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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

Indigenous PopulationThere are 370 million indigenous people in the world today. The majority live in China, where 36 percent of the population is indigenous. This is followed by South Asia at 32 percent, Southeast Asia at 10 percent and Latin America at 8 percent. The United States is 1.5 percent indigenous. Indigenous populations account for about 5 percent of the world’s population but more than 15 percent of the world’s poor. What is the connection between indigenous people and poverty, and how can it be broken?

Who Is Indigenous?

There is such a wide variety of indigenous cultures that it makes creating a common definition challenging. The United Nations refers to them as the descendants of the inhabitants of a country or geographic regions prior to the immigration of a second ethnic group. The second ethnic group then became dominant through conquest and settlement, marginalizing the original inhabitants. Examples include Native Americans, the Saami of Northern Europe, the Maori of New Zealand and the Maasai of Eastern Africa.

Many people prefer to be called by the name of their individual group or tribe, such as “Navaho” or “Inuit.” However, the blanket term, “indigenous,” is gaining popularity since it links together different peoples and provides a legitimate status for special rights in many countries.

What Problems Do They Face?

It is difficult to find data for countries in Asia because most governments deny the existence of indigenous populations. For example, China has officially stated that there are no indigenous people within their borders despite having the highest concentration in the world. In areas like the Philippines and Vietnam, there are indigenous populations as well as “ethnic minorities,” who are indigenous but do not come from the country in which they are currently living. Often these “ethnic minorities” were forced to leave their native lands.

The best data came from Latin America in 2010 where indigenous people made up 8 percent of the population, but 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extreme poor. Part of the reason for the disparity is the fact that indigenous populations are more likely to live in rural or remote areas. In cities, there is better access to electricity, clean water and education. This is also evident if they are living in an urban slum where indigenous people can outnumber nonindigenous two-to-one.

There is also a significant pay gap for indigenous populations. In Mexico, native people earn 12 to 14 percent less than non-native people. In Bolivia, the gap is 9 to 13 percent and in Peru and Guatemala, it is about 6 percent. In Australia, aboriginals have 30 percent less disposable income than their non-aboriginal counterparts, and in Canada, the wage gap can be as high as 25 percent. This is a large part of the connection between indigenous people and poverty.

How Can This Be Solved?

Approximately half the poverty gap can be accounted for by differences in employment type, education level, living in a rural area and family size. The other half is the “unexplained” gap, which is a result of direct discrimination or racism. This creates a unique challenge for bringing indigenous people out of poverty. Reducing the gap in education rates is widely regarded as the first step and has been steadily improving in the past few years.

In Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, indigenous children attend primary school at the same rate as non-indigenous children. However, in many communities, primary education is still strongly associated with assimilation to the majority culture. The best way to fight this belief is to offer bilingual language and a curriculum sensitive to cultural differences, which is slowly gaining popularity in many countries.

Indigenous peoples often have their own ideas of what improvement should look like; therefore it is important to increase their power to advocate for their own needs. The United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People’s Rights in 2007 brought together groups from all over the world. This put them in a better place to negotiate for further rights and land privileges on their terms.  Worldwide, native peoples are asserting their political power to bring long-needed changes to their communities. If governments are willing to listen, indigenous people will have a better chance of breaking the connection between indigenous people and poverty.

Jackie Mead

Photo: Flickr