Due to the horrific and violent nature of the development of the Americas into the modern, advanced countries we see today, the relationship between modern Americans and the ancestors of the Natives who lived here before us is fragile at best. In order to maintain an ethical and conscientious outlook on our history, America has frequently weaponized fear and religion as tools to lift us up and force the Native Americans down, in a way that has devastatingly altered the Native American community, and has created infinite hardships for them.
These vast inequalities that Native Americans have battled throughout American history go beyond the racism and xenophobia that you hear about on the news. While present day Native Americans face difficulty in their everyday lives because of the assumptions made about them based on the color of their skin, they often cannot do anything to stop this mistreatment because if the defendant is a US citizen, the tribal courts are not given the authority to prosecute them, even if the crime happened on their soil.
Furthermore, because the present-day political environment is one so slighted against the Native American people, a lingering fear remains that the American government could at any time come onto a reservation and kick out its Native inhabitants, and the Native members would have no hope of stopping them from doing so. Legal weapons like ‘Plenary Power’ give the American government absolute authority over tribes, meaning that all of the recognized US Native American tribes are at the complete mercy of the government. Because Native Americans are at the complete mercy of the US government and they also rely on the government to survive, they are trapped in a cycle where they could not survive if they left, and they can barely survive if things keep going the way that they are currently. One of the worst things about Plenary Power (besides the fact that is a complete abuse of power, and a breach of basic human rights) is that if anyone were actually talking about it, there would be total outrage all around the country, but instead it has been ignored. The continued mistreatment of Native Americans has ultimately cultivated an environment in which their individual and collective struggles are utterly ignored by the rest of the world.
I found my topic completely by chance. At the time that this project was assigned to me, I had just finished watching a tv show about canadians and their interactions with the natives on a local reservation, I had just started playing lacrosse (which was created by Native Americans, and originally known as ‘stickball’), and as a class we had just finished learning about President Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears. As just a preliminary idea for a subject, I was at first considering altering my focus to a different topic because it was so hard to find information about Native American injustice. Thankfully though, I decided to stick with my topic and to keep searching for websites and information. As I slowly started to find and take notes on websites, it became increasingly easier to ask the right kind of question, and quickly I became good at finding the very useful hidden information. But as I continued, another even more important realization struck me: my project could bring together all of these incredible stories and desperate pleas for help, and it could give people both the means and the desire to learn more and make a change. The harder that it was to find each new source, the harder I wanted to fight for these Native American tribes and the severe injustice problems that they face.
For more on how I found this project and became so engaged in it, please feel free to read my full Personal Interest Essay, linked here:https://docs.google.com/document/d/17o6w2-Ha7IJW8ZeQUPS8Sskj79Mz8RYCA4iKD6H3-0s/edit
HISTORY OF THE PROBLEM:
The injustice that Native Americans face today is a direct result of how they have been treated ever since the founding of our country.
When the colonists first entered North America, they were naturally met with resistance from the Natives, who did not want their land and goods stolen. This fear was compounded when the colonists, who believed that they had the legal right to come to America and take the Native’s land, turned to the use of force instead of diplomacy.
One such example comes from the Doctrine of Discovery:
“The Court affirmed that United States law was based on a fundamental rule of the “Law of Nations” – that it was permissible to virtually ignore the most basic rights of indigenous “heathens,” and to claim that the “unoccupied lands” of America rightfully belonged to discovering Christian European nations” (Newcomb)
There are so many other relevant and important examples of Native American mistreatment throughout American history, and you can find my whole research paper on those very examples at this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1253SCd1CcWBgwj_v0RND8Nzd42tPEJr5iqnpl_51KaM/edit
PRESENT DAY PROBLEM:
(Rape Culture Realities),(Twitter),(MMIW)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
As the two videos and the infographics show, the current state of the problem is very concerning. To share a few of the alarming statistics;
- An average 84% of American Indian and Alaska Native women deal with some form of violence in their lifetime (The highest rate in the entire country) (Ultraviolet)
- Of the 1,572 missing & murdered Native women in 2016, only 116 cases were logged in the DOJ database (MMIW)
“According to a 2006 Indian Health Services (IHS) report, although overall Native Americans now enjoy better health, there were still great health disparities between Native Americans and the US general population: the rate of tuberculosis amongst Native Americans was 600 per cent higher than among the US general population, the rate of alcoholism was 510 per cent higher, diabetes 189 per cent higher and accidental injuries 152 per cent higher than for the US general population. In addition, the rate of homicide was 61 per cent higher among Native Americans than among the general population, and the rate of suicide 62 per cent higher. Approximately 12 per cent of Native American homes were still lacking safe indoor water supplies, compared to less than 1 per cent of homes in the general US population.” (‘Native Americans’)
Even though Native Americans and their ancestors lived here long before we did, they are treated by the government like they are foreign invaders who do not belong, and who do not have any claim to this land. One of the biggest current problems that Native Americans face is a general lack of resources: a lack of sufficient education, lack of proper healthcare, lack of clean drinking water, etc… The 2 main reasons that there is such a critical lack of these supplies are as a result of racism towards Native Americans, and because not enough people know about these issues for anything to be done. Racist parts of the American government have used their superior resources and knowledge to steal thousands of acres of land from Native Americans in horrible real estate deals, and they use methods like these to force Native Americans into poverty. Because Native Americans rely on the American government for education, health care, and economic aide, they are essentially at the will of the government because they would not be able to survive without this help. Even worse, when the corrupt groups that are in charge of overseeing and supplying the reservations with these resources decide to keep them and make a profit off of the reservations, the members of those tribes are financially crippled. This system that forces Native Americans into poverty brings with it a multitude of other devastating problems for them to deal with. Many Native Americans who find that they can no longer afford to pay their bills turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, and when their lack of health care makes it impossible to get the counseling that they need, they sink further into their depression and alcoholism, and end up taking it out in violent and sexually aggressive ways, or even suicide. As seen above, the rate of alcoholism amongst Native Americans was 510% higher than the US population, the rate of homicide was 62% higher, and the rate of suicide was 61% higher (‘Native Americans’).
You can read more about the current problems here: https://minorityrights.org/minorities/native-americans/
And you can read my own essay on them here:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iG60-y8O8eFpuKjDgicYHXoEKtDgBAEDj_ENa5yPC_A/edit
The two videos above are so powerful and important, and I strongly suggest that you watch them. The line “I think that I have told you something new. I hope that I have told you something shocking. And now you’re all responsible for that information” emphasizes the power of stories, and it is so important to recognize that a lot of issues could be fixed a lot faster if people took the time to share these stories. Not only are we responsible for sharing these stories, but as citizens, we are morally responsible for helping this group in need. To really do our part, there are actions that we must take as individuals and there are actions that we must take as a society. If you really look hard enough, you will find that there are so many ways to help out and to bring positive change, and most of the opportunities to help only require a small portion of your time and energy. Some of the best ways in which you can help are listed below.
Here are some of the best ways that you can help out and get more involved in fixing the problem.
To help support and protect Native Americans, there are crucial daily actions that we must take as individuals, as well as things that we can all do to help out even more. A few examples are:
- Respect Native Americans and treat them as you would anyone else
- Observe their requests of proper ways to act when on their reservations and sacred land
- Help fundraise for charities and organizations that support Native Americans
- Volunteer on a local reservation
- Adopt-an-Elder programs
And much, much more.
Although individual action is incredibly useful in supporting the Native Americans and the groups that fight for them, change on a larger scale is desperately needed. For our efforts to really bring lasting change to the lives of Native Americans, we need to work together as a community to raise awareness and to push for changes in the government. The main ways that the community needs to support these issues are:
- Hold marches to raise awareness for Native American injustice
- Lobby the government for acts that will support Tribal Sovereignty and protect Native Americans from being taken advantage of
- Vote for Native Americans running for government
- Create more local jobs so that Native Americans can support themselves and their families
For more information on both Micro and Macro solutions, follow the link here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iG60-y8O8eFpuKjDgicYHXoEKtDgBAEDj_ENa5yPC_A/edit
Now that you have read all of that and informed yourself on the topic, I would love to hear any feedback you might have. If you were surprised by anything on here, please tell me about that. If you have ever witnessed injustice like this happening, please comment. If you have ever done any sort of volunteer work to help fight against this problem, please comment. If you have any questions or want to say anything at all, please comment. The biggest way that we can help fight this problem right now is by sharing stories, educating ourselves and others, and by creating a community space where we can work together to solve these problems. As Gregg Deal said in his Ted Talk above, “now that you know all of this information, you are responsible for it.” What will you do to help me fight this problem, and to help our community grow and repair. Thank you for your time!