The Influence of Henry George
on the Cherokee Nation

Ray E. Harrell

[Reprinted from Land-Theory, 31 December 1998]

This particular Georgist (Casper Davis) finally answered a question that I posed on this list a couple of years ago to one of his colleagues from California. In the 1880s the politician Henry Dawes visited the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma where there was no poverty and more than a little wealth as well as universal education, health care and suffrage. Not a person was in debt and everyone owned their own house. More than a few were mansions and some were millionaires, today they would be considerably more than millionaires. All of this in a population of under 50,000 people.

Dawes reported back to Washington that they were followers of Henry George and would never progress further until the "common" was broken up and "every person learned the virtue of selfishness" which Dawes considered to be the root of all human progress. Ten years later the federal government used Dawes' report not only to justify breaking up the Cherokee lands but to dispossess all indigenous nations of their lands and self government. They created the state of Oklahoma and after giving a pittance to each Indian citizen they dispersed the rest in a land rush to the local European immigrants. After the state of Oklahoma was formed it was the Cherokee Lawyers who formed the Oklahoma Bar Association and not the immigrants the same was true for the medical doctors, teachers and the State's Baptist Newspaper which all came from the then defunct Cherokee nation and culture.

I asked two years ago how we (my Cherokee ancestors) were followers of Henry George, and today Casper explained it. I would say that Henry George was "following" us considering that our structure was older but nonetheless it did seem to be the same. Dawes was at least right about that. I did not realize how hostile American Society was to George in the 1890s.

I would suggest that it might behoove economist Angell to study the Cherokee Nation from 1846 to the Congressional Curtis Dissolution Act in the 1890s to understand why the TNCs and Information Revolution are such delicate affairs. It is the foreign policy of governments that has destroyed the best ideals of Utopian thought and schemes. Companies do not have that possibility even when they have yearly budgets that far exceed the budgets of most world governments. Indeed China has a limited GDP but its land and people mass could obliterate Bill Gates and friends small universe if they were placed in competition without outside governmental help going to Gates.

Would the Soviet Union have collapsed if it had not had a virtual embargo by the West for almost the entire seventy years of its existence? How about Cuba? We have not had a fair competition with any of the Communist systems compared to the Capitalists without government embargo and military pressures applied on both sides thus far.

There is very little that was practiced by any of the communist countries that was not practiced by this country in its first seventy years of existence. Would the U.S. have collapsed on itself if it had not committed genocide for its frontier expansion and had first an owned work force of human slaves from 1776 to 1860 and then an oppressing apartheid policy to protect the European minority in the South from 1865 to 1954?

Would the South have been America's Chechniya (sp?) with legislatures elected by the Black majority across the South that were hostile and thus drove the Europeans both North and West? Would these reverse carpetbaggers have created a hostile underclass that would have devoured the democracy from within its white ranks and created the kind of cynical laissez faire attitude that is prevalent in Russia today but without the cultural glue thus driving the wealthy back to Europe from whence they came?

Well, just some thoughts on these last few hours of 1998. I would suggest that another traditional process might be in order for many of the problems that have been discussed thus far on this list. Recently there has been a revival of religious programming in the U.S. with even the medical profession suggesting that prayer, even from a distance, can heal people who are connected to each other.

Being both a pagan and a priest, this might seem strange to some that I would suggest a possible answer within such a thought but nonetheless I am offering the thought. It is said that meditation is the highest form of prayer amongst my people. I would suggest a meditation on the balance of things for this new year. Meditate on your neighbors, not from the standpoint of conversion to your way of thought, but with the idea that a healthy neighbor is less likely to be a destructive one. If you pray for the balance of human societies, the health of their children and the development of their potential as humans, and then you do the same for the rest of life on the earth and the earth itself, then at least within yourself you will grow more aware. And who knows what will happen if we all grow more aware and less anesthetized by both the pace and demands of the world that we have decided to dream into place up until the present? Happy New Year!

Ray Evans Harrell

Caspar Davis wrote:

This article gives a good description of the growing gap between the rich and poor, and of the shrinking middle class.

I was taught and firmly believe that the health of a society is indicated most clearly by the size and well being of the middle group. After the second world war, there were almost 30 years of unprecedented prosperity during which the wealth (at least in the "developed" nations) was distributed more equally than at almost any time since tribal times. Since 1972, that trend has reversed. GDP, which measures economic activity regardless of its environmental or social consequences, counting the money spent on cancer treatment, oil spill clean up, divorce courts and prisons in just the same way as it counts the money spent on education or food, has continued to increase, but almost every other measure of well-being has declined, and the social consequences are very palpable.

The author asks, "What is the relationship between equity and economic growth?" This is the central question asked by Henry George 120 years ago in Progress and Poverty. His answer was that all livelihood ultimately depended upon access to land (in which he included all natural resources, and ALSO such things as government-created monopolies (i.e. things like salt in Gandhi's India, taxi cab licences, radio and TV licences, and all patents). Where those resources, which were provided by nature as commons for the good of all, are held in a few hands, the holders of them can and do claim all the value of both labour AND capital, leaving the labourer or ordinary businessperson no more than they need for elementary subsistence. George's answer was for society to charge those who benefitted from the exclusive use of land or any other part of the commons the full economic rent therefore, and to distribute the rent equally to all so that all might benefit.

Since George's time, the enclosure of the commons has gone on apace. The electromagnetic spectrum has been given free of charge to the holders of TV and radio licences; patent laws have been dramatically strengthened, and lately even life forms and genetic material have been privatized for private profit. Government funding, paid by the taxes of all, has been diverted from the needy to profitable corporations,either to help them become "more competitive" or often as outright bribes to induce them to locate facilities within or not to take facilities away from a particular jurisdiction. As Time magazine recently showed, they often take the (public) money and run. Therefore government revenues must be included in the modern definition of "land", as must the ability of the earth, air and watrer to absorb and neutralize pollutants.

I have sent for the full report to see what the author's prescription is. I believe that Henry George's solution is still the best that I have seen, but whether I am right or not, it is clear that the Neo-Liberal "trickle down" theory results only in the sucking up and retention of wealth by those at the top.