By: Lillian Hinojosa
A Land Stolen From Its People
When white Europeans landed on the shores of the Americas, all they could see was an opportunity to exploit cultures they didn’t understand. The land we now call “America” (“America” gets its name from one of Columbus’ soldiers, and not even from indigenous peoples) was originally home to diverse Native American tribes who thrived long before colonizers decided to justify their encroachment on native land. Colonizers justified this racially by claiming that they were “saving” and “civilizing” the Native people. This mentality would later manifest itself as ‘the white man’s burden’. Thousands of years before calamitous and destructive colonization arrived in the Americas, the Native people had established powerful tribal nations that were each individually enriched with sacred rituals, beliefs, and complex social structures. We are able to see examples of successful Native cultivated life by realizing how civilized and accomplished their societies were before colonial rule. Indeginous peoples' hygiene was much better than that of the colonizers. They were able to build successful long standing architecture not only for housing purposes, but also agriculture. American textbooks, school curriculums, and ignorant media have portrayed Native Americans as either uncivilized and brutal people or powerless victims of well-armed Europeans. In reality, Native Americans were an extremely diverse group of nations who shared what is now the United States, and their cultures became disintegrated through the spread of European infectious disease and the systemic depletion of natural resources.
From the beginning, colonizers had made it their mission to deprive the Native people of natural resources, culture, unity, and identity. Colonizers have always been extremely harsh and neglectful towards Native Americans, ultimately starting from when the first treaties (between Natives and colonizers), were broken on the colonizers’ part. The Treaty of Canandaigua, signed in 1794, was one of the many treaties signed between Natives and the U.S.. This treaty had promised a return of more than a million acres of land back to Native possession after the Revolutionary War and an annual reparation of $4,500 worth of goods. Although the promised provision of goods has been honored by the U.S., unfortunately the number of acres of land given back to Natives has been significantly decreased throughout the years. To put it into perspective, the amount of land one reservation occupies is close to 640 acres, which isn’t a lot of space for the average 100,000 native occupiers per reservation. Many Americans today like to think that these injustices are history and that we have learned from our wrong doings. However, Native Americans continue to face injustices, often in the form of neglect on behalf of the U.S. government.
The Harsh Reality of Life On a Reservation
When President Andrew Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act” into law on May 28, 1830, Native Americans were forced to move from their sacred land to government reserved farm land across the United States. Although many tribes went peacefully, others put up a fight, mourning over the fact that the land they called home, would no longer be theirs. Throughout the removal process, which lasted long after Jackson's attempt to move Natives, over 15,000 Indigenous peoples died from either exposure to disease, harsh living conditions, or starvation.
Today, Native American reservations are still very common in the United States. Although the media fails to cover reservation life, the struggles Native Americans face implemented by the U.S. government remain relevant. Most reservations are poor and underfunded, leaving Native Americans living on these reservations with scarce necessities.
Reforms That Must be Made
Contrary to popular belief, the systems -designed to help keep reservation life as originally promised by the U.S. government- are severely underfunded and do little for the Native population. Healthcare, technology, and education are particularly underfunded on reservations.
Compared to other minorities in the U.S., Native Americans are provided with insufficient healthcareFaced with challenges due to the isolated land reservations lie on, as well as consistently underfunded agencies (such as The Indian Health Service, or IHS), reservations tend to lack basic healthcare support that is inequitable to the rest of the country. A large misconception both amongst Natives, and non Natives, is that IHS is a form of health insurance that will provide Native Americans free healthcare. The truth is that IHS often operates in in-person facilities that lack medical technology or certified professionals. They are also entitled to decline one’s requests to see a doctor or be treated. You might be asking, why can’t Natives simply drive to a hospital that isn’t on reservation land? Is that illegal? To put it simply, no, it is not illegal, although it is usually very difficult. Not only do a majority of Native Americans report feeling discriminated against while visiting outside medical centers, but the chance of a reservation being close to an outside hospital is low. Because of these realities, it’s not difficult to understand why Native Americans have a lower life expectancy, and experience higher rates of diabetes, cancers, and heart disease.
Since reservations are located on rural land far from larger cities, it is a struggle for reservations to be supplied with access to long term internet and technology, such as computers, telephones, and television sets. To the average person, an understanding of exactly why it is so important for Native Americans to have access to technology might be hard to understand. Access to technology doesn’t seem like a necessary resource in order to stay alive, so why do Natives need access to technology?
Imagine life on a desolate reservation. You want to provide a better life for you and your family, but without access to technology, you are unable to apply for food stamps, job applications, and other government-issued services for families with low income. In today’s world, almost every form or application you can think of has been transferred to an online format, and driving hours away to apply for services, or jobs in person is unlikely since most Natives living on reservations do not have cars or enough money to spend on gas. Technology can also be utilized for education on reservations. Reservations with limited access to technology are at an increased disadvantage compared to other communities that are supplied with technology. Access to technology encourages individuals to seek higher education, better jobs, and ultimately participate in communities as a whole.
For Native children growing up on a reservation, finding quality education is difficult. As of today, it remains extremely difficult to recruit teachers and principals,along with various other school staff, to work on a reservation run school. The main reason is that it’s either too isolated of a place to work, or it is too “difficult”, meaning that most educators expect the poverty and at-home problems that face children on reservations to be brought into the classroom. Another deterrent is that the salary of a teacher typically starts at around 29,000 a year, which is around 20,000 less than a regular teachers salary. That salary will most likely not increase since school funding is incredibly tight on reservations, and education resources for Native students continue to be underfunded as well. You’re probably wondering why the students can’t just enroll in a school outside of their reservation, and although that might seem easy enough, driving your child hours away to school each day is a major inconvenience for the parents, who also need to get to work and try to make a living for their family. With limited education funding and the lack of staff, it is easier to understand why Native students' graduation rates from highschool are roughly 65 percent compared to 75.2 percent of the general U.S. population. College graduation rates of Native students are even lower, at 9.3 percent, while the general U.S. population has an average college graduation rate of 20.3 percent.
How to be a Reliable Ally
In the midst of actively fighting for the reform of Native American reservations, we will continue to need your help to consecutively move forward! Being a reliable and active ally isn’t just as easy as signing a petition and walking away. We need you to keep this movement hurling in motion.
A great start to getting involved with Native American reform and awareness activism is to donate money to one of the many Native run and operated organizations that have been working for years to help support the Native people. Some of the ways that these organizations help is by providing tribes with material goods such as clothing, sometimes housing, food, and other necessities, as well as funding for educational resources, elderly care, or even community rebuilding. Picking a need that you think should be the most supported, and sending donations in that certain direction is always encouraged, and a very simple action to take on most websites. Nonprofits spend almost all of their time trying to raise money for their organization, so even a small donation goes a long way. Below is a list of three Native American supporting organizations that you can donate to!
Living in the midst of chaos COVID-19 has created within our communities, difficult barriers have especially been challenging Native students as they pursue a college degree. Quality education for cheap is hard to come by without a pandemic present, and you can only imagine how much more difficult it has been since. A donation to this organization will help guarantee financial tuition support, technology, or even rent so that these Native American students will have a chance to stay in school, and further achieve their goals.
Since the name might be a bit confusing, and to ultimately clear things up… no, you don’t actually have to adopt and move in with a Native elder. This organization is set up for contributors to fund the older generations of Native Americans on reservations that have been struggling for decades with food and housing issues. The origins of ANEP began about 40 years ago in the 80’s during the chaotic years of the Hopi-Navajo land dispute. This dispute catastrophically resulted in around 10,000 Navajos being forced into relocation from their homelands. Throughout the process, many Navajo Elders were facing the most hardships and deprivation due to the fact that unemployment and homelessness was a large scale problem. Today, ANEP is still actively working hard to support Native Elders with the resources that they need for survival.
Spreading the Word About Native American Issues
If you were to pay attention when watching the news, reading articles, or looking over the trending headlines of today, you would easily notice how little the mainstream media reports on Native American issues. Indigineous struggles don’t get enough attention as other more popularized human rights movements that gain much more traction in the media.
It has come time for change. Taking the initiative to repost informative and truthful articles/resources on your social media platforms is a great way to start working towards broader recognition on this topic. Another simple way to start spreading the word of Native American reform is through petition signing. One of the most utilized online petition signing platforms at the moment, is https://www.change.org/. This website is host to thousands of petitions for hundreds of different topics. By searching what topic you would like to find a petition regarding, options will pop up, and you can click accordingly. Some key words you can search in order to find petitions regarding Native struggles, and pushes to reform are: Native American, American Indian, and Indigenous. Signing a petition will only take a few seconds being that you simply input your full name and email address then click “Sign This Petition”. After signing you can either donate a bit of money to help get the petition to the top of the websites “Agenda”, or you can share on social media, through text, or email.
Supporting Native American Owned Businesses
Due to the lack of media presence Native Americans currently have, it’s not everyday that Native owned businesses are boosted or promoted. In a world where most Natives live in poverty, and are faced with higher unemployment rates, and housing issues than the rest of the country, the crucial search towards support for Indeginous owned companies is sought after and highly valued. Native owned companies are today’s beautiful preservations of Indiginous history, creativity, resilience, and culture. By helping support these businesses, you are also supporting the fight for equality amongst Native Americans, as well as supporting the rebuild of Native economic struggles. Below are three Native owned companies that you can support!
This company's active and lively attire is designed by Native artists whose goals are to integrate traditional Indeginous designs into a modern and innovative setting. Ranging from skateboards, jewelry, clothing and home goods, at reasonable prices, this company basically has it all. Their work has been featured in the Anchorage Museum, the Burke Museum, and the Museum Of the North.
Over four decades ago near Ada, Oklahoma, Bedre Fine Chocolate began its journey starting as a small chocolatier. In the year 2000, the Chickasaw Nation found opportunity in the chocolate company, and eventually bought it, ultimately passionate to produce the best quality chocolate they could. Now, working out of Salt Lake city Utah, Bedre takes it’s time to give back to the Chicksaw people by contributing to Native education and health programs helping to better their community.
This company centers itself around jewelry making that incorporates traditional Native American dialect. Founded in 2013, Nanniba Beck made it her goal to create minimalistic yet beautifully crafted jewelry that is meant to elevate the falling culture of Indigineous peoples. The number one piece of Native culture that continues to gradually slip away without a sound is traditional language. Indeginous traditional language was forced out of Native culture by Colonizers who thought they were “civilizing” them as they taught Natives how to speak english and only english. With a loss of dialect comes a loss of culture, identity, and faith. Nanniba does her best to preserve Native traditional spoken culture through the art of jewelry making. She hand makes her one of a kind jewelry “among the cacti'' of Southern Arizona.