The Continued Marginalization of the First American
Back in 2012, there was some tentative hope that a new Democrat government would address the issues that are central to all First Americans: the continuing imprisonment of Leonard Peltier and the proposed selling off of the Wounded Knee site to mention a few. This tentative hope has now turned to anger for many as these fundamental issues continue to be ignored.
It hasn’t taken the rest of America long to forget the plight of First Americans. Having been run off their land and confined to reservations, ghettoized and left to slowly fade from the rest of the countries sight, communities are plagued by suicides, addictions and all too common institutionalized racism. This is even more galling when confronted with the often stereotyped popular imagery of the native American. The internet is often awash with quotes and wisdoms such as Cherokee prayers and Elder’s sayings. The fact that these quotes and sayings do often contain a real source of wisdom is ironic, considering how little First American concerns and problems are addressed or even acknowledged by the majority of those that share and promote them. Instead, communities are left to slowly ravage themselves through addiction and poverty, and complete lack of access to opportunity or support. The addiction rate for First Americans is known to be high, but cannot be quantified due to apparent difficulty gathering reliable statistics. A further problem is that many First Americans cannot afford to get support through rehab clinics. In Iowa for example, there are an estimated 14,000 Native Americans. The addiction figures relating to First Americans in this region are unknown exactly, but with around 25% of this community below the poverty line, access to the facilities available in Iowa and other addiction support is severely limited due to cost and eligibility. Further health support is complicated by the access to the Indian Health Service, which requires permanent residence on a reservation.
Lost in Education
One way to improve the overall awareness of the situation could be found in the educations system, yet conversely this is also one of the key problem areas. As mentioned, portrayal of the American Indian is often a caricatured and one dimensional one, further reinforcing stereotype and ignorance. The recent use of Native American’s in a pro gun bill board in North Colorado is one such example, that goes no way towards improving perception and highlighting the problems First American communities face. That said, there are some guidelines in place for teachers that can begin to deconstruct such insensitive and derogatory perceptions at an early age, instead reinforcing the more positive and truthful aspects of First American culture. While certainly a positive step, such measures are currently up to the discretion of the teacher and not enforced by education policy.
The Hypocrisy of Government
A brief look at recent history - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only highlight the hypocrisy of government and the unwillingness to engage with teh First American community. If they are happy to send troops to fight for the rights and freedoms of the repressed in countries half way around the world, why are the same, albeit more subtle, violations allowed to continue on home soil? One of the difficulties the First American community faces is numbers. It is estimated that there are currently around 2.5 million Native Americans and American Indians in the United States according to the 2000 census. In contrast, the African American community is estimated at 43.9 million in 2011, and despite the civil rights movement and the progress made, this community still has many issues as a result of government actions.
One of the major problems, as a result of the minority status of the First American, is that it is easy for large institutions and government to ignore. In order to get real change, the rest of the countries population must be made aware of the issues that face this community, and add their support. Similar problems are still faced today by Australians Aboriginal people, with high rates of poverty, addiction, and limited opportunity to improve their situation as a result of government legislation and institutional racism. It was only a few years ago that the Australian government recognized there was a problem at all, and offered an apology for the treatment of these people. Although many issues still remain for the Aborigines, much like the First Americans, this level of public recognition is a start, and by raising voices loudly enough in the right places, hopefully First Americans can get the acknowledgment and changes they deserve, in their own country.