Monday, July 25, 2016

Naomi Schaefer Riley's "The New Trail of Tears"

Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians, is a weekly columnist for the New York Post and a former Wall Street Journal editor and writer whose work focuses on higher education, religion, philanthropy and culture. She is the author of several books on those topics. Her book, ‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America, was named an editor’s pick by the New York Times Book Review.

Riley applied the “Page 99 Test” to The New Trail of Tears and reported the following:
Page 99 of The New Trail of Tears contains an interview with Lucy Lowry, a CPA and professor at a local community college here in Robeson County, North Carolina. It is one of dozens of conversations with Native Americans in the book, many of which include deeply depressing stories about the state of their communities today. Lowry and I are sitting at a picnic table in the shade on a blistering day in June on the farm of Ben Chavis. Chavis is running a math camp to help local kids learn the basics of numbers that their deplorable local schools have failed to teach them.

When a nonwhite woman in the South tells you that the schools she attended before desegregation were better than the ones the kids in her community experience today, it should be a wakeup call. And Lowry, knows whereof she speaks. She is a Lumbee Indian, living in one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas on the country. Robeson County was never rich but Lowry has been deeply disappointed in what seems to be the downward mobility of her tribe over the past two generations. Her grandfather was a schoolteacher. Four of the siblings in her family have PhDs, and the other three have master’s degrees. They are all in their 60s and 70s, though.

If you want to know why American Indians have the highest rates of poverty of any racial group, do not look to history. There is no doubt that white settlers devastated Indian communities in the 19th, and early 20th centuries. But it is our policies today—economic and educational ones—that have turned Indian communities into third world nations in the middle of the richest country on earth.

Today, students in Robeson County scored an average of 1247 (out of 2400) on the SATs in 2012, than 200 points below the state average, which was already 40 points below the national average. Even if students received all Ds and Fs on their report cards, they are sent to the next grade.

Lowry says: "We are failing to educate students to be good citizens, to manage their own affairs, to be confident learners."

How have things wound up in this state for the Lumbee Indians? Lowry and the other elders in this community have some ideas. Some blame the breakdown of the families. Two-parent households are rare. Teen pregnancy is common. Others say that the public education system is plagued by nepotism and corruption. But many trace the problems of the Lumbees—and American Indians more generally—on a culture of government dependence that has developed in the past 50 years.

Ronald Hammonds, a local cattle farmer, tells me that the solution is simple. "Cut out the handouts." He disagrees with fellow tribe members who are trying to get more tribal recognition and dollars from Washington. "Our problems ain’t going to be solved by money. All you’re doing is making it worse. It’s time for people to take responsibility for their lives, but our government doesn’t want them to. They want to be the answer to our problems."

Visit Naomi Schaefer Riley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue