Giving a Voice to the True Americans
The Truth About Native American Mistreatment Today
When native lands were invaded by foreign Europeans in the 1700s, the people who lived upon those areas were quick to take action. Battles were fought; blood was shed. This may sound like the start of a very interesting movie, but as we all know, it is history. Native Americans were driven away from their homes to designated areas the government had “given” to them. Yes, given. After taking their homes and forcing them to walk miles upon miles chained up, they decided compensation would be provided by giving them land. This type of mistreatment was not uncommon back then, and it is not uncommon nowadays, either. Native people are just like you and I. They have the same hopes, dreams, and feelings as you do, but they are still being treated otherwise. That is the issue. The general public wants to believe reservation life is great, but unless you are there, you will never know the struggles the people face every day. Since living conditions, schools systems, and healthcare are severely flawed on reservations, more must be done to finally end the injustice Native Americans receive in the United States..
Then vs. Now
Life within Colonial America and after was not a piece of cake. Native Americans struggled extremely. They did not know how to adapt to this new life. Their culture and traditions had started to vanish as they were forced to learn the white man’s ways. Those who were once hunters with an abundance of food and fertile land struggled to become farmers in a desert-like area. With this, most died of starvation. The settlers spread disease among the Natives, causing them to get sick and die. If they did not die of starvation or disease, then they most likely died from war injuries, as feuding tribes were put together to try and “better relations.”
Those who are not educated on what life is like on these reservations may think that all of these are things of the past. They are wrong. Kids on reservations are turning to gangs and violence due to a lifelong history of feuding tribes. According to Rich Lone Elk, a resident of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, “People are fighting each other, shooting each other, someone’s getting beat up every other night” (Williams, 2016, para. 8). Not only is this violence due to a past of feuding tribes being forced to live together, but this small area is causing the younger generations to not know much about their culture and turn to gangs for a sense of belonging and a sense of self.
Additionally, living conditions themselves are truly awful. Chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court, Theresa M. Pouley, says, “One-quarter of Indian children live in poverty, versus 13 percent in the United States” (Horwitz, 2014, para. 7). This poverty is due to an abundance of reasons. First, unemployment rates are through the roof. Depending on the reservation, four to eight out of ten adults are unemployed on reservations (“Living Conditions,” 2015, para. 2). Most families are overcrowded in homes that include their elders since they are not able to financially support themselves. Not only that, but most housing is small, beat down, and unlivable. To force people to live in such ways without an opportunity for better is extremely unfair. (“Living Conditions,” 2015, para. 6)
The environment they live in is not one sufficient for life. They are mostly in cold areas, like Montana, or hot areas, like Arizona. This makes it hard to farm for food. They cannot go to grocery stores outside of the reservations, either, as healthier and cleaner foods are usually more expensive. Their water situation is not any better. Most people do not have running or clean water. In fact, less than half of the houses on reservations are connected to a public sewer system, and sixteen percent lack indoor plumbing. Would someone outside of the reservation expect to live somewhere lacking plumbing? The answer is no. These living situations are unhealthy, unsanitary, and downright wrong. (“Housing and Infrastructure,” 2020, para. 2)
Education is something the United States prioritizes. It is something everyone should have access to and be able to utilize. That is not the case with reservations, however. Education is there, yes, but it is lacking big time. Kids on reservations are not getting the education they need. They either cannot go to school, or the few who do, struggle tremendously. It has been reported that Native American students graduate at a rate 17% lower than the national average (Horwitz, 2014, para. 7). Some cannot go to school because they have to take care of family, cannot afford school, or do not have transportation to said schools. Not only that, but their testing scores are extremely low compared to the national average. This is not the kids’ fault. In fact, it is the fault of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education, or the BIE (Brenna, 2014, para. 3).
The BIE is an organization made to deal with all educational affairs on reservations. It is supposed to help with funding and bettering school systems while keeping the culture and tribes in consideration. According to a 2013 report:
The GAO found the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) had so mismanaged schools that it had given them permission to use assessments that failed to meet federal requirements because the BIE does not have procedures that specify who should be involved in key decisions. (Brenna, 2014, para. 4)
The BIE itself is falling apart and cannot properly handle the roles it was given.
The BIE also is in charge of employing qualified and capable staff members within these schools. However, with their lack of attraction, they have a tough time finding and keeping qualified teachers and principals. When they do find, for example, principals who want to stay, it is hard to keep them due to the lack of funding. Most of the time, the principals need to dip into their own pockets to cover costs like purchasing textbooks and helping with the provision of school lunches. Unless they want to buy extra textbooks or choose to help out with funds, principals in other schools do not have to purchase these things. Funding should be available to every school in America, not only the ones that the government picks and chooses. (Brenna, 2014, para. 11)
It is not just the teachers and principals the BIE has trouble sustaining. Many of the school buildings are incredibly unsafe and “in extreme states of disrepair - with leaking roofs and walls, asbestos, mold, and aging bus fleets traveling roads that become impassable in bad weather…” (Brenna, 2014, para. 12). Furthermore, breathing in asbestos or mold is unsafe and causes major health issues. Most people who encounter those in their homes move out right away to protect themselves. Unfortunately, the students and staff do not have the luxury of transferring to a better building. All of these school buildings on reservations are just like the others and are dangerous to those who enter them five times a week. Whether it is health issues they may run into, or a possibility of a roof caving in, it can be extremely unsafe. It is also unfair to those who use the busses and cannot when there is poor weather because of how bad the roads can get. Sometimes bussing is their only safe transportation to something the government requires all children to attend. This type of expectation for residents on reservations - to continue to go to such poorly built and under funded schools - is unfair and unjust. The government would not expect anyone else to deal with this, so why should children who live on reservations? (Brenna, 2014, para. 12).
Everyone wants to live a long and happy life. People hope they can go about their day with smiles and no complications. This is not the sugar coated reality for those who live on reservations, though. First of all, most residents of these reservations get very little health benefits (like healthcare) or none. They usually have to go to hospitals on the reservation, which is lacking the needs of the people. Most big hospitals are either too far away or too expensive. With these poor living conditions, healthcare would be a great help to those who cannot afford much. Yet the government still does nothing to help those who need it most (“Living Conditions,” 2015, para. 9).
Not only can they not get the help that they need, but issues like heart disease, tuberculosis, cancer, and diabetes are on a rise. Residents do not have the correct resources to provide healthy and clean foods. They resort to whatever is cheapest, which usually means junk food, foods high in sodium, and foods lacking the nutrition essential to life. This then results in things like heart disease or diabetes, two major leading causes of death within the Native American people. With lack of nutrition comes horrid illnesses like tuberculosis and cancer. They cannot get the proper treatment they need to help fight off these diseases, so it often leads to a slow and painful death. Once again, the government is not doing anything to try and lessen these tragedies (“Living Conditions,” 2015, para. 10).
Physical health is not the only problem within reservations. Alcoholism and drug abuse rates have been on a rise for many years. These awful situations the residents must live through lead to a search for a distraction. These distractions often include drinking and drugs. In 2013, it was reported that:
12.3 percent of American Indians were current users of illicit drugs, compared with 9.5 percent of whites, 8.8 percent of Hispanics, and 10.5 percent of African Americans. The rate of binge drinking among American Indians was 23.5 percent, and the rate of tobacco use was 40.1 percent (“Addiction Among,” 2020, para. 4).
It is only getting worse as the years go by. Change is not happening, so residents continue to look for any type of escape, even if it is harmful.
Poor mental health is another big problem within residents of reservations. They feel like they cannot leave their homes, most are in poor situations or struggling to get by. This causes them to fall into a deep pit of depression. The depression then turns into more like self harm or even suicide. It has been reported that 82% of Native Americans are most likely to die from suicide than from any other cause (“Living Conditions,” 2015, para. 11). It has also been reported that most die before they are 24. Residents are not getting the correct help that they need when it comes to mental health. There are no counselors or therapists on reservations, and the ones nearby are too expensive. The lack of funding and resources provided to Native Americans on reservations are causing an intense decline of their people (Horwitz, 2014, para. 13).
The first thing that the government needs to do to better the living conditions within reservations is to expand where they are located. Keeping them in places where they cannot even grow their own food is unfair and wrong. They need to be closer to inner cities where they can get the resources they need. The next big thing that needs to happen is to open more opportunities for these marvelous people. They need more job opportunities to support their families and better funding to help their schools. Their children deserve a chance at life, too. The government also needs to help more when it comes to funding their healthcare, moving rehab and counseling centers onto reservations, and more access to necessities like clean water, healthy food, and qualified doctors.
We as a nation should also step in to help. Whether it is raising money, providing essentials like food or transportation, or even helping fix up houses and schools. More people within this country should be aware of these problems and want to help. We must unite together and help those who came before us. Everyone deserves a fair shot in life, especially the people who were here first.
Native American people were the first people of this country and deserve better than they are getting. Change must happen. This unfair treatment that is being silenced must be heard for once and for all. The American government and people in power need to do more to help those on reservations. Flaws will forever be evident within our country, but healthcare, living conditions, and school systems on these sites need to be fixed and better for future generations to come.
Addiction among native Americans: Drug use and alcoholism. (2020, February 26). Sunrise House. Retrieved from https://sunrisehouse.com/addiction-demographics native-americans/
Brenna, S. (2014, December 11). Why are native students being left behind? Teach for America. Retrieved from https://www.teachforamerica.org/stories/why-are-native- students-being-left-behind
Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). (n.d.). U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.bia.gov/bie
Indian reservations. (2017, December 8). History.com. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/indian-reservations
Horwitz, S. (2014, March 9). The hard lives - and high suicide rate - of native American children on reservations. The Washington Post. Retrieved from www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-hard-lives--and-high-suicide-rate--of-native-american-children/2014/03/09/6e0ad9b2-9f03-11e3-b8d8-94577ff66b28_story.html
Living conditions. (2015). Native American Aid. Retrieved from www.nativepartnership.org/site/PageServer?pagename=naa_livingconditions.
Housing and infrastructure. (2020). National Congress of American Indians. Retrieved from http://www.ncai.org/policy-issues/economic-development-commerce/housing-infrastructu
Williams, M. (2016, September 12). What life on a Native American reservation really looks like. Huckmag.com. Retrieved from https://www.huckmag.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/native-american-reservation-pine-ridge-photography/