10 Hardships Plaguing Native American Communities Today
By Lee DeGraw August 31, 2015 Published on Listverse.com
Native Americans are no strangers to misery, whether from the atrocities of colonialism and the genocide of their people or the numerous tragedies still facing them today. The disadvantages handed down to them throughout history have left many Natives with feelings of isolation, identity crisis, and cultural shame. The consequences of these modern-day hardships act as a major obstacle toward future change and betterment for tribes.
10. High Suicide Rate In the US, approximately one million people attempt suicide every year. Even more alarming is that the suicide rate in Native American communities is over three times the national average. Young Native people are among the most at risk for suicide, with 40 percent of all Native American suicides occurring among individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. These lives are cut short for a myriad of reasons, including violence at home, high unemployment rates, addictions to narcotics, and sexual abuse. Within five months on the impoverished Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, nine individuals under the age of 25—with one as young as 12—killed themselves.
Indian Health Services has partnered with members of the community at both the local and federal level in an attempt to reverse the high suicide rate. They have created media campaigns and prevention videos where Native youths speak openly about the dangers associated with contemplating suicide. Sadly, the numbers remain tragically high.
9. Poverty Rate Since the economic crisis of 2008, we’ve become used to hearing about high unemployment rates and few opportunities for finding work. Although the economic tide seems to be turning for many others, Native Americans continue to be crushed by the dismally high unemployment rates on reservations. It’s estimated that 25 percent of Native Americans live in poverty. In addition, many Natives are unable to get full-time work due to lack of opportunities. Only about 36 percent of Native males are employed full-time throughout the year.
Even during the Great Depression when Dorothea Lange was taking her infamous photographs of homeless men and women in line at soup kitchens, the rate of unemployment never reached the staggering level at which it stands today on reservations. For example, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota has an 83 percent unemployment rate, with 76 percent of those who are employed still mired in poverty. Lack of access to good public education is another reason that reservations continue to be racked by poverty. More than 20 percent of Native Americans over the age of 25 haven’t completed high school. Of those who do pursue a higher education, only 39 percent will complete a college degree within six years.
8. Discrimination Sadly, we have grown accustomed to hearing about the discrimination that exists against African Americans, LGBTQ communities, and various religious institutions, but the prejudices against Native people are widely unknown and translate into some frightening statistics. For example, police officers shoot Native Americans more than any other ethnic group. Though many would agree that the blatant imbalance in police shootings among certain ethnic groups is wrong, they fail to recognize the apparent bigotry that appears right in front of them while watching television. The Washington Redskins, the DC-based NFL team, has long ignored their offensive name. Many Natives view the team’s name as shameful, despicable, and mocking of their heritage.
However, children often suffer the most from racism against Native Americans. Students attending the Little Singer Community School located in the Navajo Nation in Arizona are forced to deal with mouse infestations, asbestos, and mold. They even have to carry their chairs from class to class because there’s not enough funding to cover the cost of seats in each classroom. The federal government is responsible for the lack of funds and budget cuts in Native American schools, causing students to perform far below the level of their white peers. With such low academic performance, schools in Native American communities continue to receive very little aid, further widening the gap between them and non-Native schools.
7. Alcoholism And Drug Addiction Native Americans are five times more likely to die of alcohol-related reasons than white people. Diseases linked to alcoholism, such as liver failure, are the sixth leading cause of death among Native populations. Fetal alcohol syndrome is also common. In 2012, Natives on the Pine Ridge Reservation filed a $500 million lawsuit against beer manufacturers for the havoc their products have wreaked on their nation of 40,000 people. The suit also names as defendants four liquor stores from the tiny, nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska.
Despite a ban on alcohol on the reservation, the suit alleges that Whiteclay, with its population of only 14 people, is smuggling alcohol onto the reservation. In 2010, the four liquor stores in that town sold almost five million cans of beer despite having no public places in which to legally consume alcoholic beverages.
Drug use among Natives is common. The use of methamphetamine is particularly widespread on rural reservations, and it’s estimated that the rate of abuse is three times higher than that of whites. Heroin is also greatly abused. A recent FBI report showed that drug cartels from Mexico are focusing specifically on Native American reservations, knowing that these areas lack enough law enforcement to combat the problem. In addition, high unemployment rates leave many Natives desperate to earn money through drug smuggling.
6. Obesity Fry bread, now a staple in Native cuisine, originated almost 150 years ago when the US government forced tribes from their land and onto reservations that could not support the crops they normally cultivated. In order to prevent starvation, the government issued them sugar, flour, and lard, which culminated in the birth of fry bread—a food that is essentially fried dough.
This fattening beginning has influenced the modern-day diet of many Natives and contributes to the already troubling state of unhealthy behaviors. Nearly 33 percent of Natives are obese, contributing to the diabetes and heart disease that some of these individuals will suffer during their lifetimes. Many factors contribute to the high rates of obesity, including the low cost of high-calorie snacks when compared to the high cost of produce. In addition, the high rate of unemployment and lack of physical activity contributes to an overall increase in the intake of food. Obesity in Native communities can begin with children as young as preschool and follow individuals well into adulthood.