for the reparations will be taken from the pork barrels, which was earned through the taxpayers, it unjust because it must be allocated to serve the interest of the taxpayers. To sum it up, proponents of anti-reparations vehemently disagree in compensating the wrong of the past in expense of the present and future generations[14].

Tenets of anti-reparations overlooked on point in this whole debate, the American government push through their cruelty and atrocities towards the Native Americans to ensure a brighter future and a better life for their future generations. Given this realization, American government must compensate for the wrongdoings of their predecessor since they also harvested from it. The anti-reparation advocators do not want to pay damages that past administration has done in expense of the present and future generation, when in principle the past generation had pursued their own volition in expense Native Americans’ past, present and future generations. They are right that crimes of the past should be crimes of the past, in so far as these crimes are not executed in principle of future generations. It is right that future generation does not directly participate in that immoral activities, but they have the power to correct it. Instead, they continue the practice of their ancestors. The criteria that these proponents proposed are very much limited to the issue of being unfair to the state without looking how the state became unfair to the Native Americans[15]. The issue of reparation will not be settled because Native Americans are incessantly deprived of their property and rights, and the future generation is not acting to annihilate this deprivation. And lastly, the talk of proving one’s entitlement and establishing one’s condition is irrelevant because when Indian Removal Act was carried out not only the lives of Indian tribes was jeopardized but also their future, and the future of their generation. The reason behind this is simple; everything that Native Americans own was robbed from them[16].

CONCLUSION:

In toto, the anti-reparation proponents suggested that we must move on and forget about what happens in the past because they uphold that the most important thing is the present condition and our visions for the future. But humanity can only move on if all wounds and miseries have been healed and resolved. The desolation of the past remains up to this modern day period because it was not yet answered, and if this will never be medicated it will haunt us in the future. Reparation may not totally heal the wounds and resolved the sufferings still it is important because it can alleviate the situation. The problem is humungous and deeply rooted, meaning, it cannot be decipher over night. Medicating this problem needs a step by step process, and we can start this by reparation and not by purporting escape goat reasoning or even forgetting it as if nothing happens. Reparation should be done at all cost because Native Americans have been deprived of things that they should enjoy, they have been morally damaged due to inhumane acts, and the effects of American government atrocities is still lingering on[17].

 

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