I participated in a conversation with the luckiest people in the world and they didn’t know it. These were American white men averaging about seventy years old and the conversation was mostly about corporations cheating the public. Organizations such as the tobacco, alcohol, and drug industries were the worst, but the same ethos permeated American business and the whole world of business, although those others haven’t been so obviously destructive of the health and wealth of otherwise normal people.

I didn’t say much during this particular conversation, and I was feeling grumpy. I realized that if I spoke it would put unpleasant thoughts in these guys’ minds, and perhaps it would generate some guilt, but at their age they aren’t going to be doing anything radically political to pay back to society the clear benefits they had been gifted. For example, nearly all of those present had received some of their college educations in land grant schools. But no one spoke of where that vast amount of money came from that built and maintained those institutions. It was the Morrill act of 1862, signed into law by President Lincoln, that gave vast amounts of public land to found and support colleges for the common people. That sounds great, but where did that land come from? It came from the native people of America who were forced off of that land and then it was sold to settlers and railroads.

I got my BA degree almost free of personal charge and left college without any debt. It was paid for by the rentals and sales of that formerly Indian land, but once the land was sold it was no longer available to support today’s students. On average we who benefited from that education made lots more money than if we hadn’t gotten that education.

But there is a sad irony in this story. This very cohort of people who received these benefits are the ones who have consistently voted to cut college financial support and so their kids and grandkids are not getting the public support that they received and many are not getting their families’ direct support either. The excuse given by their parents goes something like, “I worked my way through college so you can follow in my footsteps and work for your education too.” But that is largely a fabrication because others paid the bills for those parents’ educations.

This lucky cohort of old people also created a system of future debt for their children instead of transferring the gift they had received to them. But, the saddest part for me, in this conversation, was that …

No one seemed to be aware of how lucky they were to be given their free education by Indians.