Indigenous people have endured an undeniably long and dark history of displacement, oppression and discrimination; and now subsequently constitute 15% of the world’s population living in extreme poverty. In the U.S., they bear the highest poverty rate compared to other minority groups at 25.4% and often lack access to economically reliable housing, health care and other resources. As the native population grows, so have national movements and tribal rights. In the last 10 years, Native Americans have made progressive strides in the United States. These are some of the advancements indigenous people in the U.S. have accomplished in the past decade.
Land Acknowledgements and Tribal Economic Development Efforts
One way for Native Americans to uplift themselves out of poverty and food insecurity is through acquiring tribal sovereignty. Recently, indigenous people in the U.S. and their allies have further pressured the federal government to amend its federal trust management system.
Indigenous land in the U.S. is abundant in vital natural resources. However, many policies prohibit native leaders from utilizing the resources that could be used to stimulate economic growth in reservations (and reduction in poverty rates).
Tribes like the Oneida Nation have worked around the discrepancies to stabilize their local tribal economy. The nation developed a sustainable food system that would circulate food within the reservation and allow for more job opportunities. The Oneida Community Integrated Food Systems (OCIFS) has thrived since 1994 and continues to influence other tribes.
The native lands are vital to the indigenous communities and the world as they house over 80% of the planet’s biodiversity and natural resources, according to Amnesty International. Governments and corporations continue to exploit indigenous land, which results in the pollution and displacement of the native people. As migration from their lands continue, Native Americans lack access to essential resources and their sacred customs. As a result, indigenous people are more likely to experience economic hardship, abuse, illness and the ultimate threat of extinction.
Electing the First Indigenous Woman as Cabinet Secretary
In 2021, Debra Haaland assumed office and made history as the first indigenous woman to serve as cabinet secretary. Haaland is a 35th-generation New Mexican member of the Pueblo of Laguna currently serving as the United States secretary of the interior. Before becoming secretary of the interior, Haaland served as a tribal administrator, lieutenant governor and a representative in congress.
As secretary, Haaland enacted the Not Invisible Act, a commission in coordination with the Department of Justice to cut down on crimes against indigenous peoples in the U.S. The commission would act as a hub to take on trials, evidence and witnesses. Upon collection the data acquired, the commission would then give the federal law enforcement guidance on how to fight crimes against Native Americans better.
On April 1, 2021, Secretary Haaland declared the creation of the Missing and Murdered Unit (MMU) under the Bureau of India Affairs Office of Justice Services (BIA-OJS). The unit would aid interdepartmental efforts and provide better resources to investigate missing and murdered indigenous people. The unit will continue to work on unresolved and active cases by collaborating alongside the BIA, FBI, Tribal prosecutors and other agencies.
Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day
On October 8, 2021, President Biden made the historic decision to proclaim October 11, 2021, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” The presidential action recognizes and honors the diverse communities of indigenous peoples in the U.S. and their contributions to the nation. Moreover, the proclamation acknowledges the extensive history of horror and injustice inflicted on native people within the United States. In addition, it promises to maintain and uphold “a future grounded in tribal sovereignty and respect for the human rights of indigenous people in the Americas and around the world.”
The Long Road to Reconciliation
Organizations like The Red Road remain at the forefront of advocacy for Native Americans. The organization started in 1999 when its founder Charles Robinson, gave a speech on Native Americans at a school and was disturbed by the misconceptions about indigenous people in the U.S.
The Red Road devotes its efforts to spreading awareness of indigenous struggles and addressing the colonial history of indigenous people. One of the organization’s upcoming projects is to uplift Native Americans from poverty and food insecurity. One project involves establishing a self-sustaining source of healthy food via community gardens as grocery stores are scarce in and around reservations.
The other project looks at the inter-reservation economies. Most reservations have very few tribally-owned businesses and fewer opportunities to build indigenous wealth, hence why countless indigenous communities rely on federal subsidies. The project would assist and promote the establishment of native-owned companies, allowing for greater tribal independence and economic opportunities for the indigenous people in the U.S.
Native Americans continue to endure tremendous hardship but remain resilient. There are many years of decolonization and rebuilding left before reaching true reconciliation. But, with the constant changes occurring throughout the recent decades, the future appears promising.
– Ricardo Silva