Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Black Hills: Not Theirs to Give

A hundred and forty years ago today, the US government gave away the Black Hills to the Indians in the Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Since white settlers finally took possession of the land in the 1870s, the Sioux have demanded that it be returned to their control. A strange wish for people who deny the validity of the concept "property." However, the federal government had no right to give the land away to the Indians in the first place, for the federal government never owned it.

According to the law of causality, every thing belongs to the individual who created it. Unowned land, useless wilderness, is acquired by the individual who improves it, who makes it useful — who builds a mine, a farm, a trading post, or a railroad on it.

Which means that most of the land there remained unowned until white settlers arrived, excepting whatever permanent settlements the Indians may have built there before, if any. The Indians didn't own land just because they roamed and hunted there. (By the way, the Lakota took the land by force from other tribes.)

The Spanish and French did not own the land just because they explored it. Thus, the French had no right to sell the land to the US in the Louisiana Purchase.

Of course, Jefferson should not have left Louisiana to France. But the US did not buy the land, it merely ransomed it. It had never been owned by France. Accordingly, the US could not buy it from France, no matter how much money the federal government paid. What the US should have to done after ransoming the land is to open it up to settlement immediately, instead of pretending the Indians or the government owned it and could make it the subject of treaties.

But let the Indians speak for themselves. Given their "spirituality" — their mysticism — what would they do with the land if they ever got hold of it again?

Yet hear me, my people, we have now to deal with another race — small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not. They take tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own and fence their neighbors away; they deface her with their buildings and their refuse. That nation is like a spring freshet that overruns its banks and destroys all who are in its path.

— Sitting Bull

Now I submit, to use one of Ayn Rand's favorite words, that someone who's insane enough to lump in buildings with refuse is incompetent to manage any land anyway. There may be ugly buildings. But the who claims that buildings per se deface nature obviously has screws loose to the degree of being too stupid to live.

What is beauty? Natura non contristatur. Nature doesn't care. "Beautiful" is a human standard. Form follows function: What is good for man's life is beautiful. Thus, it is buildings and structures — skyscrapers, homes, broadcasting towers, oil derricks — that add meaning and beauty to nature.

So it is for their virtues that Sitting Bull blamed Americans: their creativity, their productivity, their prudence, their thrift. It is precisely by fencing their neighbors away, by private property, that men have an incentive to produce. That would of course never have occurred to that original savage.

Still, from what I've seen, those Indians most vocal about having the land turned over to them remain the most irrational. As long as Indians remain irrational, they are not competent to manage property. They would let the land lay fallow as a wasteland, considering themselves stewards preserving the wilderness for a ghost that demands they live in stagnant sloth.

The only good part of the Treaty of Fort Laramie was that it provided for an "English," a Western, education of Indian children. Sure, maybe the missionaries who were expected to educate the Indians would only have made them swap one self-destructive cult for another.

Yet, then as now, giving the Indians a truly rational Western education is the only chance for a future they have. Encouraging Indian kids to explore their savage roots, the anti-mind, anti-man roots our eco-terrorists admire so much, means having their minds self-destruct before they ever knew reason.

No comments: