While there has been increasing coverage of the Native American people in the media in recent years, the news covers only a small part of the issues and problems the tribes face today. For example, the attention given to the use of mascots, pipelines on tribal lands, and so on are good and welcome, but there is much more that needs to be done to give the original inhabitants of the country the social, educational, cultural, economic and federal recognition equality that they are entitled to. Among the areas that need immediate focus are:
Poverty: The publicity given to the casinos on tribal land is misleading. While they have provided some measure of economic benefits, equitable prosperity has not come. As per the U.S. Census Bureau data, 27% of all Native Americans live in poverty. For example, three of the reservations in North and South Dakota are among the five poorest counties in the country. In a Montana reservation, the unemployment rate was 69% a few years ago.
Lack of Educational Opportunities: Native Americans make up under 1% of the student population of the U.S.A. Over the last decade, the graduation rate of Native Americans has been steadily dropping, and their dropout rate is twice that of the national average. Efforts must be made to understand the causes of the problem. While it appears that prejudice, a lack of appreciation of their academic needs, and the deterioration of the school system are among the primary causes, until the reasons are fully understood, the situation will remain unchanged.
Poor Housing: The poverty that the tribes experience has resulted in extremely poor and overcrowded housing conditions on the reservation. It is estimated that about 90,000 Native Americans are either homeless or under-housed. Over 33% of Native Americans live on reservations, and because of the economic hardships they face, there is little or no scope for any improvement in the housing standards.
There are other issues that Native Americans face. The remaining major ones will be covered in the second part of this blog.
Despite the problems, tribes like the Muwekma Ohlone have started to overcome the obstacles they face and are fighting not just for their rights but for their place as productive citizens of the U.S. Their efforts over the years have proven their ability to contribute both personally and as a tribe. However, the recognition they deserve has not come.