Colorful, argumentative retired Star Tribune investigative reporter Joe Rigert sounds like a conservative in his fourth book, “The Dependency Curse.”
The book examines the possibility that the rates of alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence, child neglect and other issues in the American Indian community are a result of government dependence. It’s not a hypothesis some would expect Rigert to explore.
But the author of “All Together: An Unusual American Family,” about being the father of one biological child and seven adopted kids of various ethnicities, including Indian, is uniquely qualified.
Q: You’re a knee-jerk liberal. Why write a book that appeals to conservatives opposed to government programs that help minorities such as Native Americans?
A: My personal ideological preferences are irrelevant when I learn of a powerful story. In this case, the story is described in the title, “The Dependency Curse: How Reliance on Government and Casinos Damages Native American Lives.” The dependency, as native leaders see it, helps explain why native people lack self-worth and suffer epic rates of suicides, alcoholism, domestic violence and other social problems. If conservative critics agree with that, so be it. They are wrong on most issues, but not on every one.
Q: What are your conclusions about the future of reservations for Native Americans?
A: I can’t speak for Native Americans. They are speaking for themselves. Two-thirds of them have left the reservations to live in mainstream society.
Q: Does your book remind white people how their ancestors mistreated the original Americans?
A: Yes, I point out how the white European colonizers defeated the original Americans in a series of wars and forced them to live on those reservations to make room for white settlers. But I also note how native tribes went to war with each other in building empires, took slaves and massacred their native “enemies.” It’s all part of the ebb and flow of history, and proof that not all people are “nice.”
Q: Why did you self-publish?
A: I went the quick and easy way, going to Amazon to publish my book on demand, which means it is printed only when a sale is made. Most authors know publishers go for books that have popular appeal and the potential for significant sales. A controversial, contrarian book like mine, rejecting the “lo, the poor Indian” stereotype, does not have that potential.
Q: What vicarious brushes with racism have you and your wife experienced as the adoptive parents of native, black, Hispanic and Asian children?
A: We’ve seen it all, especially in the earlier years of overt racism. We were told when we moved here 50 years ago that certain areas of the city were redlined, off limits to people of color. Our kids have been followed in department stores under the assumption they were shoplifters; one routinely stopped by cops when he drove in white suburbs; another hauled to the police station when biking down a city street, under the belief the bike was stolen. One of our black daughters was asked by a passing cop what she was doing in our neighborhood. That was in the days when this was pretty much enforced as a “white” city. No more.
Q: You were famously pugnacious. Do you remember a series of stories about Jeno Paulucci when you got into an argument with [then-reporter] Dick Meryhew that resulted in your wife, Jan, telling you to apologize?
A: Jan says that there were so many examples of my constant arguments with colleagues that she can’t remember that particular encounter.
Q: How many times a week does Jan have to tell you to apologize these days?
A: Actually, she doesn’t have to tell me anymore. I have developed a self-corrective mechanism, wherein I humbly make amends with victims of my scorn, anger or disdain, without prompting. In other words, I have mellowed at age 85 — somewhat.
Q: How’s your Manhattan habit?
A: Well, I still follow the advice of experts that moderate drinking, two a day, reduces stress and helps one to live longer. And in retirement, I don’t have to deal with ruthless editors seeking to exert power over me.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.