Steve Russell: Social capital in Indian Country

"If your tribal nation is rich in social capital, good for you.

If not, you have to decide what to do if you don't want to leave. The United States has plenty of ideas for you.

First, you can ban alcohol and drugs from your community if you believe you are so different from the United States that the result will not be the creation of a new criminal class with money to entice your children outside the law.

Second, you can forget your traditions of restorative justice and adopt the white folks' idea of retributive justice. After all, retribution has worked so well for the United States that it imprisons more people per capita than any other country.

Those tribes that had no restorative justice traditions had only punishment of the body: torture or death. No Indian nation locked people up for longer than it took to sober up a drunk.

In modern times, banishment is the equivalent of the death penalty and it has the advantage of being reversible if you make a mistake, as you certainly will because every justice system does. Banishment from an Indian community with little social capital is probably a sentence to a big-city neighborhood of the same character. Failure to banish is a judgment call that someone who has offended against the community is ready to contribute social capital rather than expend it. The character of the community is the sum of all individual decisions about who helps and who hurts.

Social capital can be regained. Many tribes have awakened to the links between language retention and their peoplehood, and so they spend money to encourage elders to ''talk Indian'' to youngsters. History preservation tends to preserve social capital, too, since most of us have some ordeal in our past that binds us together as long as we have the memory."

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: Social capital and how to hoard it (Indian Country Today 12/28)

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Steve Russell: Cherokee constitutional crisis (12/14)
Steve Russell: The price of 'sovereignty' (11/23)
Steve Russell: Getting along in Indian Country (11/9)
Steve Russell: Life lessons from a poker game (10/26)