As Americans living in the U.S., we wake up every morning on the stolen land and unmarked graves of Native Americans. Indigenous peoples have been marginalized for hundreds of years; from the U.S. displacing them and putting them on reservations, to the Spaniards’ enslavement, Native Americans have almost been completely wiped out in order for White settlers to say that no one was there before them, justifying the ‘new world’ and ‘manifest destiny’ ideas.
Fast-forward to 2020: one in three Natives are in poverty, making a median income of $23,000 per year. Sociologist Beth Redbird cites job loss for this shocking statistic. Changes in government can also be cited as the cause of decreasing jobs in construction and manufacturing, which is where a lot of Native Americans find employment. Redbird’s research shows that if unemployment rates, education levels, occupations, geographic location, and households were the same between Natives and Whites, employment would be the factor that drives poverty.
According to the 2010 census, 22 percent of 5.2 million Natives live on reservations. The American Government still has full control over the Native reservations. Shawn Regan’s article reveals that all reservations are federally funded and run; policies still coming from 1831 prevent Native Americans from buying their homes, therefore preventing them from mortgaging their assets. In addition to that, the government controls all their economic development. Reservations have legalities preventing economic growth and energy regulations hinder tribes’ ability to develop. For example, Regan wrote, “On Indian lands, companies must go through at least four federal agencies and 49 steps to acquire a permit for energy development. Off reservation, it takes only four steps,” which reveals how the government is heeding their growth of infrastructure that would ultimately create more jobs. This denial of economic growth in reservations is what keeps Native Americans in poverty. Reform for these policies needs to be made so Natives aren’t under government hold. Regan further educates in his article that, “[Chief Justice John] Marshall established the federal trust doctrine, which assigns the government as the trustee of Indian affairs.” Reservations still operate under the trustee.
Not all reservations are poor, though. For example, the Chumash Indian tribe owns the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, in addition to three other resorts. In 2018, they made 27.44 million dollars. The Shakopee Mdewakanton tribe is considered to be the wealthiest tribe in history. They own many successful casinos, which allows each tribe member “a monthly payment of around $84,000, or $1.08 million a year.”
Despite this, poverty is still a huge issue, especially when it comes to health care. In our current moment, with a deadly virus spreading like wildfire and prescription drug costs at an all time high, the government is showing it’s prepared to sacrifice lives to ensure businesses get their millions.
Poverty can be used as a form of genocide, especially under these conditions. It is no mistake that the government still has full control over Native reservations, and it’s not a coincidence that most live in poverty or that the government will deny infrastructure like energy, keeping these people jobless, and it is not without race and gender in mind that these unjust laws are upheld. The government is still trying to erase these people from their own land.
And, yes, genocide is the correct term. Genocide is defined as “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, displacing thousands of Natives who suffered mass casualties on the Trail of Tears. Natives were also the victims in the largest judicial execution. During the Dakota War of 1862, 400 Natives were captured, and 303 of those were sentenced to death. 38 Native bodies were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. Another way the government tried to exterminate the Native Americans was through sterilization. In 1974, Dr. Connie Pinkerton-Uri, a Choctaw-Cherokee woman, did an independent study that revealed one in four Native women had been sterilized without their consent. Dr. Pinkerton-Uri’s research showed that the Indian Health Service was targeting full-blooded native women to sterilize. Between 1973 and 1976, 3,406 Native women were sterilized without consent.
Though the government has failed to repent for their sins against the Natives, all hope is not lost. Cherokees are seeking a congressional seat to advocate for all the problems facing the Cherokee tribe. I believe all reservations, being federal entities just like states, should be entitled to two senators and a certain number of representatives in the House. If Natives are citizens, as declared in 1924 with the Indian Citizenship Act, why aren’t they properly represented in our government?
If you are looking for a way to help, support Native-owned businesses like B.Yellowtail, Beyond Buckskin Boutique, TPMOCs, and NotAbove. They make wearable art that pays homage to Native American traditions. Furthermore, First Nation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund is accepting donations for “funding grants, technical assistance, training, and advocacy, plus programs like the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship and the Nourishing Native Foods and Health Initiative.” We need to recognize and see that Native Americans have had no break since the first White settlers invaded their land. Support Native Americans this November during Native American Heritage month.
Remember to vote by Nov. 3!
Feature Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus