I turned my mud-covered Suburban onto the gravel road leading through the Indian reservation. In the back two mallards lay on a bag of decoys. They had flown into the Saskatchewan pothole I had hunted earlier that day. I planned to give them to Bird Lady. Each year I dropped off a few plump mallards for Bird Lady and her daughters.
It was close to one in the afternoon when I turned up Bird Lady’s driveway. Her house sat on the top of a knoll a quarter mile off the main gravel. I passed the run-down bungalows of her daughters and pulled into the barren, weedy yard. A dozen oversized chickens scurried away.
I walked up the porch steps and knocked on the door. No one came. I thought about Bird Lady as I waited. She had been a beautiful woman once, but the ravages of age and alcohol had withered her. I pounded louder. It quickly dawned on me that I had come too early. Bird Lady slept and she would not get up now.
I glanced at the daughters modern bungalows that had deteriorated into hovels. Rags were stuffed into holes in windows and siding. Curtains, towels and sheets covered the windows. A beat-up car sat in front of one. Neither would the daughters rise. In past years I had noted that the daughters showed signs of advanced alcoholism. Their appearance had deteriorated. They could never seem to look me in the eye and although I had tried to engage one of them in conversation her hang-dog expression revealed a deep-seated sense of inferiority. Their children were in school today. On weekends the children would be outside in the morning at unsupervised play while the elders slept.
In all of rural America nothing is more pathetic or sad than the Indian reservations. They are laboratories for a social experiment that has harmed the character of people who were once the most self-sufficient on earth. Never in history has an entire category of people sunk to such levels of helplessness, addiction and degradation.
Responsibility for this wretched predicament does not lie with the 7th Cavalry or the gory spectacle at Wounded Knee. It lies with modern social scientists, bureaucrats, and leftists who insist on giving these people a monthly stipend that leaves them unchallenged, unmotivated and bored senseless. People grow primarily through economic struggle. Subsidies discourage this growth. They retard human potentiality.
I rolled the Suburban down the drive, away from Bird Lady and her daughters. I passed dozens of other bungalows, some occupied, some abandoned or destroyed. No cars passed me. Some people would not be up for several hours. I turned it over in my mind. They must go to bed close to dawn. What weird behavioral syndrome does welfare unleash that keeps these people and others on the permanent dole up until 4 or 5 in the morning, and asleep all day? How can they raise children on such a schedule?
That’s the dirty little secret in all of this welfare nonsense. The children raise themselves. The outcome of this gross neglect, where eight-year-olds raise three-year-olds, can be seen in the chronic rates of crime, abuse, addiction and social disintegration endemic to the subsidized. The little children, the innocents, the tiny ones who crave love and nurturing, get no more attention than the dog. They play outside through the day, a bag of chips for breakfast, a Pepsi and a Ho-Ho for their lunch, unsupervised and unloved.
Twenty years ago I stood in the parking lot of a restaurant in The Pas, a small community in Northern Manitoba. I was fishing with a friend and I waited outside while he used the washroom. A large bus had pulled into the lot and disgorged its passengers. The front door of the bus was open, the driver reading a newspaper. Suddenly around the corner came a small Indian boy of about four. He was dressed neatly in shorts and he was a child of such remarkable beauty that my eyes became glued to him. He walked to the bus and stood in the sunlight, looking up into the doorway, fascinated by what he saw, radiating innocence and charm. Around the corner came his father. I glanced his way but riveted my attention back on the boy. The father encouraged him to take a few steps onto the bus. It was clear the boy had never entered a bus before and this was a high adventure for him. He took a step up and then another and surveyed the interior of the bus. As he stepped back down I stood fascinated by his angelic demeanor that had prompted this reverential episode.
His father called to him and I looked back at the man. It startled me. The father was my age. Like the boy, he too had been handsome, but too much whiskey had left heavy lines and creases in his face. His red and sunken eyes stared out from his damaged features and his curled posture spoke of intoxication. I looked back at the boy and in a moment of dread I saw what this little angel would become. I stood silently and fought the tears.
From the beginning the Indians were at a huge disadvantage. They relied on arrows, slings and snares and their utensils were of clay. The white interlopers had tools and equipment that fascinated the Indians; items they would want desperately. Imagine it; guns, traps, metal bowls and utensils, needles, cloth, axes, beads and whiskey. Some would trade furs, some would trade land. Gifts and bribes to the Indians became a way of life along the frontier. In the end they gave up their land for goods, moved to the reservations for goods and agreed to behave for goods. They made treaties which provided them with food and cash doles. The great Sioux uprising of 1863 that took the lives of over 400 Minnesota settlers flared up because of late payments of food and other broken promises. In effect, many Indians have been getting government payments for one hundred and fifty years.
Our perceptions about welfare and subsidies are shifting at warp speed. The American people have come to understand the devastating effects of welfare even as the left has hardened their views. Advocates of the current welfare disaster remain inflexible in the face of the evidence.
Welfare payments should be linked to some kind of work. ADC mothers could at least staff day care centers that attend to their own offspring. We need to insist that these people get up in the morning and accept a minimum of responsibility. Those who abuse and neglect their children should lose them. Better to build orphanages than prisons. Adoption of these innocents should be swift and simple. Interracial adoption should be encouraged.
But common sense is not so common, especially among liberals intertwined in the politics of welfare. What they have engineered puts them at risk of history’s censure. The left wants to increase welfare levels, not limit them. They don’t like the idea of people working for their benefits. They refuse to link parental responsibility to payments. They insist that children are best left with their parents almost without qualification. They oppose adoption and especially interracial adoption.
Once upon a time there was a simple, honest, disciplined, happy, self-sufficient tribal culture. It exists no more. The white man ruined that. However, it was not the loss of their land or the subtle imprisonment on reservations that did-in the Indians and their culture. It was the monthly checks. The dole kills the spirit and destroys character. Subsidies are behavioral poison.
Bird Lady would have been a different person had she been required to make her own way in life. She had the potential. You could see the intelligence and humor in her eyes. She liked my visits. She could have been somebody. What a waste. Yes, there are exceptions to Bird Lady. A few Indians farm and work successfully. But the mind-numbing rate of alcoholism on the reservations approaches ninety percent. A pox on all who fail to see the cause.