“We have fought for a long time to get back our land and have not had that much success in the legal system. […] They (the Native Americans) pretty much lost our whole estate on White Earth Reservation*.” (Winona LaDuke)
Winona LaDuke’s words remind us that even in 2018, the fragile situation for many Native Americans continues in the United States. Since the colonisation of America, this minority group has been forgotten and excluded from American society; a topic that is often looked over by American citizens.
Neither the Washington Redskins nor Columbus Day are celebrated by Native American society. Despite the fact that these examples are an integral part of America’s national sentiment, for Native Americans they are reminders of the atrocities committed against its population. As Native American Jay Bad Heart Bull explains, Columbus <led a lot of devastating movements against indigenous people”
A little bit of history…
Since European colonisation there have been attempts to remove native tribes from economically important areas of the country. The formation of the Indian reservations began in 1830 with the law passed by president Andrew Jackson which aimed to to resettle tribes from Mississippi to Western States, such as Oklahoma. Alongside relocation, the state also tried to “americanise” the population by forcing children to attend American schools within their reservation. They were obliged to dress like Americans, prohibited to talk native languages at school and their education intended to assimilate them by obliterating their indigenous heritage. The Act was repealed in 1934, nevertheless amongst Native Americans poverty, illiteracy, alcohol and drug problems were higher than ever.
Today there are 326 Indian reservations in the United States and 567 recognized tribes of which 22% of this population live in reservation camps. The alarming number of suicide rates, alcohol and drug abuse still rests a major unsolved issue within the reservations. Due to the precarious availability of social insurance for everyone, people suffering from diseases particularly from heart problems, diabetes or tuberculosis very often have no access to treatments. Often far from urban areas, as well as a lack of educational establishments, Native Americans therefore face huge discrimination by having no access to employment or proper healthcare facilities. Life in reservations is often difficult, to such an extent that the Natives in Pine Ridge reservation have the lowest life expectancy rate of the U.S., (66,8 years, a number inferior to that of Sudan), an unemployment rate of 80% and 44% of its inhabitants are below the U.S. poverty line.
Some alarming statistics…
The Center for Native American Youth is an organisation which aims to raise awareness amongst the American population about the difficult reality of the Native youth and tries to raise funds in order to prevent these problems. Several issues have been revealed by their study:
- Today 32% of the Natives under 18 live in poverty
- The suicide rates of Native teenagers are 3.5 times higher than the national average
- Rates of diabetes are 177% higher than on national level
- Deaths caused by alcoholism exceed those of the general population by 514%
- 16% of the 12-year-old or older report substance dependence or abuse, 12.5% even admit an illicit drug use
- With 50% school graduates the American Natives face the lowest level of education in the United States
- The US Department of Justice reported gang activity in over 23% of tribes and crime rates twice as high as the national level (rapes and violent attacks occur most often)
What many people forget is that it was not until 1924 that the Native American population were granted the possibility to obtain American Citizenship. Yet, ninety-four years on, their privileges, in particular respectful interaction with their Native American culture is still not guaranteed. A recent example is the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project pushed through by the Trump government. Once set in place, it will allow the transportation of 570 000 barrels of oil within one day from North Dakota to Illinois. Not only does it reinforce the environmentally controversial technique of fracking, but the Pipeline is constructed underneath the Missouri River which would disastrously threaten the primary drinking water source of the Standing Rock Sioux living there.
(Standing Rock Sioux tribe protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota- https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/09/09gettyimages-599437908custom-c76220958de82b60aab91eda20af978f092718aa-s900-c885.jpg )
As the Human Rights Convention has set out, everyone has the right to life without fear of segregation or discrimination. Yet, americanisation has not only excluded but has also lead to the discrimination of many Native Americans.
These tribes are an integral part of American history, therefore their well-being and heritage need to be protected, not forgotten.
*White Earth Nation is a reservation in the north of Minnesota created in 1867 that still fosters a strong devotion to its ancestral traditions notably by cultivating their native language. http://www.whiteearth.com/history.html
This article was written by Ines Ulz, a first-year student of political science at Sciences Po Nancy and member of the STAND France Communications Task Force. Born and raised in Vienna she is now enjoying her study abroad experience.