An Indian view of Indian needs
During the Great Depression the United States declared that ''complete economic independence'' and ''self-determination'' were to be its policy objectives for Indian people. The ''hoovoodooeristic'' economic policies of the present administration clearly do not embrace but rather retard such goals.
President Reagan's mandated study on ''Reservation Economies Recovery'' will command a further retreat from even the memory of an Indian war on poverty.
A radical departure from past approaches is needed. The Carter administration silently recognized this when determining that ''two major initiatives'' - federal agency changes and an ''Indian Marshall Plan'' - were required. These identified options were rejected for reasons of cost and on judgment that ''the viability of the issue does not diminish with time.''
Each administration draws upon the same statistical warehouse to recite the same litany of reservation problems, program failures, and chronic Indian complaints. The standard palliative is a presidential message on Indian affairs. In the usual fare, at least one new phrase is introduced. This year it is ''government-to-government relations.''
The catchwords seldom mean what they state. In practice, ''self-determination'' has never advanced beyond a form of ''self-administration.'' The ''government-to-government'' principle has the design of sustaining a handful of Indian power brokers, while forgoing independent dealings directly with 283 tribal governments and 193 Alaska village organizations.
The National Tribal Chairman's Association originated in the offices of former Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew with that same intent. There a petroleum corporate executive instructed the chartering ''leaders''' that their executive board should have ''no more than 10 members, who shall be the voice of the Indian people nationally.''
Indians have traveled these roads before. We cannot afford to ''play the course.''
There has been a Reservation Industrial Development Program. After 10 years, it contributed less than $10 per capita in communities served and had created fewer than 200 jobs annually nationwide. Its successor program fell more than 80 percent short of job creation projections, and furnished less than $3,000 in average annual wages to the few hundred employed.
These programs aided Indians indirectly. Funding attracted outside developers by building plants, subsidizing operations, or eliminating all investment risks. Most got out when federal funds stopped, or when tribal funds were exhausted.
Desired self-determination and economic independence can occur when there is guarantee of permanence to the distinct political and societal character of Indian communities in American life. If this imperative can be understood for the state of Israel, why not for Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos?
Wrongful perceptions of Indian lands being transient, ultimately destined for state tax rolls in others' possession, should be ended. Any status change should restore the lands to tribal estates with renewed legal cognizance of absolute Indian title.
With these preconditions, the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs would naturally follow.
The actual need for accelerated economic assistance should be recognized. Congress should establish a ''Department of Indian Relations and Community Reconstruction,'' linked to consolidation of current program funding and 10-year phaseout of the Indian bureau.
Also, three distinct billion dollar ''development funds'' - having varied trust, reserve, credit, investment, and expenditure usages - should be appropriated over three years. These would endow or underwrite interrelated activities in housing and community facility construction; reservation economic development; and natural resources management and use.
These specialized Indian funds would carry to the end of the century. This sensible approach would enable 2 million American Indians to enter the year 2000 with a secure or promising future.
This would keep faith with an ''observance of justice'' espoused by George Washington in Indian policy - ''to reflect undecaying luster on our national character.''