Contemporary Native Americans face many challenges today. If you watch the news you'll see headlines about mascots, celebrities wearing headdresses, and pipelines. While these are important issues, there are other problems facing Native communities that are more significant.
As the years change, so do the stories about struggle, challenge, and hardship. However, there is also hope, perseverance, and celebrations to acknowledge. As we turn the calendar on another year, the important issues surrounding the Native American community may seem the same as the year before, but it's always good to remember that great things are happening and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Challenges that Native people face are experienced socially, economically, culturally, and on many other fronts, and include but aren't limited to:
- Impoverishment and Unemployment
- Violence against Women and Children
- The Climate Crisis
- Less Educational Opportunities
- Inadequate Health and Mental Health Care
- Continued Issues with Voting Rights
- Native Languages are Being Threatened
There are currently 574 tribes that are recognized by the federal government, which are faced with these ongoing issues. The Native Americans, a diverse race of people, are subjected to racial abuse, societal discrimination, incorrect and inappropriate depictions in the media and arts, mental, spiritual, and physical violence, and much more. These historical and social hurdles have resulted in many Native Americans succumbing to physical and mental health challenges, as well as not being seen or heard by the rest of society.
In this post, we will be looking at the various problems going into 2022 that the modern Native American has to grapple with. This is by no means a definitive or comprehensive list of issues and challenges.
Impoverishment and Unemployment
The Native American population is grappling with poverty and joblessness even with casinos. Ever since the recovery from the Great Depression the Native American society has been largely left out of economic prosperity.
While data for the U.S. Census are difficult to track on Native Americans for various reasons, there are mostly up-to-date stats on topics such as poverty and unemployment from the 2020 U.S. Census.
According to the World Population Review, about 33 percent of all Native Americans live in poverty, which has increased since the last Census in 2010.
Some states have higher poverty rates than others. For example, South Dakota has about a 49 percent rate while Oklahoma has a percent.
Due to the high poverty rate among the Native Americans, many live in overcrowded and poor conditioned houses on Indian reservations. There are over 90,000 under-housed or homeless American Indians. The living conditions of some Native Americans have also been compared to those in third-world countries.
Currently, over a third of American Indians live on largely concentrated reservations with over 700,000 inhabitants. Mostly, the development of houses on reservations is attributed to underfunding by the federal government.
Poverty can be largely attributed to the lack of employment. In September of 2021, the national unemployment rate fell to 4.8 from 5.8 compared to June 2021 (Native Americans’ rate was 8.5), showing that people are finding more job opportunities now that things are beginning to settle. In 2020, the rate was significantly more due to shutdowns during the pandemic. The pandemic affected Native communities incredibly, raising their overall unemployment rate to over 26 percent.
The reasons behind poverty and unemployment issues within Native communities are historical and systemic.
Violence against Women and Children
About 46 percent of all Native American women have experienced some sort of physical abuse including rape, stalking or dating, or domestic violence. It is also predicted that one in three Native women will experience physical trauma at some point in their life.
On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate, 10 times more than the nation’s average. A report from the Department of Justice in 1990 states 80% of the physical abuses and rape experienced by Native American women are perpetrated by non-native Americans.
Unfortunately in 2021, missing and murdered women and girls of other races, especially Caucasian, continue to gain more news coverage than that of a Native woman or girl. This has been brought to attention once again after a young, white woman, Gabby Petito went missing and was recently found strangled in the state of Wyoming.
In the past 10 years, more than 400 indigenous women and girls were reported missing in Wyoming, according to the report––why have we not heard of them?
In an interview about the case in Reuters, Jolene Holgate, a director for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women stated:
“The national attention and resources that were put toward that case when there’s such a high number of MMIW (missing and murdered indigenous women) cases in Wyoming and even the neighboring state of Montana, it did not feel good. I think there’s this practice of discounting indigenous bodies when it comes to folks who go missing or murdered.”
Thankfully, many people are working to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) through media outlets, social media, and political campaigns, and there are various ways individuals can get involved.
Natives in the Middle of the Climate Crisis
Not only are Native Americans continuously being exploited for natural resources, but they are also smacked in the middle of the world’s climate crisis.
Regarding exploitation, some of the Native American reservations such as the Ute tribe contain natural resources such as timber, oil, and gas. American Indian territories in the West house gold and have had previous clashes with gold miners. These areas have been exploited for their natural resources for economic reasons and have threatened the area with climate change. Efforts have been made by the communities to safeguard natural resources and protect the environment.
In recent news, Indigenous people have flocked to the White House to help lead protests that urge President Biden to end fossil fuel projects and to declare a climate emergency.
“The demonstrations marked the first day of “People vs. Fossil Fuels,” a week of demonstrations and civil disobedience organized by Build Back Fossil Free, a coalition of hundreds of Indigenous and climate, social, economic, and racial justice organizations. More protests are planned at the White House each day this week except for Friday when protestors will march from the White House to Congress to risk arrest on the steps of the Capitol.” (Indian Country Today).
Continue watching and listening as groups like Indigenous Climate Action, young activists, and individuals on social media help bring awareness and put a stop to the harmful actions which the government and big organizations have allowed.
Native Americans Have Fewer Educational Opportunities
Native Americans represent less than 1 percent of the student population in the United States. Since 2008, the graduation rates of Alaska Native and American Indians has been dropping. The Native American dropout rate is twice the nation’s average and is more than any other U.S racial or ethnic group.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average high school retention rate was at 74 percent between 2018 and 2019, compared to the national average of 86 percent.
This high dropout rate can be attributed to how they are treated in school or their academic needs not being met. For some Native Americans, their dropout can be linked to the structural deterioration and poor equipping of schools due to insufficient funding from the federal government.
Then there is higher education.
Only 19 percent of Native Americans ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in college compared with 41 percent of the overall U.S. population, according to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute.
Efforts are being taken state-wide and nationally to increase the graduation rate among Native Americans, offer equal access to scholarships and other educational resources, increase educational funding in low-income areas, and programming to support high school and college students.
Inadequate Health and Mental Health Care
Many Native Americans live in poor health conditions with limited access to healthcare facilities. This health care disparity has led to high rates of obesity, diabetes, HIV/AIDS.
The Indian Health Service (IHS), a government agency, was intended established to provide healthcare services to American Indians. Unfortunately, the IHS is underfunded and many of the local IHS facilities lack the basic amenities to provide quality and excellent healthcare services. Mostly the local IHS facilities are distant from the Native Americans. It makes it a grueling process for the locals to access the facility.
Did you know that in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for American Indian/Alaska Natives between the ages of 10 and 34?
Access to appropriate mental health services is difficult due to economic, societal, and regional barriers.
Places such as social media platforms are bringing more awareness to mental health challenges within Native communities. Online resources, such as SAMHSA’s list of Behavioral Health Services for American Indians and Alaskan Natives, is a definite help for those who don’t know where to turn.
Unable to Exercise Voting Rights
Native Americans have suffrage rights but are unable to exercise them because of the unavailability of polling units. Some of the natives' reservations such as the Goshute Reservation in Utah and the Duck Valley reservation in Nevada do not have any polling unit near them. The polling units around are many miles away.
Many Native people on reservations are unable to register to vote. Many reservations don't use traditional street addresses and their applications for voting cards are rejected.
Going into 2022, this issue, unfortunately, continues on.
Thankfully, though, a new piece of legislation has been introduced in August called the 2021 Native American Voting Rights Act.
High Country News shares six important things we should know about this bill.
- NAVRA improves access to voter registration, polling places, and drop boxes in Indian Country.
- It mandates the acceptance of tribally or federally issued IDs where IDs are required.
- It permits tribes to designate buildings to use as addresses for registration.
- The law will establish Native American voting task forces.
- It requires pre-approval of any changes in election procedures.
- NAVRA also mandates culturally appropriate language assistance.
Follow this important bill here.
Native Language is Becoming Extinct
Native American languages are gradually becoming obsolete. Only 175 out of the more than 300 native languages remain today according to the Indigenous Language Institute. It is also predicted that without any measure set up to salvage the remaining languages about 20 will be left by 2050. Many educators that want to teach Native American children the Native languages face an obstacle of poor funding and resources. Not only that, but COVID-19 has put Native languages in jeopardy.
Fortunately, things are happening.
The United Nations has designated the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.
Recently, between October 5 and 7, a three-day virtual conference was held by Cultural Survival, called Restoring and Protecting Our Native Languages and Landscapes.
This conference “will equip individuals working at the community level with tools and best practices for revitalizing and strengthening Indigenous languages and the Traditional Ecological Knowledge carried within them.”
Native American activists are doing their part to be heard so that their future language will be heard for many more years to come.
Limited Financial Institutions in the Native Communities
There is a dearth in the Native American communities. In many communities, the land is held by the government in trust, which makes it difficult for the Natives to leverage them in the collection of loans that they will use to set up businesses. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, about 56.2 million acres of land are held in trust by the federal government. This, in turn, has resulted in the stunted economic growth of the area and one of the most stubborn Native American issues.
Natural Resources Exploitation
Some of the Native American reservations such as the Ute tribe contain natural resources such as timber, oil, and gas. American Indian territories in the West house gold and have had previous clashes with gold miners. These areas have been exploited for its natural resources for economic reasons and have threatened the area with climate change. Efforts have been made by the communities to safeguard natural resources and protect the environment.
There will always be struggles and hardships––for any ethnicity and culture; however, it seems that Native American issues are uniquely challenging and stubbron. It is obvious though, that Native individuals and communities are strong and resilient, and that they continue to lead, fight, and heal no matter what comes their way. Despite the negatives, there will be good things that come in 2023.
2023 Explore Native Challenge
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Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Paul G