David Yeagley: What do Native Americans really want?

That is a fair question. Conservative Comanche David Yeagley shares his answers in this second part of a post-interview question-and-answer session. Photo: National Museum of the American Indian (David Pham, Flickr)

FLORIDA, July 7, 2012 — Sad as it is to say, most of us seem to know more fiction than fact about Native American life. 

Beyond myths and stereotypes, what do the descendants of our nation’s pre-Founding Fathers truly want? Can there be honestly be a simple answer to such a complex question?

Also, treaties are pivotal to the prosperity and survival of various tribes. In both the past and present alike, what significance do they really carry for Native Americans?

In this second part of a unique post-interview question-and-answer session, Dr. David Yeagley — the great grandson of Comanche dignitary Bad Eagle — shares his views.


Question: What is your opinion about Indian treaties?  Are they sensible?  Are they meaningful to Indians today?

Answer: Obviously, the Indian treaties are historical. They were made during times and conditions which essentially no longer exist. They were agreements between the United States (or the earlier Colonies, or even individual Protestant settlements) and different Indian nations. Indians basically agreed to allow the whites to take over land, and to control anyone on it.  Why would Indians cede such enormities? Simply because Indians were nice, generous people. Indians were macho hosts, magnanimous care-givers, and indulged the white stranger in his infantile stages of utter self-absorption. But then when more and more whites ‘evolved,’ and more and more land was needed, and more control was exercised, Indian tribes began feeling pressure—up against one another. One tribe was pushed into the territory of another.

At that stage, Indians were made into enemies of the whites. Wars transpired. It was like an unanticipated train wreck.  It was a tragedy, for Indians.  There is simply no other way to tell the story. Indians fought for what was theirs. Whites fought for what they wanted, or for what they felt they needed. When both sides seemed irreconcilable and adamant, treaties became at least a temporary solution. The more whites increased in numbers, however, the treaties were inevitably broken, revised, or completely new ones were made.  The white thing was a living, growing thing. Therefore, every Indian treaty involved a certain intrinsic instability, or outright unreliability. The white man inevitably broke his word, because his circumstances were constantly changing.  

Essentially, the treaty says to Indians, “Look. We white people are here.  We’re not going away. And we’re growing. You have to deal with us.  We regret that this causes you disruption. But, you simply have to stop killing white people. You can’t keep this up.  You go over there, in that area across the river, west of the trees, and you stay there.  And we’ll take care of you! Deal? You can have coffee grounds, hard sugar, and rotten meat—as long as the grass grows and the wind blows! We promise! Naturally, such an agreement was the only option for life—to the Indians. We were out-numbered and out-gunned.  

Now, either congress ran out of money (because those Indian wars were terribly expensive), or the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant has a conscience, and simply does not practice genocide; the fact is, the Indian was left standing, with land.  This is extraordinary in itself. In the midst of the wars, many U.S. army generals did want genocide. Indians were intractable, savage, and horrific, as warriors. But, the United States government never ordered any such measure as genocide of the American Indian.  

I happen to be Comanche, and we are one of the last tribes to surrender.  (In 1875, the last of the free Comanche came into Fort Still, in Indian Territory.)  Plains Indians were suddenly confined to virtual stockades. This was unspeakably agonizing. Gradually, however, we learned to wheel and deal like the white man. His treaties did guarantee some kind of life, if we would accept it.  

The problem is, 140-year-old treaties don’t say anything about insurance, dental, car, health, or even wheat bread.  The terms are impossibly general, vague, and the provisions are utterly inadequate, inappropriate, inapplicable, irrelevant, and even detrimental.  The terms of the treaties all finally distilled into simple dollar amounts. Today the Bureau of Indian Affairs allots each tribe (or group of tribes) a certain amount of money for operating costs.  A total of some 560 “federally recognized tribes” get around $3.2 billion a year—for all tribes combined.  (Pocket change for someone like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.)   And there are new “pop-up” tribes on the government agenda all the time—group of people trying to get federal recognition—not so they can get BIA money, but so they can have a casino. But, if they can’t manipulate the circumstances successfully, through politicians, the syndicate, and other money laundering agencies, and actually obtain their casino, they can still apply for government grants, which all tribes do. The grants, such as are given by HUD and IHS account for most of the Indian sustenance, not the meager, miniscule BIA allotments.  

So, no, the treaties really do not make sense at all.  What is foundational is the idea that the Indian tribe is a nation. It has sovereign rights, bought by blood, written in treaty.  Indians fought and died to preserve our existence and tribal identity—however humble. For this cause, the treaties have meaning. The tribal nation is recognized in the Declaration of Independence, and in the United States Constitution.  This can never change, or America is not America. True, recent administrations in Washington have worked to change America at the constitutional level; but Indians will always fight against this.  Our identity, our continued existence, is bound up in the validity of America’s historical documents.  Indians hold America to those documents. This is another reason I say American Indians are conservative constitutionalists by nature.

Q: If Indians could have everything they want, what would they want?  

A: At heart, every Indian is a Ghost Dancer. We want things to be like they were.  The Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka said (in the 1860’s) that if only the Indians would gather together and dance, and never stop dancing, all the Indians who were killed would all come back, the white man would go away, and all things would be like they were.  

It is a compulsive dream, but, only a dream. (The Sioux were once murdered in mass for such a dance. It’s called Wounded Knee.) What Indians have today is some meager imitation of white life. We use electricity (when we have it), fry food, drive cars (when they work), and wear Wal-Mart clothes. We celebrate Christmas, and even ask the Lord to bless our food—as well as our tribal meetings! It is a mix of things.  We obviously maintain many of our traditions, customs, and social values.  

This mix of things does affect our expectations. It affects what we want. We’ll never have the open plains to roam on again; we’ll never have the big game to hunt. We’ll never have our Comanche ponies again. But what we have is ourselves. I, for one, advocate that we preserve our blood lines, or what’s left of them. The great mix of things has eroded even our family lines. Fewer and fewer full bloods are alive. Integration of people always means interracial sexual relations and mixed children. This is a grave danger, in my opinion.  There are too few Indians to play that game. Miscegenation is more foolish than the wars. Out-numbered in war, we now make ourselves even less numerous!

Indians simply cannot have what we really want. We must compromise. I can only say that we should compromise in the wisest ways possible, ways that will insure the continuity of our people and our identity. Again, I believe Indians should lead the way for the American nation at large. America is obviously lost in the sea of narcissistic solipsism, self-destroying every minute; the Indian, who has sacrificed everything just to maintain his identity, is the only real example left of what it means to be a people, even if your land is taken, your way of life destroyed, and your mind left to manage some semblance of who you are.  

Before America becomes “the Indian” all over again, before Americans have to admit that the America they once loved and honored is no more, before I have to be first to extend my hand to the white man and say, “Welcome to Indian Country,” I suggest that America take a good hard look at Indians. Is that what you want? If you want to be yourself, be it now, with all your might, before the oedipal white liberals in charge use the Third World non-whites to bury you in your own egalitarian idealism.    


After these last several days of learning about Dr. Yeagley’s perspectives on politics, philosophy, psychology, and history, our discussion is nearing its end.

In the third and final segment of this session, Dr. Yeagley will explain his years of activism in the Comanche Nation.

Stay tuned. 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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