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Saturday, February 13, 2010

IT’S ALREADY HAPPENED HERE – AND WE ARE DOING. . . NOTHING

Earlier this week, after viewing the absolute, cataclysmic disaster that happened to the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in the wake of SnowPocalypse on television, and its sequel, Snowmageddon, I wrote an opinion piece called "IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE”. I thought that I knew something about the Native Americans and what was going on with their lives in what, basically, is a prison camp. Boy, was I wrong. I knew nothing about the subject. Nothing.

I’m not going to go into the long history of abuses that the Native Americans have suffered through in this country. All of that is historical fact. What I didn’t know and have found out is pretty simple: The Native American populations in this country are far worse off than the Haitians have been in the past and are now in the present. There’s lots of money for relief efforts in Haiti; there’s none to speak of here in this country for our own poorer-than–is-believeable poor - and that is an obscenity.

We’ve all heard about the homeless, and the problems that food pantries are having feeding the hungry in the big cities. We are daily bombarded with images of people here IN THIS COUNTRY that are starving and freezing in the cities. Shoot, even here in WhiteRepublicanLand, we’ve got homeless living under the IH 59 overpasses. It’s a nasty problem, and one that’s not going to go away. And at that, they are still better off than the great majority of the Native American population. Picture, if you will, a world where the nearest general purpose store is at least an hour away by car, and you have to walk to get there. No matter what the weather is, you have to walk to get there, and mostly, you’re walking, not in shoes, but in rags tied to your feet because you can’t buy shoes.

Imagine further that your house is built out of somebody else’s trash heap. Go a step further and imagine that you also have no running water, no electricity, no telephone, no gas (propane or otherwise). Imagine that you dress in rags – not artistically torn designer jeans, but actual rags. Finding this hard to believe? Take a look at any Native American reservation that doesn’t have a casino or a lot of tourism. G’WAN, I dare you. Trust me that you won’t like what you see.

Many Native American families still have no electricity, no telephone services, and no indoor plumbing. They live in isolated, rural communities, where they have no immediate access to grocery stores, gas stations, or forms of entertainment. Discouragement and discontent are both the facts of, and a way of, life. Many young mothers are forced into using newspapers or old rags to substitute for diapers. The elderly have great difficulty getting to stores that are at least an hour away. The isolation, insufficient income, and lack of transportation lead elders into depression and poor health.

Hunger is a constant reality for families living on Native American Reservations. Not just “OOOOO, I’m HONGRY”, either – hungry as in “I haven’t eaten in three days.” In most of these isolated areas, food is scarce and expensive. OK, I can hear y’all now: “So? Let them plant gardens and feed themselves that way.” WOW, what a wonderful idea. There’s just one TINY problem with that: the land that most Native Americans are forced to live on is so worn-out and so used up that it’s next to impossible to grow anything. Most families are so poor that even if they could afford to buy a cow for milk or a calf for fattening, they’d starve to death trying to feed THEM. Kinda defeats the entire purpose, doesn’t it? There are lots of time that Native American children don’t get to start school on time, if at all, simply because they don’t have a pair of shoes, suitable clothing or school supplies.

In this country. RIGHT now, in THIS country. Sickening, isn’t it?

Most Native Americans can’t provide even what we would consider to be just the basics of life for themselves and their families: a bed to sleep in, enough food to eat, light to see by, warmth in the winter, cool in the summer, clean and available drinking water, decent housing, decent schooling, clothing - even blankets and pillows, to say nothing of sheets. And shoes. Imagine having to choose between buying Christmas presents or going without food for a week. Could any of you do that? And yet, that’s the choice that most Native American families live with – and not just at the holiday season.

I found this organization online: National Relief Charities (http://www.nrcprograms.org) while I was researching this article, and I would urge any of you out there that are interested in learning more of *our* collective shame regarding the treatment of Native Americans to do so as well. Here are some statistics regarding life on the reservation (courtesy of the Native American Aid website (www.naaprograms.org), which can be also be reached through the National Relief Charities website.

“Approximately half of the nation’s 2,500,000 Native Americans live on reservations throughout the United States, and are living in conditions that are four to five decades behind the majority of Americans” (Sept. 12, 2002, Rocky Mountain News). “More than 40% of families on the reservations live below the 1999 federal poverty line” (May 25, 2002, Arizona Daily Star). The scarce number of jobs available on reservations and lack of economic opportunity fuel unemployment rates that often exceed 85%. Typically, Tribal and Federal jobs are the largest employers which leave the majority of the population dependant on welfare and other subsistence programs. For example, in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, “residents will walk or hitch rides about 40 miles into Rapid City to work at jobs that pay as little as $56 per day” (Sept. 1, 2002, Washington Times).

Yes, you read that right. $56/day. 40 miles away. And that’s usually a 4 day a week job. With NO benefits whatsoever. Which usually is supporting a minimum of 10 people.

“In many cases, the heads of the household are forced to leave the reservation to seek work. As a result, grandparents must often take on the job of raising their grandchildren so that the more able bodied can leave the reservation to find work. In order to survive, extended families pool their meager resources together to try and provide for their basic needs. The reservation’s (Pine Ridge) 1,185 square miles include the two poorest counties in the U.S. More than 46% of the reservation’s children, and more than 36% of the adults, live below the poverty line,” (Aug. 18, 2003, Denver Post).

Not yet convinced? Ok, how about this: “The average age for Native Americans as a whole is 55, which is younger than for residents of Bangladesh,” (June 2, 2002 Miami News-Record). “The federal government spends half as much on health programs per tribal member as it does on health programs for other Americans,” (June 23, 2002, Great Falls Tribune). In addition, the types of health concerns facing Native Americans have changed over time from primarily infectious diseases to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These chronic conditions are taking a terrible toll on Native American lives. “Indian Elders are 48.7% more likely to suffer from heart failure, 173% more likely to suffer from diabetes, and 44.3% more likely to suffer from asthma than the general population,” (July 11, 2002, Everett Herald).

STILL not convinced? How about this, then:
The remoteness and limited resources in many communities, lack of suitable land, and the severity of the climate are all contributing factors to the difficulty in providing adequate housing on the reservations. Subsequently, homelessness, as well as overcrowding of homes is a chronic problem because many families will not turn away any family member who needs a place to stay. It is not uncommon for as many as 25 people to live in a two-bedroom home (Just in case you missed that – that’s TWENTY-FIVE PEOPLE living in about 1500 sq. ft.) This horrific situation is exacerbated by the fact that much of the existing housing is substandard (by anybody’s standards – the cardboard boxes that most homeless people live in look like McMansions compared to most Native American housing), and in desperate need of repair. Despite the Indian Housing Authorities’(IHA) efforts over the past few years, the need for adequate housing on reservations is acute. “Just 68%of American Indian households have telephones, compared to 95% for the nation as a whole. The legislature deplored the fact that there are 90,000 homeless or under housed Indian families, and that 30% of Indian housing is overcrowded and less than 50% of it is connected to a public sewer” (March 10, 2004, Indian Country Today).

So, what can be done about this? What can we do about this? After all, isn’t the Federal Government looking out for these folks to start off with? In one word: NO.

Billions of dollars in aid has been promised and donated for Haitian earthquake relief. Know what it would cost to build a wind farm on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation? 1.5 million dollars. That would not only power every home on the reservation, it would also bring in badly-needed cash since the surplus would be a cash drop that could be sold to the power company. Y’know what else that money would do? It would create JOBS. Decent paying jobs in a variety of skills.

So, once again, why aren’t we doing this NOW?

Well, basically, because Native Americans aren’t suffering from a new disaster, other than the snowstorms this year. They’re just coping with the disasters that were handed them by the lies of the BIA. They’re coping with being no-class citizens, and it’s killing them. Of course, that’s always been the real object, hasn’t it? After all, nobody wants to remember the conquered peoples of this country.

And that’s the real shame.

We conquered them. We destroyed their culture. And then, we turned our backs.

What an obscenity.

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