Native American Rights

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First, it was genocide. Then, it was removal. Now, these issues have evolved into modern problems that affect Native Americans today. The United States government has been the chief cause of Native American suffering in the past, and the community today is still traumatized by the host of horrors they have endured. For these actions, the United States government should provide Native Americans with reparations, reform government agencies, and create better conditions to fix the socio-economic issues facing the population today. Because of the government’s past and present neglect, Native Americans are faced to deal with mental and physical health problems, inadequate education, lackluster law enforcement, and insufficient land rights, while failing to access the benefits of the casino industry.

It is important to understand the context of Native American rights and how the Native Americans in the United States have arrived at this position. Native Americans have suffered for centuries at the hands of the government, and they still suffer today because of the perpetuation of vintage policies and poor access to necessary resources. The Trail of Tears best encaptures the history of the degradation of Native American rights.

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The Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their land. Although they had ceded their land east of the Mississippi River in exchange for five million dollars in the Treaty of New Echota, many of the Cherokee disagreed with the treaty and did not think their representatives had their best interest in mind. So, many stayed on their lands and refused to relocate. President Van Buren responded by sending military officials to force the Cherokee off their land, often at gunpoint. The Cherokee were forced to walk 1,200 miles to Oklahoma, their new home. Along the way, four thousand people died from starvation, disease, and exhaustion (Biscontini).

This event is just one example of the many cruel acts committed against the Native Americans throughout the course of American history. Although some may argue that this event and others happened a long time ago, and therefore do not affect Native Americans today, this trauma has indeed been passed from generation to generation. Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, a Hunkpapa, Oglala Lakota, and professor, coined the theory of historical unresolved grief, defining it as “the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over one’s lifetime and from generation to generation following the loss of lives, land and vital aspects of culture (‘Understanding the Destruction: Native American Life Today’ ).” Furthermore, there is scientific evidence that trauma experienced by the mother can be passed to her child during breastfeeding, which can result in an increased chance of mental and physical disease and inability to manage stress in the child (‘Understanding the Destruction: Native American Life Today’).

This unresolved trauma has played a role in the host of mental issues that plague Native Americans today. They are burdened with disproportionately high mental and behavioral issues, and their suicide rate is one and a half times the national average (“Native American Rights; Einterz). They are also much more likely to be inflicted with alcoholism, which often leads to domestic abuse. Furthermore, twice as many Native American women have been raped as white women (Neumann). Clearly, the past treatment of Native Americans has infiltrated this generation, and they are still feeling the effects of their ancestors’ struggles.

Native Americans also have poor access to public health officials and doctors. This is due to the reservations’ often remote locations and cultural barriers between the doctors and residents (“Native American Rights”). This, combined with poverty, results in an astronomical number of cases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Even more, the government’s recent decision to implement a sequester further impacts healthcare by resulting in 800,000 fewer outpatient visits to the Indian Health Service (‘National Congress of American Indians President Criticizes Federal Government’).

Health care services need to be updated to alleviate these health issues. First, all communities should have access to doctors and psychologists no matter where they are located. Access to mental health professionals and drug counselors can decrease the number of suicides and help the community work through unresolved trauma, which in turn can help lower cases of addiction and domestic violence. Increased physician visits may reduce the number of heat-related deaths. Monetary reparations (totaling $25,000) should also be paid to every Native American to attempt to help the community heal from past persecution. Although this number may seem unreasonable, the United States government recently paid $20,000 to Japanese internment camp prisoners of World War II (Schriner).

The United States government continues to provide inadequate resources and fails to maintain conditions that live up to national standards even in the twenty-first century. This mismanagement and corruption in government agencies have led to poor law enforcement, inadequate schools, and land rights issues.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is stained with a long history of discrimination, abuse, and mismanagement of Native American affairs. The Bureau was originally in charge of removing Native Americans from their ancestral lands and relocating them to reservations. Later, they forcibly removed children from their parents and sent them to schools that were built to “civilize” the children by forbidding them to speak their native tongue, banning custom traditions, and even physically abusing them. They then divided the Native Americans’ land into individual plots, completely ignoring the traditional custom of communal land. To this day, these blunders are perpetuated. They grant some tribes gaming rights but not others, meddle in tribal governance policies and provide ill-equipped health care (Einterz).

The Bureau of Indian Education, the sister government agency to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, oversees 183 elementary schools and middle schools. It also controls two post-secondary schools: the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and Haskell Indian Nations University. However, these schools are not up to national standards. Students attending these schools perform worse on reading and math than students who attend public schools (“Native American Rights”). Furthermore, only 53% of high school students attending a Bureau of Indian Education school will graduate, compared to an 82% national graduation rate (‘Understanding the Destruction: Native American Life Today’).

These statistics show the inferior level of Native American education, and it ensures that this generation will have little opportunity to flourish. To fix this education deficit, the government should fund more post-secondary facilities for Native Americans, and remodel the Bureau of Indian Education schools for better education for young people.

Government mismanagement has also led to inadequate law enforcement. According to primary accounts, law enforcement officials rarely show up when called, and when they do, they are unprepared to handle a potentially volatile situation. The law enforcement officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs are undereducated, small in number, and they do not have the resources to perform their job well. To remedy this, ongoing education needs to be implemented for police officers so they can respond to their duty well informed and ready to act. Lastly, police buildings need to be updated to better help the community it is serving: many officers today are housed in outdated facilities (Pearson).

The government has consistently disregarded Native Americans’ land rights. For instance, many Native Americans chose to put their lands in a government trust managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Bureau contracted out this land to companies for oil and other resource rights, which heavily favored the corporations over the Native Americans (Einterz). The Bureau grossly mismanaged this fund, and was forced to pay back $3.4 billion in dozens of 2011 lawsuits (‘Native American Policy: Does the Native American reservation system work?’) Furthermore, because of the federal trust relationship, which takes the right to manage land out of Native Americans’ hands, they have been left out of conversations which leads to conflict such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (‘Understanding the Destruction: Native American Life Today’).

The pipeline was met with a wave of protest during its construction. According to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the Pipeline plows through unrecognized sacred sites. Furthermore, it threatens to contaminate their water source under the Missouri River. The pipeline was previously planned to run through Bismarck, but the plan was abandoned because of fears that it could contaminate the water supply. This concern was evidently lost in the relocation of the pipeline. The Sioux also allege that the government failed to meet with the Sioux before granting permits for the construction to begin (The Times Editorial Board).

Although it would be impossible and unwise to try to return all the land to the Native Americans, the government can still restore land rights and make up for past wrongdoing. For example, there are many nonprofits and other groups committed to helping Native Americans gain back land rights. The White Earth Preservation Project buys back reservation property from private owners. They then plant indigenous plants and restock fish to teach this generation of Native Americans ancient ways of hunting and farming. The federal government and citizens should help support these causes through grants and private donations (Schriner).

Some may say that Native Americans do not need any more funding from the government due to the successful operations of casinos. However, most Native Americans do not benefit from this business. Furthermore, most of the two million Native Americans in the United States live below the poverty line (Coin). New York Times journalist Timothy Williams claims, “the vast majority of tribes have not become rich. Instead, casinos have become a baseline economic necessity, lifting thousands out of poverty by serving as a primary source of income and employment” (‘Native American Policy: Does the Native American reservation system work?’) Indeed, casinos are not making the Native American rich, like many stereotypes, perpetuate. Instead, it has become another lifeline for Native Americans, one that does not replace the need for federal funding.

Native Americans have been the subject of persecution and discrimination for hundreds of years at the hands of the United States government. To help alleviate the pain of the past, the United States government needs to end the pattern of wrongdoing and give Native Americans reparations, reform government agencies, and implement better conditions to mend the socio-economic issues facing this community today. By doing this, Native Americans will have a chance to move on to a better, brighter future.    


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