Contemporary Native American issues in the United States
Contemporary Native American issues in the United States are issues arising in the late 20th century and early 21st century which affect Native Americans in the United States.
- 1 Demographics
- 2 Societal discrimination and racism
- 3 Native American mascots in sports
- 4 Historical depictions in art
- 5 Terminology differences
- 6 Gambling industry
- 7 Crime on reservations
- 8 Public health
- 9 References
A little over one third of the 2,786,652 Native Americans in the United States live in three states: California at 413,382, Arizona at 294,137 and Oklahoma at 279,559. 70% of Native Americans lived in urban areas in 2012, up from 45% in 1970 and 8% in 1940. Urban areas with significant Native American populations included Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Houston, New York City, and Rapid City.
In the early 21st century, Native American communities have exhibited continual growth and revival, playing a larger role in the American economy and in the lives of Native Americans. Communities have consistently formed governments that administer services such as firefighting, natural resource management, social programs, health care, housing and law enforcement. Numerous tribes have founded tribal colleges.
Most Native American communities have established court systems to adjudicate matters related to local ordinances. Most also look to various forms of moral and social authority, such as forms of restorative justice, vested in the traditional culture of the tribal nation. Native American professionals have founded associations in journalism, law, medicine and other fields to encourage students in these fields, provide professional training and networking opportunities, and entree into mainstream institutions.
To address the housing needs of Native Americans, Congress passed the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) in 1996. This legislation replaced public housing built by the BIA and other 1937 Housing Act programs directed towards Indian Housing Authorities, with a block-grant program. It provides funds to be administered by the Tribes to develop their own housing.
Societal discrimination and racism
Universities have conducted relatively little public opinion research on attitudes toward Native Americans. In 2007 the non-partisan Public Agenda organization conducted a focus group study. Most non-Native Americans admitted they rarely encountered Native Americans in their daily lives. While sympathetic toward Native Americans and expressing regret over the past, most people had only a vague understanding of the problems facing Native Americans today. For their part, Native Americans told researchers that they believed they continued to face prejudice and mistreatment in the broader society.
Journalists have covered issues of discrimination.
LeCompte also endured taunting on the battlefield. "They ridiculed him and called him a 'drunken Indian.' They said, 'Hey, dude, you look just like a haji—you'd better run.' They call the Arabs 'haji.' I mean, it's one thing to worry for your life, but then to have to worry about friendly fire because you don't know who in the hell will shoot you?— Tammie LeCompte, May 25, 2007, "Soldier highlights problems in U.S. Army"
Affirmative action issues
Federal contractors and subcontractors such as businesses and educational institutions are legally required to adopt equal opportunity employment and affirmative action measures intended to prevent discrimination against employees or applicants for employment on the basis of "color, religion, sex, or national origin". For this purpose, an American Indian or Alaska Native is defined as "A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains a tribal affiliation or community attachment." However, self-reporting is permitted, "Educational Institutions and Other Recipients Should Allow Students and Staff To Self-Identify Their Race and Ethnicity Unless Self-Identification Is Not Practicable or Feasible."
Self-reporting opens the door to "box checking" by people, who, despite not having a substantial relationship to Native American culture, either innocently or fraudulently "check the box" for Native American. On August 15, 2011 the American Bar Association passed a resolution recommending that law schools require supporting information such as evidence of tribal enrollment or connection with Native American culture.
Racial achievement gap regarding language
To evade a shift to English, some Native American tribes have initiated language immersion schools for children, where a native Indian language is the medium of instruction. For example, the Cherokee Nation instigated a 10-year language preservation plan that involved growing new fluent speakers of the Cherokee language from childhood on up through school immersion programs as well as a collaborative community effort to continue to use the language at home. This plan was part of an ambitious goal that in 50 years, 80% or more of the Cherokee people will be fluent in the language. The Cherokee Preservation Foundation has invested $3 million into opening schools, training teachers, and developing curricula for language education, as well as initiating community gatherings where the language can be actively used. Formed in 2006, the Kituwah Preservation & Education Program (KPEP) on the Qualla Boundary focuses on language immersion programs for children from birth to fifth grade, developing cultural resources for the general public and community language programs to foster the Cherokee language among adults.
There is also a Cherokee language immersion school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma that educates students from pre-school through eighth grade. Because Oklahoma's official language is English, Cherokee immersion students are hindered when taking state-mandated tests because they have little competence in English. The Department of Education of Oklahoma said that in 2012 state tests: 11% of the school’s sixth-graders showed proficiency in math, and 25% showed proficiency in reading; 31% of the seventh-graders showed proficiency in math, and 87% showed proficiency in reading; 50% of the eighth-graders showed proficiency in math, and 78% showed proficiency in reading. The Oklahoma Department of Education listed the charter school as a Targeted Intervention school, meaning the school was identified as a low-performing school but has not so that it was a Priority School. Ultimately, the school made a C, or a 2.33 grade point average on the state’s A-F report card system. The report card shows the school getting an F in mathematics achievement and mathematics growth, a C in social studies achievement, a D in reading achievement, and an A in reading growth and student attendance. “The C we made is tremendous,” said school principal Holly Davis, “[t]here is no English instruction in our school’s younger grades, and we gave them this test in English.” She said she had anticipated the low grade because it was the school’s first year as a state-funded charter school, and many students had difficulty with English. Eighth graders who graduate from the Tahlequah immersion school are fluent speakers of the language, and they usually go on to attend Sequoyah High School where classes are taught in both English and Cherokee.
Native American mascots in sports
American Indian activists in the United States and Canada have criticized the use of Native American mascots in sports as perpetuating stereotypes. European Americans have had a history of "playing Indian" that dates back to at least the 18th century. While supporters of the mascots say they embody the heroism of Native American warriors, AIM particularly has criticized the use of mascots as offensive and demeaning.
While many universities and professional sports teams (for example, the Cleveland Indians, who had a Chief Wahoo) no longer use such images without consultation and approval by the respective nation, some lower-level schools continue to do so. On the other hand, in the Bay Area of California, Tomales Bay High and Sequoia High have retired their Indian mascots.
(Trudie Lamb Richmond doesn't) know what to say when kids argue, 'I don't care what you say, we are honoring you. We are keeping our Indian.' ... What if it were 'our black' or 'our Hispanic'?— Amy D'orio quoting Trudie Lamb Richmond, March 1996, "Indian Chief Is Mascot No More"
In August 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the use of "hostile and abusive" Native American mascots in postseason tournaments. An exception was made to allow the use of tribal names if approved by that tribe (such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida's approving use of their name for the team of Florida State University.)
Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game?" he said. "Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?— "Native American Mascots Big Issue in College Sports",Teaching Tolerance, May 9, 2001
Historical depictions in art
During the 16th century, the artist John White made watercolors and engravings of the people native to the southeastern states. John White’s images were, for the most part, faithful likenesses of the people he observed.
The artist Theodore de Bry used White’s original watercolors to make a book of engravings entitled, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia. In his book, de Bry often altered the poses and features of White’s figures to make them appear more European. During the period when White and de Bry were working, when Europeans were first coming into contact with Native Americans, Europeans were greatly interested in Native American cultures. Their curiosity created demand for a book like de Bry’s.
A number of 19th and 20th-century United States and Canadian painters, often motivated by a desire to document and preserve Native culture, specialized in Native American subjects. Among the most prominent of these were Elbridge Ayer Burbank, George Catlin, Seth Eastman, Paul Kane, W. Langdon Kihn, Charles Bird King, Joseph Henry Sharp, and John Mix Stanley.
During the construction of the Capitol building in the early 19th century, the U.S. government commissioned a series of four relief panels to crown the doorway of the Rotunda. The reliefs encapsulate a vision of European—Native American relations that had assumed mythic historical proportions by the 19th century. The four panels depict: The Preservation of Captain Smith by Pocahontas (1825) by Antonio Capellano, The Landing of the Pilgrims (1825) and The Conflict of Daniel Boone and the Indians (1826–27) by Enrico Causici, and William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1827) by Nicholas Gevelot.
The reliefs by European sculptors present versions of the Europeans and the Native Americans, in which the Europeans appear refined and the natives appear ferocious. The Whig representative of Virginia, Henry A. Wise, wrote about how Native Americans might think of the reliefs: "We give you corn, you cheat us of our lands: we save your life, you take ours." While many 19th-century images of Native Americans conveyed similarly negative messages, artists such as Charles Bird King sought to express a more balanced image of Native Americans.
During this time, some fiction writers were informed about and sympathetic to Native American culture. Marah Ellis Ryan conveyed the culture with sympathy.
In the 20th century, early portrayals of Native Americans in movies and television roles were first performed by European Americans dressed in mock traditional attire. Examples included The Last of the Mohicans (1920), Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (1957), and F Troop (1965–67). In later decades, Native American actors such as Jay Silverheels in The Lone Ranger television series (1949–57) came to prominence. Roles of Native Americans were limited and not reflective of Native American culture. By the 1970s some Native American film roles began to show more complexity, such as those in Little Big Man (1970), Billy Jack (1971), and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), which depicted Native Americans in minor supporting roles.
For years, Native people on U.S. television were relegated to secondary, subordinate roles. During the years of the series Bonanza (1959–1973), no major or secondary Native characters appeared on a consistent basis. The series The Lone Ranger (1949–1957), Cheyenne (1957–1963), and Law of the Plainsman (1959–1963) had Native characters who were essentially aides to the central white characters. This continued in such series as How the West Was Won. These programs resembled the "sympathetic" yet contradictory film Dances With Wolves of 1990, in which, according to Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, the narrative choice was to relate the Lakota story as told through a Euro-American voice, for wider impact among a general audience. Like the 1992 remake of The Last of the Mohicans and Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Dances with Wolves employed a number of Native American actors, and made an effort to portray Indigenous languages.
In the same period, the TNT Network presented a television movie on Geronimo, as well as two others on Native American historical figures, and a six-part documentary series on Native history, all within a 14-month period.
In 2004 producer Guy Perrotta presented the film Mystic Voices: The Story of the Pequot War (2004), a television documentary on the first major war between colonists and Native peoples in the Americas. Perrotta and Charles Clemmons intended to increase public understanding of the significance of this early event. They believed it had significance not only for northeastern Native Peoples and descendants of English and Dutch colonists, but for all Americans today.
Wanting to make the film historically accurate and unbiased, the producers invited a broadly based Advisory Board, and used scholars, Native Americans, and descendants of the colonists to help tell the story. They elicited personal and often passionate viewpoints from contemporary Americans. The production portrayed the conflict as a struggle between different value systems, which included not only the Pequot, but a number of other Native American tribes, most of which allied with the English. It presents facts and seeks to help viewers better understand the several peoples who fought the War.
In 2009 We Shall Remain (2009), a television documentary by Ric Burns and part of the American Experience series, presented a five-episode series "from a Native American perspective". It represented "an unprecedented collaboration between Native and non-Native filmmakers and involves Native advisors and scholars at all levels of the project." The five episodes explore the impact of King Philip's War on the northeastern tribes, the "Native American confederacy" of Tecumseh's War, the US-forced relocation of Southeastern tribes known as the Trail of Tears, the pursuit and capture of Geronimo and the Apache Wars, and concludes with the Wounded Knee incident, participation by the American Indian Movement, and the increasing resurgence of modern Native cultures since.
Common usage in the United States
Native Americans are more commonly known as Indians or American Indians, and have been known as Aboriginal Americans, Amerindians, Amerinds, Colored, First Americans, Native Indians, Indigenous, Original Americans, Red Indians, Redskins or Red Men. The term Native American was introduced in the United States by academics[who?] in preference to the older term Indian to distinguish the indigenous peoples of the Americas from the people of India, and to avoid negative stereotypes associated with the term Indian. Some academics[who?] believe that the term Indian should be considered outdated or offensive. Many indigenous Americans, however, prefer the term American Indian. Others point out that anyone born in the United States is, technically, native to America. In this sense, "native" was substituted for "indigenous". Today, people from India (and their descendants) who are citizens of the United States are called Indian Americans or Asian Indians.
Criticism of the neologism Native American comes from diverse sources. Russell Means, an American Indian activist, opposes the term Native American because he believes it was imposed by the government without the consent of American Indians. He has also argued that the use of the word Indian derives not from a confusion with India but from a Spanish expression En Dio, meaning "in God".
Furthermore, some American Indians[who?] question the term Native American because, they argue, it serves to ease the conscience of "white America" with regard to past injustices done to American Indians by effectively eliminating "Indians" from the present. Still others (both Indians and non-Indians)[who?] argue that Native American is problematic because "native of" literally means "born in," so any person born in the Americas could be considered "native". The compound "Native American" is generally capitalized to differentiate the reference to the indigenous peoples.
A 1995 U.S. Census Bureau survey found that more Native Americans in the United States preferred American Indian to Native American. Most American Indians are comfortable with Indian, American Indian, and Native American, and the terms are often used interchangeably. The traditional term is reflected in the name chosen for the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004 on the Mall in Washington, D.C..
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau has introduced the "Asian-Indian" category to avoid ambiguity for descendants of people from India.
Gambling has become a leading industry. Casinos operated by many Native American governments in the United States are creating a stream of gambling revenue that some communities are beginning to use as leverage to build diversified economies. Native American communities have waged and prevailed in legal battles to assure recognition of rights to self-determination and to use of natural resources. Some of those rights, known as treaty rights, are enumerated in early treaties signed with the young United States government. These casinos have brought an influx of money to the tribes; according to tribal accounting firm Joseph Eve, CPAs, the average net profit of Indian casinos is 38.85%.[clarification needed]
Tribal sovereignty has become a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, and at least on the surface, in national legislative policies. Although many Native American tribes have casinos, the impact of Native American gaming is widely debated. Some tribes, such as the Winnemem Wintu of Redding, California, feel that casinos and their proceeds destroy culture from the inside out. These tribes refuse to participate in the gambling industry.
Crime on reservations
Prosecution of serious crime, historically endemic on reservations, was required by the 1885 Major Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. §§1153, 3242, and court decisions to be investigated by the federal government, usually the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and prosecuted by United States Attorneys of the United States federal judicial district in which the reservation lies. An investigation by The Denver Post in 2007 found that crimes in Indian Country have been a low priority both with the FBI and most federal prosecutors. As of November 2012 federal resources were being reduced while high rates of crime continued to rise in Indian Country.
Often serious crimes have been either poorly investigated or prosecution has been declined. Tribal courts were limited to sentences of one year or less, until on July 29, 2010 the Tribal Law and Order Act was enacted which in some measure reforms the system permitting tribal courts to impose sentences of up to three years provided proceedings are recorded and additional rights are extended to defendants. The Justice Department on January 11, 2010 initiated the Indian Country Law Enforcement Initiative which recognizes problems with law enforcement on reservations and assigns top priority to solving existing problems.
The Department of Justice recognizes the unique legal relationship that the United States has with federally recognized tribes. As one aspect of this relationship, in much of Indian Country, the Justice Department alone has the authority to seek a conviction that carries an appropriate potential sentence when a serious crime has been committed. Our role as the primary prosecutor of serious crimes makes our responsibility to citizens in Indian Country unique and mandatory. Accordingly, public safety in tribal communities is a top priority for the Department of Justice.
Emphasis was placed on improving prosecution of crimes involving domestic violence and sexual assault.
Passed in 1953, Public Law 280 (PL 280) gave jurisdiction over criminal offenses involving Indians in Indian Country to certain States and allowed other States to assume jurisdiction. Subsequent legislation allowed States to retrocede jurisdiction, which has occurred in some areas. Some PL 280 reservations have experienced jurisdictional confusion, tribal discontent, and litigation, compounded by the lack of data on crime rates and law enforcement response.
As of 2012, a high incidence of rape continued to impact Native American women and Alaskan native women. According to the Justice Department 1 in 3 women have suffered rape or attempted rape, more than twice the national rate. 80% of Native American sexual assault victims report that their attacker was "non-Indian". As of 2013 inclusion of offenses by non-native men against native women in the Violence Against Women Act continued to present difficulties over the question of whether defendants who are not tribal members would be treated fairly by tribal courts or afforded constitutional guarantees. On June 6, 2012 the Justice Department announced a pilot plan to establish joint federal-tribal response teams on 6 Montana reservations to combat rape and sexual assault.
It is a well established and proven fact that Native American women are more susceptible to sexual assaults than other races. The blame for this has been placed on many different factors and more research has to be done to determine what is contributing to this high vulnerability. Blame has been placed on alcoholism rates, non-native attackers as well as native attackers, and the likelihood that offenders will never see prosecution.
As of 2004, according to the United States Commission on Civil Rights: "Native Americans die of diabetes, alcoholism, tuberculosis, suicide, and other health conditions at shocking rates. Beyond disturbingly high mortality rates, Native Americans also suffer a significantly lower health status and disproportionate rates of disease compared with all other Americans."
In addition to increasing numbers of American Indians entering the fields of community health and medicine, agencies working with Native American communities have sought partnerships, representatives of policy and program boards, and other ways to learn and respect their traditions, and to integrate the benefits of Western medicine within their own cultural practices.
Tribal governments have long prohibited the sale of alcohol on reservations, but generally it is readily for sale in nearby border towns, and off-reservation businesses and states gain income from the business. As an example, in 2010, beer sales at off-reservation outlets in Whiteclay, Nebraska generated $413,932 that year in federal and sales taxes. Their customers are overwhelmingly Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Acknowledging that prohibition has not worked, in a major change in strategy since the late 20th century, as of 2007, 63 percent of the federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states had legalized alcohol sales on their reservations. Among these, all the other tribes in South Dakota have legalized sales, as have many in Nebraska. The tribes decided to retain the revenues that previously would go to the states through retail sales taxes on this commodity. Legalizing the sales enables the tribes to keep more money within their reservation economies and support new businesses and services, as well as to directly regulate, police and control alcohol sales. The retained revenues enable them to provide health care and build facilities to better treat individuals and families suffering from alcohol abuse. In some cases, legalization of alcohol sales also supported the development of resorts and casinos, to generate revenues for other economic enterprises.
Suicide is a major public health problem for American Indians in the United States.
Prevalence of suicide among Native Americans
The Suicide rate for American Indians and Alaskan Natives is approximately 190% of the rate for the general population. Among American Indians/Alaska Natives aged 10 to 34 years suicide is the second leading cause of death with suicide ranked as the eighth leading cause of death for American Indians/Alaska Natives of all ages
Youth who have experienced life stressors are disproportionately affected by risky behaviors and at greater risk for suicide ideation. Suicide rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives youth are higher than those for other populations. The rate of suicide for American Indian/Alaskan Natives is 70% higher than for that of the general population and youth between age 10 and 24 are the most at risk.
College students are also among those most at risk for suicide; select data from the National College Health Association National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) found that approximately 15% of American Indian students reported seriously contemplating suicide over the past 12 months, compared with 9.1% of non-American Indian students; 5.7% of American Indian students reported attempting suicide, compared with 1.2% of non-American Indian students
Prevention aims at halting or stopping the development of individual or social problem which are already evident. Prevention is different from intervention and treatment in that it is aimed at general population groups or individuals with various levels of risk. Prevention's goal is to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors. Suicide prevention is a collective efforts of organizations, communities, and mental health practitioners to reduce the incidence of suicide. Social workers have an important role to play in suicide prevention. Social workers are the largest occupational group of mental health professionals in the USA, thus they play a significant role in national approach to preventing suicide. The social work approach to suicide prevention among Native Americans identifies and addresses the individual’s immediate clinical needs, community/environmental influences, and societal risk factors.
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RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges the Law School Admissions Council and ABA-approved law schools to require additional information from individuals who indicate on their applications for testing or admission that they are Native American, including Tribal citizenship, Tribal affiliation or enrollment number, and/or a “heritage statement.”
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