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Now is the time to improve living conditions for Native Americans.

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John Eyster
May 29, 2013

Now is the time to improve living conditions for Native Americans.

Discovering Democracy IV student ALLISON BENDER asserts, "We must learn together, stand together and act together to improve the conditions many Native American communities face together.” What do YOU think?

Here is another OPINION STATEMENT written by one of the 42 Milton High School students who participated on the 4th annual Discovering Democracy Field Study. Allison articulates her support for the improving the living conditions of Native Americans in the US. After reading her opinion statement, I hope YOU will comment. Perhaps you will come to the DD IV RESEARCH FAIR tomorrow night - Thursday, 5/30 from 7 - 9 pm in the Library at Milton High School to dialog with ALLISON and/or her colleagues about the significant public policy issues they researched. Join in the dialogue!

Here is ALLISON’s OPINION STATEMENT:

“Ever since the first settlers stepped ashore, the United States of America’s relationship with Native Americans and Alaskan Natives has been complex. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall attempted to define the relationship by declaring the tribes as ‘domestic dependent nations’ whose ‘relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian’. Marshall recognized that American Indians are unique in that, unlike any other minority, they are both separate nations and part of the United States. Today there are 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States whose members are both citizens of the United States and of their own tribes or bands. “History has given the tribes no reason to trust the Federal Government, and yet, they must rely on it” (Interview with Dr. Kevin Gover, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and a former assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.) Throughout the decades, differing opinions, officials, and circumstances have caused the United States to fluctuate between stressing Native American assimilation into mainstream culture (sometimes violently, often cruelly), to advocating self-determination and tribal traditions. There is no doubt that Native Americans have suffered greatly from white man’s greed and self-interest throughout our history. Today, as we move forward, we must not forget the past. As a united people and as united nations we must take all the conflicts, mistakes, and lessons; our successes, differences, and values, and work together to brighten the future of all people who call this land their home.

“As more and more waves of European immigrants came to America, elbowing onto the land, declaring property lines, and claiming rights, these settlers decided they needed a plan to solve the ever worsening “Indian Problem”. The solution came with William Medill’s proposal to establish 'reservations'. The Indian Removal Act (IRA), passed in 1830, began the process of relocating Native Americans to reservations, which happened to be situated upon the least desirable land in the country.

“In 1887, the Dawes Act was passed as part of the movement to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American culture. This legislation took reservation land from tribes and divided it into separate lots to sell to individuals. The land was sold at scandalously low prices, making it easy for American settlers, development firms, and railroad companies to grab a good deal, this left many Natives with too little to provide for themselves. The Indian New Deal began in 1933 when John Collier decided something must be done to correct wrongs inflicted by the IRA and Dawes Act. The Indian Reorganization Act terminated the land allotment process, and allowed tribes to regain control over Indian land that was held in government trust. The act returned over two million acres of land to tribal control, but since it did not confront existing private ownership of purchased lands, reservations were left checkerboards of tribal land and free land, which remains the case today.

“With the inception of the Cold War, the United States of America’s mindset towards individualism had drastically changed. A fear and suspicion of socialism and communism led to fear and suspicion of government programs. William Brophy began a process called 'Termination' that would relocate Natives into metropolitan areas, abolished the federal government’s relationship with and recognition of the tribes, and end all federal aid that came with those relationships. While some Natives prospered and preferred their new settings to reservations, many struggled with 'understanding the everyday features of urban life such as traffic lights, lifts, telephones, and clocks which made the experience traumatic for many Indians.'

"Unsurprisingly, many people unable to cope with these challenges slipped into destructive lifestyles, unemployment, and alcoholism.

“Today, these setbacks are still very prevalent. But, action to remedy is grueling and slow paced. There is not enough support, or representation of the many different Native Americans within our capital for action to be taken at the pace that it should.

“Many Native Americans still struggle with unhealthy living conditions, poor nutrition, inadequate waste disposal, and an increasingly mobile (in other words homeless) population. The overall percentage of American Indians living below the federal poverty line is 28.2%, thirteen percent higher than the overall population (2008, American Indian Census Facts). Life expectancy (72.6 years), although much improved, is still five years below the average American’s. Death rates are significantly higher in many areas for Indians compared to the general population, including tuberculosis (500% higher), alcoholism (514% higher), diabetes (177% higher), homicide (92% higher) and suicide (82% higher). (2004-2006 rates) (IHS Fact Sheet). With statistics like these, one would hope that action would be rapid. How can we allow this in our own country? However, many government agencies will rebound all issues dealing with Natives back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA has never been given, and still doesn’t have an adequate budget to achieve its responsibilities and goals.

“It’s no wonder that Native Americans do not trust the Federal Government. But we, as a nation should be able to heal some of the past wrongs. Jon Greendeer, President of the Ho-Chunk Nation states, 'Native Americans are survivors of some of the greatest tragedies our nation has seen. They’ve fought in every war the U.S. has been involved in, and have some of the most sophisticated governments'.

If given the opportunity to speak to all of America, Dr. Richard Guest, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Washington DC, would make known that 'Indian people don’t exist in the past. They very much exist in the present'. It is only with this realization foremost in our minds that we can continue mending these past hurts.

Armed with common goals and a united spirit, the U.S. government can work effectively hand-in-hand with the hundreds of tribal governments. Never again will the Native American people be stripped of their culture, homes, languages and sense of self. We cannot let that happen. We must learn together, stand together, and act together to improve the conditions many Native American communities face today. We cannot push this off any longer, we are the generation, now’s our time.”

If you want to dialog with Allison about her assertion that we need to do more NOW to improve the living conditions for Native Americans in the US, you are invited to come to the Discovering Democracy IV’s Research Fair tomorrow night - Thursday, May 30 in the Milton High School Library from 7 – 9 pm. Allison and her DD IV colleagues will be there to share with YOU their stances on the significant public policy issues they studied this year and dialog with you as to your stance. Civil dialog is key to a healthy democracy. Share this kind of dialog with the DD IV students. Everyone is welcome! SEE YOU THERE?

Here we go…

Mr. E.


John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor of political science at UW-Whitewater and an advocate for Project Citizen, a model curriculum for democracy/civics education in Wisconsin high schools. John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.


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