American Indians

Thanksgiving Tragedy

Property rights saved the Pilgrims from starvation; a lack of property rights keeps Indians in poverty today.


Tomorrow, as you celebrate the meal the Pilgrims ate with Indians, pause a moment to thank private property.

I know that seems weird, but before that first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims nearly starved to death because they didn't respect private property.

When they first arrived in Massachusetts, they acted like Bernie Sanders wants us to act. They farmed "collectively." Pilgrims said, "We'll grow food together and divide the harvest equally."

Bad idea. Economists call this the "tragedy of the commons." When everyone works "together," some people don't work very hard.

Likewise, when the crops were ready to eat, some grabbed extra food—sometimes picking corn at night, before it was fully ready. Teenagers were especially lazy and likely to steal the commune's crops.

Pilgrims almost starved. Governor Bradford wrote in his diary, "So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could… that they might not still thus languish in misery."

His answer: He divided the commune into parcels and assigned each Pilgrim his own property, or as Bradford put it, "set corn every man for his own particular. … Assigned every family a parcel of land."

That simple change brought the Pilgrims so much plenty that they could share food with Indians. Bradford wrote that it "made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been."

We see this principle at work all around us today. America is prosperous because private property is mostly respected, and people work hard to protect what they own. China rose out of poverty only when the Communist rulers finally allowed people to own property and keep profits from it.

But wait, you say, didn't the Native Americans live communally? Isn't that proof that socialism and collective property work?

No. It's a myth that the Native Americans had no property rules. They had property—and European settlers should have treated those rules with respect.

Native American property rules varied. There wasn't much point trying to establish private property in rocky hinterlands where no one traveled. But, writes Terry Anderson of the Property and Environment Research Center, "Private garden plots were common in the East, as were large community fields with plots assigned to individual families. Harvesting on each plot was done by the owning family, with the bounty stored in the family's own storehouse."

Today, however, many American Indians live in poverty. It's not because Native Americans are lazy or irresponsible. When Indians are allowed to own their own land, they prosper. The laws of economics are the same for all people.

I asked Manny Jules, chief of the Kamloops Indian Band for 16 years, why so many Indians are poor.

"Nobody chooses poverty," he said. "We've been legislated out of the economy by the federal governments, both in the United States and Canada."

That sounds odd to people who know how much money governments spend to "care for" Indians.

"Well, by taking care of us, that means providing social welfare programs," says Jules. "The only way to break the cycle of poverty (is) real property rights."

The U.S. government, after killing thousands of Native Americans and restricting others to reservations, gave tribal governments control over Indians' lives, in collaboration with the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Since then, no group in America has been more "helped" and "managed" by the federal government than Indians. Because of that, no group has done worse.
Homes on reservations are likely to lack electricity and indoor plumbing. There is serious alcoholism and drug abuse. A staggering number of American Indians are unemployed. Many commit suicide.

Jules says not being able to own your own land is part of the problem. "You can't borrow. You can't get a mortgage. You can't be bonded. There's nothing that you can have that'll allow you to be able to go to the bank on your own without the (government) minister co-signing that loan."

Tribal governments function about as badly as governments run by white people. They waste money, mismanage valuable resources and give sweetheart deals to crony businesses.

If we want to give people—all people—reason to celebrate this Thanksgiving, give them the proven formula for prosperity. Get government out of the way, and respect every individual's property rights.


NEXT: Brutal Police Actions, Tactics Reported from Dakota Pipeline Protest

American Indians Property Rights History

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90 responses to “Thanksgiving Tragedy

  1. They need more treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction – caused by substances introduced by white men. And no they are not killing themselves – this is a huge misconception that blames the innocent victims of disease.

    1. Treatment from the white man no doubt, or at least the non-red people. Ony the elite know what is best for the reds.

      Why not just treat them like adults? You progressives don’t get the moniker “nannies” for nothing.

      1. My best friend’s sister makes $92 an hour on the internet . She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her check was $14750 just working on the internet for a few hours. Go this website and click tech tab to start your work.. Now this web…

    2. And no they are not killing themselves – this is a huge misconception that blames the innocent victims of disease.

      Really? Citation needed.

      1. first OD maybe an accident, 3rd/4th not so much…

        1. Careful, next you’ll be telling us how suicide is a moral failing and not just a career goal or lifestyle choice.

          1. death is a social construct!

      2. BS. I grew up next to the Papago Reservation (Tohono O’odham today) and every tribe in what is now AZ knew how to make alcohol and what plants got you high. When I was young the old timers still made alcohol out of Saguaro fruit and everybody knew Datura was a psychedelic. The Saguaro wine is very sweet and when you drink it to excess you puke it all back up in a lovely pink. The problem with datura is that the dose that makes you high and the dose that make you dead are very close together. Run over to the Apache lands and they made twizin as their alcohol of choice.

        People treat indian cultures like they are some sort of exhibit in a museum instead of mature cultures that had/have fully developed societal systems. Treat them like adults instead of wards and they’ll get their shit together.

    3. The idea that addiction is a disease has been challenged by Stanton Peele and others. They are correct, in my opinion. Now I understand the irony of your handle. I think you can do better than this in writing your comments.

      1. I think you can do better than this in writing your comments.

        You think wrong. It’s a retard. All it hears is “Who wants cake?”

    4. I guess I’m not done yet, there is too much derp in that statement to respond to in one post.

      They need more treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction – caused by substances introduced by white men

      I’d agree that many tribes would benefit from increased access to addiction counseling and treatment programs; I’ve worked with chemically dependent native Americans and addiction usually starts in pre-adolescence. It’s tragic and the kids who grow up on the rez are up against some pretty bad odds. Your implication that white people are to blame though is beyond idiotic. Indians being exposed to alcohol was an inevitable result of the interactions of cultures; the fact that some Europeans used it in unscrupulous ways in history to gain advantage in trade has no bearing on the fact that Native Americans today have substance abuse issues. They had plenty of drugs before Europeans arrived (Cannabis, coca, peyote,…) They have substance abuse issues because of genetic predisposition to alcoholism and the cyclical poverty caused by government dependency. Implying that this is the “white man’s fault” is about as sophistic as saying small pox was the white mans fault. (and yes the leftist fallacy of small pox blankets never happened)

      1. They have substance abuse issues because of genetic predisposition to alcoholism and the cyclical poverty caused by government dependency. Implying that this is the “white man’s fault” is about as sophistic as saying small pox was the white mans fault.

        The first clause needs to go. There are populations who’s alcohol metabolism is measurably different *biochemically*. They still suffer inebriation, binge drinking, hangovers, and alcoholism very much like Westerners. Alcoholism, if it is a disease, is no more biologically or genetically selective than smallpox.

        1. Agreed, I thought of that right after I posted. Whether or not the difference in the way alcohol is metabolized from one individual to another has any bearing on propensity toward alcoholism I do not pretend to know.


          1. Well, whites, or progressive big gov types are 100% responsible for the conditions of total gov dependency is responsible for the conditions which fuel addiction. Hell, I’m sure if I grew up as a ward of the state with few options and proggies running my life then booze would be a major coping tool for me too.

      2. They had plenty of drugs before Europeans arrived (Cannabis, coca, peyote,…)

        White brought the weed to the party in 1545, it is not indigenous to the Americas.

      3. Some might argue that turnabout is fair play since the Indians introduced the white man to tobacco. Got lung cancer from smoking? Would you blame the Indians and Sir Walter Raleigh?

        1. Raleigh is whitie, right? That was simple.

      4. Good ol Howard Zinn and the fake smallpox blanket story. How did they get weed in pre Colombian times, it’s from Asia?

  2. Trumpkins are modern day Indians. Be grateful for what you got, because you ain’t gettin any more. (And you’re welcome.)

    1. Engrish pleze !

  3. Teenagers were especially lazy and likely to steal the commune’s crops.

    Damn. How old is Bernie?

    1. There are paintings of him on his lazy ass in caves.

      1. so lazy thye kicked his ass out of a hippie comune

      2. The ones of him Stealing”Borrowing” fire from the caves downstairs are actually pretty good.

      3. The youngest leader of occupy cave, I’ve been told.

    2. let’s cut his head off and count the rings!

      1. Hell, it ain’t like he’s USING it.

        1. well it certainly keeps his ears apart…

    3. Were families with more children assigned the same share as families with fewer? If so, it is no surprise that some of those “children” tried to get some extra food.

  4. The Iroquois style of government inspired Thomas Jefferson supposedly when he and the founders designed the constitution and bill of rights.

    1. It’s Franklin this story is usually told about, since Jefferson was overseas when the Constitution was being written. But yeah, there are some parallels between the Constitution and the Iroquois “Great Law of Peace”, especially the overrideable veto.

      1. I stand corrected, I knew it was attributed to one of the founders. Very interesting history.

      2. And it’s just a story.

  5. They just need the right people in charge, like Bernie the intellectual giant.

  6. The noble savage…slavers, rapists and cannibals…but have some great PR folks these days

    1. Look, just because this stone age culture had developed a sense of “you keep what you grow” means it was truely libertarian, and not a set of tribes engaged in internecine conflict with each other, and with the ‘others’ to whom they routinely attributed barbarism of the highest order.

      1. you keep what you grow until I whack you on the head with my stone war hammer and make off with your food etc.

        1. It’s like you never heard Neil Young sing ‘Cortez the Killer.’ It was all peace, love, and happiness until those damn Spaniards came here.

      2. Actually slavery, cannibalism, and human sacrifice was rampant among the indigenous peoples of N &S America. The Spainiards conquered the Aztec empire not because of superiority in numbers but because subservient tribes enslaved and brutalized by the aztecs helped Cortes. The Europeans were actually nicer to the Indians overall then the Indians were to each other.

        1. fingers in ears…LALALALALA!

      3. Look, just because this stone age culture had developed a sense of “you keep what you grow” means it was truely libertarian

        The preference for trails over roads is a dead giveaway.

  7. A real Thanksgiving tragedy would be dry turkey

    1. lumpy gravy…OH THE HUMANITY!

  8. You know what other community lives on government hand-outs in government housing, deprived of private property rights by their community activist leaders whose own prosperity depends on keeping their people dependent on government?

    1. The Obamas ?

  9. We should be grateful- they gave us the gift of the syph.

    1. Wait…an STD that didn’t originate in the Levant?!

      1. We apparently weren’t busy enough.

    2. I educated an anti colonial prof on this point and she blew a gasket, it wasn’t until two fellow biology students backed me up that she calmed down to normal raging professor level.

  10. Easy solution–dismantle the reservation system. Dissolve the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    1. Well, no. That’s the simple solution. Politically it’s anything but easy. In fact, it’s close to impossible.

    2. My mother’s great grandmother was an Indian, of unknown tribe. They were an eastern one that migrated north and south with the seasons. As a toddler, she fell ill and the tribe left her with a white family. When the tribe was headed north the next summer they stopped to pick up their kid but she wanted to stay with the white family. (Probably thought something along the lines of “Heck with all that walking and foraging. These palefaces feed me all I want and I don’t have to trudge miles between meals.”)
      Eh, whatev. So off they went.

      As my mother tells it, her great grandmother’s opinion of the reservations and tribal treaties was that when the last tribe members who were alive when the treaties were signed died, the treaties should be nullified, the reservation lands divided among the tribe members and the Indians should become normal US citizens.

      1. Good story, and sensible idea of your great grandmother’s. Leave it to government to ignore a straightforward and respectable way to extinguish an obsolete and disastrous act in history.

  11. Insert Elizabeth Warren joke here.

    1. Isn’t Warren a joke in of herself?

      1. Well, yes, of course, but we’re funnier.

        1. nothing is funnier than Fauxahauntas

  12. I owned a 1947 Indian Chief once.

  13. They just weren’t hitting it hard enough. More harder collectivism would have fixed it.

  14. My Father, who grew up in Colorado, was of the opinion that one of the major problems the Indians faced was that Bureau of Indian Affaires policy was prone to change every four to eight years, making it hard for the people it was supposed to be ‘helping’ to establish stable institutions. It isn’t so much that either “the Indians must adapt to White ways” or “The Indians need to be left to their own future” are wrong policies (although they probably are, most government ‘policies’ are wrong) but that changing from one to the other and back again plays holy hell with the tribes.

    1. fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke…

  15. Rothbard’s “Conceived in Liberty” speaks to this.

  16. “Jules says not being able to own your own land is part of the problem. “You can’t borrow. You can’t get a mortgage. You can’t be bonded. There’s nothing that you can have that’ll allow you to be able to go to the bank on your own without the (government) minister co-signing that loan.”

    Is the point here that there is some impediment to Indians owning property in general or property on the reservation? I’ve seen plenty of gainfully employed Indians and I can’t imagine why they’d be denied a mortgage if they qualify. I like Stossell but reservations are not prison camps so I’m not sure what the problem is.

    1. Step one of qualifying for a mortgage is owning a piece of land you can build the building on. That’s “owning” as in you can sell the land, or if you don’t pay the loan the bank can repossess it.

      If reservation land is held in common, and can’t be transferred out of the tribe, no mortgage, no secured loan, etc.

      1. Yeah I get that. I’m just saying get off the reservation and buy some real property. I can’t build a house in a state park (owned in common) but there are plenty of alternative sites I can buy and build on. The article seems to imply that Indians are somehow prevented from owning property. I’m not seeing it.

        1. i just want to make certain that everyone here understands that reservation land is NOT held in common for the resident tribe. It’s Federal Land, exactly like the BLM or National Forests. The tribes do not own the land. They cannot opt out of the reservation system; they cannot privatize the land and subdivide it. The livestock and the buildings and the pickups that drive on the Indian Roads technically are personal property, but the ground they all rest on, drive over or eat off of all belong to the World’s Most Famous Federal Government.

          1. I agree with Gaear Grimsrud above, who says “I’m not sure what the problem is.” When you write “They cannot opt out of the reservation system” do you mean they can’t leave the reservation, live elsewhere and work outside the reservation? Who’s keeping them tied to the reservation?

            Certainly the fact that the feds own (or if not control) reservation land is a problem. But it turns out the collectivist mentality of many of these Native Americans is also part of the problem: /manny-jules-taxing-times (note link split due to 50 character word limit)

            But people do build and sell houses on reservations and some are for sale:

            I think a big part of the problem has to do with tribal governments. They appear to be more corrupt than government in the rest of the US. Search on “tribal government corruption”

            And Jules proposal to take it out of their hands seems like it would help reduce that issue.

    2. I’m sure it depends on the Rez, there is plenty of seeded land on the Rez next to where I live. What the tribe does is buy it and offer it to their members so they don’t have to pay property taxes on it. Some members get the tribe as a whole to buy what they want individually. An aside to not paying property taxes is that they also don’t pay for garbage pickup and live in a dump.

  17. But I learned in school that the Pilgrims survived because the natives took pity on our sorry asses and taught us how to grow things. Was my 3rd grade teacher wrong?

    1. I suggest this book.

      The method of burying a fish under seeds is a European technique (Basque, IIRC).

      1. This seems pretty basic and could easily be developed independently by different people.

    2. What do you expect from a government teacher? They don’t bite the hand that feeds them, and that hand belongs to politicians, not parents or students.

  18. “Of course we care about the _______. We give them welfare!”
    Rinse, repeat, get 90% of their vote every year

  19. *With steaming tears one man stands clapping loud and slow*

  20. Rush Limbaugh has been telling the story about the Pilgrims discovering the power of free markets for over a decade.

    1. And it is high time that story got to the pages of Reason.

    2. That realization hit several early groups of colonists who were nearly wiped out by their initial idealist collectivist utopian paradise plans. It’s written down in the journals of those who survived.

      Who started the false tales of the colonists being “saved” by the natives? Most of what the colonists got from them was learning what native plants were edible or dangerous.

      How can we get schools to stop teaching the lies about that period of our history?

      1. Eliminate government unions and publicly funded colleges.

    3. Rush Limbaugh has been telling the story about the Pilgrims discovering the power of free markets for over a decade.

      A story which is itself yet another myth. The reality is that the investors who funded the Mayflower voyage (and remained in England) wrote into the agreement that half the settled land – the physical land itself not its value/price – would revert to direct ownership of those investors after seven years. So there was a disincentive to improving the land built into the free market contract. Legally, they were indentured servants of a land company for those early years. And like any situation where everyone in the group is affected in the same way, they came up with a ‘societal’ rationalization to ensure that individual efforts would not harm the entire group.

      And it wasn’t that ‘utopian commie’ rationalization that caused their agricultural failures. It was their complete and utter incompetence at farming (none had any experience – and they didn’t even bring farm animals).

      Little known fact. The reason half of them died that first winter was because they wandered off looking for the nearest Starbuck not realizing that Moby Dick wasn’t even born yet and so they would have to wait centuries for a mocha latte with chocolate biscotti.

  21. Rush Limbaugh. Some folks see Rush as a fat fucking windbag and a GOP sucking hypocrite but you, friend, you see the man, the godamn human being, behind the bloated carcass of caricature. Libertarians need to cut Rush some slack and medidate on the man’s genius. The rest will follow.

    1. Medidate? Does that mean we should dope ourselves up before listening to El Rushbo? Is this the key to comprehending his brilliance?

    2. I’m with you Eric. I agree, Rush is a genius in his understanding of the drive by media and the Democrats. And I don’t always agree with his political positions. And I even like Hannity for his very respectful behavior and honesty, even though I disagree with all his social conservatism.

      I used to like Megyn, but see seems stuck on Trump’s taking advantage of groupies for the rich, which he probably did years ago and which gave him a playboy reputation then. What difference does how Trump took advantage of willing women years ago when it comes to running the country?

      And I write this believing Trump’s administration will be as or more disappointing to his supporters than Obama’s administration was to his supporters. Does Trump even know that it was the freedom we had that made America great? I’ve never heard him say that. And I’ll bet we’ll spend more and have a higher deficit in 2017 than in 2016. Any takers?

  22. I’m sorry, but you’re pretty much massaging the history to create a narrative that suits your own purposes, something that’s been done to the Pilgrim story for decades. I won’t throw up the other side to this debate because whether you admit it or not you are more than likely familiar with the holes in the interpretation of the story you present.You then throw aboriginal issues into the mix in an attempt to try to prop up your concepts, which IMHO is doing their issues a disservice.

    First off this idea that communal living isn’t viable is total BS. Ask any of the plain folk, like Hutterites or Amish who practice varying levels of communal living and have flourished, if communes don’t work. It isn’t communal living that doesn’t work it’s living under tyrannical systems that’s the problem. It doesn’t matter if the system is communist, socialist, or capitalist. If it doesn’t respect a person’s freedoms, one being to choose it’s a flawed system.

    As for the aboriginal question, it’s much larger than private property rights. There are many aboriginals that don’t live on reservations and still have many of the social problems that plague those that do. There are also many reservations that actually are very well off and have successfully dealt with their social issues. It’s a myth that all aboriginals are alcoholics living in poverty if they live on a reservation. More often their problems can be traced to a lack of agency, not private property.

    1. Comment continued:

      As a libertarian, I most definitely believe in the right of ownership. I also believe in an individuals right to choose to forgo the right of ownership in favour of pooling resources in a group. That’s what freedom of choice means. As long as I and everyone else has the right to choose how they’ll live and doesn’t have the choice dictated to them by someone else I have no problems with what is ultimately decided by anyone.

  23. My first job out of High School was at St Paul and over the next 5 years Iearned so very much. Seeing the hospital torn down tears a small piece of my heart out. The Daughters of Charity and the doctors and staff of St Paul Hospital will always be with me..???????

  24. My first job out of High School was at St Paul and over the next 5 years Iearned so very much. Seeing the hospital torn down tears a small piece of my heart out. The Daughters of Charity and the doctors and staff of St Paul Hospital will always be with me..???????

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