In American Indian Politics, Wilkins and Stark cite researcher John W. Sawyer as saying, “the American people were becoming dependent on media images to shape their attitudes and assumptions about the political and cultural changes taking place around them.” Although this quote was specifically referring to Sawyer’s study on the Wounded Knee Trials of two AIM leaders, as a statement its truth extends not only to other issues of the time, but also to events and information before and since Wounded Knee.
In general, United States education is not very good. This is especially true in regards to how we educate students about Indians and tribes and history of their relationship with the United States’ federal government. Because of this, there is a void of knowledge for many people that, as we are consumers of massive amounts of media, has likely been filled with inaccurate information and stereotypes from everything from cartoons to sports mascots. While this is true for many groups of people, a lack of education about Indian history and issues is especially problematic because of the separation so many Americans experience from reservations, tribes and even individual Indians.
This ignorance is particularly problematic because of the lack of Indian representation in the federal government. Most of our government’s Indian policy is determined by laws passed by congress or, like Tee Hit Ton, by cases determined by our Supreme Court. It is not too extreme of a generalization to say that historically, our Indian policy has been created by White Americans with very little knowledge or understanding of Indians as people or of tribes as institutions, and this is evidenced by the very poor choices made by our legislators. Tee Hit Ton v. United States, a case in which Indians were denied compensation for their stolen resources, is a perfect example of this. It is clear looking at this case that, as the Tee Hit Ton Indians had valuable resources from land they were occupying taken by the government, the case should have been determined in favor of the Indians. However, using nothing but false and racist ideas as justification, the Supreme Court was able to ignore reason and deny the Tee-Hit-Ton Indians any compensation. While this case was 60 years ago, it is still both relevant and emulated in other decisions that have impact today. Cases like Tee-Hit-Ton and Lone Wolf will continue to define our Indian policy until the people deciding our laws are educated and held accountable for their justifications.