Indian Reservations
In the United States, indigenous people have the highest rates of alcoholism compared to any other minority group. This is due to factors such as unemployment, lack of political rights, cultural loss and minimal education. As a result, poverty has become common on Indian reservations, making these issues highly pressing. Progress in legislation, education, employment and treatment have been on the horizon. Thus, by reducing alcoholism on Indian reservations, poverty can decrease and prosperity can rise.

Recent Political Progress

The year 2021 brought attention to poverty on Indian reservations through legislation. One example highlights Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) who proposed making May 5 a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) has also issued a bill that would provide clean water for reservations. Other proposed bills are working to address mental health awareness for veterans. They also aim to provide child support, internet access, accessible healthcare and resource centers. On April 19, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting Indian Tribes from Scams Act. This bill was able to protect and give a voice to those living in Indian reservations. Through this exposure, Indian reservations have been able to make progress tackling poverty. 

Improvements in Education

To improve education in Indian reservations, tribal leaders have been teaching children, rather than the government. The Native Culture, Language and Access for Success Act (CLASS) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were bills that allowed this to happen. Reservations saw much success due to this initiative, however, Congress has recently put the reauthorization of these bills on the back burner. The National Council of American Indians is currently fighting for giving tribal leaders control of student records, state and tribal cooperation. The council hopes to honor native languages and preserve tradition, as they believe it is necessary for students to feel connected to their heritage. The initiative hopes to lower dropout rates and create more job opportunities, helping to eliminate poverty in the reservations.

Solutions for Employment Opportunities 

In order to diversify tribes, the U.S. government has received encouragement to build more tribal sovereignty and industry. Many tribes want to move towards climate diaspora and renewable resources. This would mean expanding reservation land previously stolen, leading to industry growth and job creation. Restoring Native American land would give reservations a stronger sense of independence, granting mobility and freedom to these reservations.

Another issue present on reservations is equal access to capital. Many Native Americans are unable to legally own their land or houses. Solutions to possession of land include legislation and government recognition. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently had a victory concerning housing. The department created the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, which showed immense progress and hope for the future.

Treatment Options

Unfair treatment is a major cause of alcoholism in Indian reservations. To improve equality for these reservations, tackling poverty needs to be the first priority. Treatment plans such as professional help, medication and counseling are the first step for Indian reservations to receive the help they need. Improvements in education and community activities can also decrease poverty in these reservations. With recent exposure, passed legislation has made a major change for Indian reservations. Overall, by eliminating alcoholism, poverty can reduce, as equality and economic improvement will lead to a healthier, safer community.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Indigenous Communities Respond to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected indigenous populations around the world. This led to initiatives creating opportunities to translate critical information about the coronavirus into indigenous languages. As a result, they were able to aid in countering the spread of misinformation and save lives in an attempt to help indigenous communities respond to COVID-19.

International Year of Indigenous Languages

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 71/178 in 2016. It declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The International Year is an important mechanism in the United Nations system for raising awareness about and mobilizing action toward global issues, such as helping indigenous communities respond to COVID-19. The goal of the International Year of Indigenous Languages was to promote and protect indigenous languages at risk of disappearing. This includes recognizing indigenous knowledge and communication as assets that make the world a richer place.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Communities

Pandemics affected indigenous communities disproportionately since the beginning of history. Spanish influenza and H1N1 influenza pandemics infected and killed indigenous peoples in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States at high rates. The rates were higher than their non-indigenous counterparts. The same is true for the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous peoples’ increased vulnerability to infectious diseases stems from the legacy of colonialism, including poverty, poor physical and mental health, lack of access to housing, higher rates of domestic abuse and lower life expectancies. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic limits the ability of indigenous peoples to practice traditional customs, from formal greetings that involve touching to large gatherings marking important rites of passage, that are often the source of their resilience.

The rampant spread of misinformation and disinformation, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has called an “infodemic,” poses yet another challenge for indigenous communities fighting COVID-19. The same technology and social media enable the dissemination of false information about the coronavirus. This undermines the global response to the pandemic. People are then less willing to observe public health measures, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing. This makes public health information very important. WHO plans to make such information available in local indigenous languages in a culturally sensitive manner.

UNESCO

Utilizing feedback from indigenous peoples’ organizations and partners from the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, UNESCO has implemented multi-language initiatives to fight the infodemic in indigenous communities. One example is a community radio project in Ecuador that UNESCO created in collaboration with indigenous associations, the Ecuadorian government, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Community Radios Network (CORAPE). Radio is a particularly useful platform to share important information about the coronavirus with indigenous communities because many lack access to the internet. This community radio project secured 20 radio spots. It also produced and distributed a booklet of  COVID-19 information. The booklet also includes preventative measures in indigenous languages for the target populations of Afro-descendant and Montubio (mestizo coastal) communities.

Additionally, the website for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages has a page dedicated to the importance of Indigenous languages during the COVID-19 pandemic that includes a collection of useful resources from United Nations agencies and other organizations about the coronavirus and its impacts in hundreds of different languages.

Cultural Survival

Noting the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on indigenous peoples and the strength they draw from their ancestors who lived through past pandemics, Cultural Survival acted quickly to provide resources. The nonprofit developed, distributed and translated critical information about COVID-19 prevention and response. Due to its multi-language initiative, it translated 417 public service announcements into 130 indigenous languages for preventative measures against COVID-19. It also helped distribute more than 1,200 radio stations around the world in addition to a prevention manual and emergency response toolkit, also available in many indigenous languages, to further support the activities of radio stations.

Cultural Survival is also using Google Maps technology to create the first global monitoring system for COVID-19 for indigenous communities. There are also programs through Cultural Survival to distribute financial resources to community-centered projects that help indigenous partners and local radio stations respond to the COVID-19 crisis in their local communities.

Indigenous Youth Bring COVID-19 Information to their Communities

Indigenous youth are mobilizing to protect their elders from COVID-19 through multi-language initiatives. In Brazil, many tribal elders have died from COVID-19. This is highly concerning for indigenous youth because the elders pass down important traditions and knowledge. Indigenous youth have noticed that the elders they lost to COVID-19 did not have enough information about the virus. They translated informative content only available in Portuguese into indigenous languages. They communicated the original meaning of technical words accurately.

For example, the Network of Young Communicators from the Upper Rio Negro uses WhatsApp to produce and broadcast podcast episodes in indigenous languages, in addition to circulating a written bulletin to residents in the region. Meanwhile, the group Mídia India created quarentenaindigena.info, which contains news and data about the spread of COVID-19 in Brazil’s indigenous communities.

Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many negative impacts on indigenous communities around the world. Multi-language initiatives created with the goal of sharing critical information about the coronavirus reflect the unshakeable resilience of Indigenous peoples.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

Native American WomenThe 2017 film, Wind River, based on actual events, riveted the public with its reported death rate of Native American women on American reservations. Writer-producer Taylor Sheridan aimed to raise awareness of the overlooked death rate and has succesfully done so since.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Where poverty is the greatest, indigenous women experience domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average for all races. In addition, 84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes or one in three each year. The perpetrators are most often non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Murdered indigenous women numbers rose to 500 in 2018, which is a low figure compared to the actual number of missing persons on reservations. Women have silently died and gone missing, underreported, for years. This is due to the discordance that exists between tribal, federal and local law enforcement. However, changes are being made ever since the 1978 ruling of Oliphant v. Suquamish, where it was ruled that Indian courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. In November of 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to investigate the matter of unsolved cases of missing or murdered Native Americans.

Legislatively Addressing the Issue

Several major changes have since been underway. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2020 will increase national focus on violent crime against indigenous people and intergovernmental coordination on the high death rate of Native American women. This bill began in 2019 as the Not Invisible Act of 2019; the first bipartisan bill in history to be introduced by four tribal representatives: Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids and Markwayne Mullin.

To complement the Not Invisible Act, Savanna’s Act became public law in October 2020. Named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a murdered young indigenous woman whose fetus was cut from her womb, Savanna’s Act will ensure the Justice Department reports statistics on all missing/murdered native women and reform law enforcement. In addition, the National Institute of Justice has created the National Baseline Study which is a study on the health, wellbeing and safety of Native American women, to also provide more accurate data on femicide.

Safe Women, Strong Nations

In addition, the Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with native nations to combat abductions and murder. The project provides legal advice to the tribes in restoring authority and holding perpetrators responsible. The project works to raise awareness to gain federal action to eliminate the violence against native women.

Poverty makes it easier for native women to be overlooked. One in three Native Americans suffer from poverty, living off on average $23,000 a year. “Poverty is both the cause and the consequence of all the ills visited upon Native Americans.” It is common knowledge that poverty provides leeway for criminality, and with Native American reservations being economically disadvantaged, this is no exception. Addressing systemic poverty instead of turning a blind eye will help lower the death rate of native women. The reservations only need opportunity and U.S.  juridical attention. It is hopeful to see that the United States’ legislative representatives are addressing violence against minority groups but more work needs to be done to protect the well-being of Native American women.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous communities in Canada

The Canadian Constitution recognizes three Indigenous communities — First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Here are five of the many Indigenous-led organizations in Canada, collectively working to create success and prosperity for Indigenous communities.

5 Canadian Organizations for Indigenous Prosperity

  1. First Nations Information Governance CentreThe First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) is working to achieve data sovereignty. With support from regional partners and a special mandate from the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in Assembly (Resolution #48, December 2009), the FNIGC collects and uses data to “build culturally relevant portraits of the lives of First Nations people and the communities they live in.” Their motto, “our data, our stories, our future” reflects their vision of Indigenous stories being told by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.
  2. IndspireIndspire is using the gift of learning to help provide academic success and long-term prosperity with support through financial aid, scholarships/bursaries, awards, mentoring and physical resources.
  3. Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada – Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada (AFOA) is creating a community of Indigenous professionals by supporting successful self-determination through “improving the management skills of those responsible for the stewardship of Indigenous resources.” This includes aid in management, finance and governance.
  4. Reconciliation CanadaReconciliation Canada facilitates the engagement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with meaningful conversations on reconciliation and the lived experiences of Indigenous people. They aim to inspire positive change and understanding. At present, the programs and initiatives offered by the charity are Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy, Reconciliation Dialogue Workshops, interactive community outreach activities and Reconciliation Canada.
  5. First Nations Child and Family Caring SocietyThe Caring Society supports First Nations children, youth and families. The organization has been able to provide 250,000 services and products to Indigenous children by putting Indigenous children and families first.

These five organizations are just some of many who are working to support success and prosperity for Indigenous communities in Canada. Their work helps blaze a path for a brighter future for Indigenous people and the country alike.

– Jasmeen Bassi
Photo: Flickr

Native American reservationsLow qualities of life exist in developing countries as well as developed countries, including the United States. Within the 326 Native American reservations in the U.S., Indigenous peoples experience unequal life conditions. Those on reservations face discrimination, violence, poverty and inadequate education.

Here are 5 facts about the Native American population and reservations.

1. Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States.

According to a study done by Northwestern University, one-third of Native Americans live in poverty. The population has a median income of $23,000 per year, and 20% of households make under $5,000 a year.

Due to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, reservations cannot provide adequate economic opportunity. As a result, a majority of adults are unemployed. Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota has better numbers than most reservations — 43.2% of the population is under the poverty line. However, this rate still is nearly three times the national average

2. Native Americans have the highest risk for health complications.

Across the board, Native American health is disproportionately worse than other racial groups in the United States. This population is 177%  more likely to die of diabetes, 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis and have a 60% higher infant mortality rate when compared to Caucasians.

Most Native American reservations rely on the Indian Health Service. It is a severely underfunded federal program that can only provide for approximately 60% of the needs of the insured. That does not account for a majority of those on the reservations. Only about 36% of Native Americans have private health care, and one-third of the non-elderly remain uninsured.

3. Native Americans, especially women, are frequently victims of violence.

A study from the National Institute of Justice concluded nearly 84% of American Indian and Native Alaskan women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These women more likely to be victim to interracial perpetrators and are significantly more likely to suffer at the hands of intimate partners. The numbers are similarly high for men of this population. Over 80% of men admit to experiencing violence in their lifetimes. Most victims report feeling the need to reach out to legal services, but many severely lack the tools to get the help they need.

A few law practicing organizations have dedicated their existence to ensure Native American voices are heard in the legal world. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), for example, is a non-profit organization that uses legal action to ensure the rights of Native Americans are being upheld. Since their inception in 1970, NARF has helped tens of thousands of Native Americans from over 250 tribes all over the country.

4. Native students hold the highest national dropout rate.

Conditions on reservations leave schools severely underfunded, and many children are unable to attend. This delay in education leaves early childhood skills undeveloped. According to Native Hope, “Simple skills that many five-year-olds possess like holding a crayon, looking at a book and counting to 10 have not been developed.” Inadequate education is highly reflective of Native American graduation rates. Native students have a 30% dropout rate before graduating high school, which is twice the rate of the national average. This number is worse in universities — 75% to 93% of Native American students drop out before completing their degrees.

Such disparity between Native American students and their colleagues has inspired the increase in scholarships for this community. Colorado University of Boulder, for example, offers a multitude of scholarships and campus tours specifically for those of Indigenous descent. Further, they founded the CU Upward Bound Program which is dedicated to inspiring and encouraging the success of their Native American students. Third party scholarships also come from a multitude of organizations such as the Native American College Fund and the Point Foundation.

5. Quality of Life on Reservations is Extremely Poor.

Federal programs dedicated to housing on Native Americans reservations are severely inadequate. Waiting lists for spaces are years long, and such a wait doesn’t guarantee adequate housing. Often, three generations of a single family live in one cramped dwelling space. The packed households frequently take in tribe members in need as well.  Additionally, most residences lack adequate plumbing, cooking facilities, and air conditioning. The state of these Native American reservations is receiving increased attention.

Some reservations are taking matters into their own hands. Native Hope is a volunteer-based organization working to address the injustices brought upon the Native American community. Their commitment to the tribes has not stopped during the pandemic. One woman from Illinois handmade over 2,500 face masks so Indigenous children could still go to school in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also provided 33 households with necessary groceries and personal hygiene supplies.

How to Help

The marginalization of the Native American population has recently gained traction through the internet and social media. New and established charities alike are getting more attention, which allows them to have increased beneficial impacts on the Native American population.

Native American tribes have been around for hundreds of years and only recently have been getting the help and attention they require. With continued attention and advocacy, Native Americans can one day receive the justice and equality they deserve.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Brazil Indigenous coronavirusThe coronavirus has resulted in deaths all over the world, but some communities are more heavily affected than others. In Brazil, the coronavirus in Indigenous communities has taken an especially hard toll. COVID-19 disproportionately affects these often-isolated groups, which struggle to access the support systems needed to withstand this threat.

The Vulnerability of Indigenous Communities

Some Indigenous tribes living in Brazil have limited or no contact with the rest of the world. However, this isolation may render some tribes unaware of the pandemic in general or of its full seriousness. The coronavirus in Indigenous communities may also put tribe members at a greater risk, because they lack exposure to many illnesses. This means that their immune systems are often not strong enough to fight COVID-19.

Additionally, isolated Indigenous communities only have limited access to unreliable testing, contact tracing and communication of quarantine protocols. Some would have to travel for days to reach modern medical facilities providing such resources.

In particular, Indigenous communities fear the village elders contracting the coronavirus. Elders are not only the most vulnerable members of the community but may also experience the most serious effects of the disease. Additionally, many refer to these elders as “living libraries” or “living encyclopedias.” They hold tribal knowledge of culture, mythology and natural medicine, and many speak endangered languages. If coronavirus in Indigenous communities wipes out this generation of elders, their tribe’s cultural history and knowledge will die with them.

Why Outsiders Pose a Threat

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in indigenous communities often results from outsiders who visit these communities without taking the proper precautions. For example, doctors working in remote Indigenous regions have tested positive for the coronavirus. They only entered quarantine after they possibly spread the disease to multiple villages. Additionally, other medical teams have failed to follow proper quarantine protocol before entering an Indigenous reserve to care for those vulnerable to the disease.

Miners and poachers tapping resources on Indigenous lands have also spread the virus to these isolated communities. In Brazil, an estimated 40% of Yanomami people who live near these mining operations are now at risk of contracting COVID-19. Leaders from the Yanomami Indigenous Territory have spoken out, creating the hashtag #MinersOutCovidOut. Their aim is to raise awareness and demand an end to illegal gold mines and other land invasions.

The budget cuts and staff reassignment faced by FUNAI, a government agency that defends the boundaries of Indigenous land in Brazil, have made it possible for illegal miners and poachers to enter these protected regions. Indigenous people in certain tribes have also claimed that FUNAI only gave food supplies and assistance to tribes on officially demarcated land. However, even this aid was not enough to feed the large families of the tribe.

The Government in Brazil

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire in the past for dismissive statements about Indigenous communities in Brazil. He has also allowed illegal logging, mining and land grabs to continue. Currently, Bolsonaro’s administration faces criticism for its response to the pandemic. The Brazilian government’s conflicts with Indigenous communities have resulted in inadequate support required for these communities to fight COVID-19.

The Brazilian Supreme Court ordered in July 2020 that the government must create a crisis response team and develop a plan to control the coronavirus. However, Bolsonaro recently vetoed proposed laws to provide vulnerable Indigenous communities with designated intensive care beds, clean water and essential supplies. Bolsonaro defended this decision by citing excessive costs that he claimed would go against public interest.

Fighting the Coronavirus in Indigenous Communities

To fight this crisis, Brazilian Indigenous communities and outsider organizations are joining forces. The NGO Brazilian Health Expeditionary, or Expedicionários Da Saúde, has helped Indigenous people from over 700 isolated communities in the Amazon by setting up temporary medical facilities with necessary supplies. Local officials and Indigenous groups collaboratively gather money and distribute food supplies in place of the unfulfilled promise of government assistance.

Many individual tribes are also protecting themselves from the spread of the virus by remaining in isolation from the rest of the world. This means that they seek medical care within their own communities. As such, though the severity of the coronavirus in Indigenous communities in Brazil is dire, it is not without hope.

Allie Beutel 
Photo: Pixabay