Ethnic Cleansing in America

Americans don’t have to travel to Bosnia, South Africa or the West Bank to appreciate the legacy of ethnic cleansing, apartheid or aboriginal territorial disputes. Those injustices can be found right here at home in New York state. Yesterday, with barely any notice, the United States Supreme Court ruled that land recently purchased by Oneida Indians for economic development on the long recognized Oneida reservation can never again become sovereign Indian land. Invoking high minded but ultimately hollow legal principles like “laches, acquiescence, and impossibility,” the Court found that the national government’s indifference, the great increase in property values, the predominantly non-Indian population now residing in the area, the impracticability and disruptive practical consequences of returning land to Indian control, the burden on the administration of state and local governments and the adverse affect on neighboring land owners justified stripping the few remaining Oneidas of tribal sovereignty over their land. At the founding of the United States, the Oneida’s homeland comprised some six million acres in what is now central New York. By 1920, only 32 acres continued to be held by the Oneidas. The Supreme Court’s current justification for “wrongs which occurred during the early years of the Republic” provide little rectitude for a nation dedicated to righting many of the historical wrongs around the world.

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