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America's Most Oppressed Minority

May 08, 1987|BILL STEIGERWALD

As a group, this American minority has the highest infant mortality rate, the shortest life span and the poorest housing. It has the lowest per capita income and the country's lowest level of education. Unemployment, suicide and alcoholism are epidemic.

They are American Indians. And, as Ted Williams argues convincingly in National Review's "On the Reservation: America's Apartheid," they remain the country's most oppressed minority. But Indians aren't to blame, Williams says. The fault lies with the government's paternalistic reservation system, where (or near where) half of the country's 1.5 million Indians still live 116 years after Congress passed a law making them "wards of the state."

The U.S. Constitution does not apply on the 260 independently governed reservations, Williams says. Property can be seized without compensation and ordinary freedoms such as freedom of speech and assembly are routinely and legally denied. Once elected, he shows by example, tribal leaders exert tremendous control over many aspects of reservation life, are often corrupt and often govern like despots.

Combine these political conditions with a stultifying form of economic socialism, Williams says, and you get what Michigan political activist Verna Lawrence calls "the American form of apartheid. Intelligent human beings are exiled for a lifetime and conditioned to be totally dependent on the handouts from taxpayers." She blames the high levels of alcoholism and suicide on the lack of challenges in reservation life.

In 1984 a presidential commission cited the U.S. government as one of the chief obstacles to Indian economic prosperity, Williams says. Yet because of the political clout of tribal chiefs with a vested interest in the status quo, the government continues its anachronistic role as a well-intentioned but destructive Great White Father. As an ex-tribal leader who wants to see the reservation system scrapped concludes, Indians "ought to be given a shot at the American way of life like anybody else."

Behavioral Milestones

Psychology Today celebrates its 20th year of patrolling the human-behavior beat with "Life Flow," a theme devoted to discussing the milestones of existence from babyhood to "The Vintage Years."

In just the last 20 years, Robert J. Trotter says in "You've Come a Long Way, Baby," the boom in baby research has taught us more about babies than we learned in the previous 2,000. Turn-of-the-century psychologist William James' idea that infants are unsensing, unresponsive and unlearning blobs was still prevalent in the 1960s, but now experts have discovered that almost from their first burp, babies show remarkable cognitive and behavioral abilities.

Research with infants has shown that they have surprisingly good memories, can learn to distinguish between buzzers and tones as early as 2 days old and may even be born with the ability to imitate facial gestures. Babies also develop their own personalities and display a wide range of primary emotions (including distress and disgust) through facial expressions--a skill teen-agers apparently perfect by about age 14.

With all this new-found knowledge, Trotter says, behavioral scientists are eager to find out if they can use what they've learned about infants to solve such scourges of adulthood as alcoholism or mental problems.

Business Booster

Entrepreneur magazine is marking its 10th birthday by surveying the past, present and future of the risky universe it specializes in: the country's 15.4 million small businesses.

Small businesses employ three times as many people as the Fortune 500 companies and are the source of most of the economy's growth in jobs and wealth, reports the upbeat, be-your-own-boss magazine. Today's new generation of entrepreneurs increasingly are women (who own 3 million U.S. businesses), minorities, immigrants and young people. The fastest-growing areas are computer and data-processing services, credit reporting, collection services and the construction industry, but entrepreneurs start up everything from new restaurants to children's bookstores.

Sales of children's books have doubled in the last five years to $911 million, according to the Opportunity of the Month column, which, in keeping with the magazine's mandate to supply the Wozniaks and Mrs. Fieldses of tomorrow with information and motivational success stories, enumerates the risks and rewards of opening a children's bookstore.

Entrepreneur's unswerving worship of the all-American virtue of economic independence is boldly and endearingly celebrated each month in its "Entrepreneur's Credo."

It begins: "I do not choose to be a common person. It is my right to be uncommon--if I can. I seek opportunity--not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk, to dream and to build, to fail and succeed. . . to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefits of my creations. . . ."

Bits and Pieces

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