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Disrespecting Native Americans

Indian dancer
Young Indian brave dances at Waccamaw Indian People PauWau in November 2018

Since 1990, November has been officially designated as National American Indian Heritage Month, officially recognizing the contributions of Native Americans to our country. So what did President Trump do?

On October 31, he designated November as "National American History and Founders Month" -- in other words, "White Americans" month. Just another Trump stab at minorities in this country in a move to pander to his political base and cater to Republican donors.

Here's what Angela Calcaterra, an associate professor of English at the University of North Texas and the author of "Literary Indians: Aesthetics and Encounter in American Literature to 1920," wrote in an opinion piece for CNN:

"How much would we have to celebrate were we a nation that could face its founding in all of its depth and move forward with reflection and care? How much would we have to celebrate were we able to acknowledge Native people not for one month but continuously, through education, treaty acknowledgement, and meaningful dialogue about the history and future of Indigenous nations? Indigenous voices matter to all of us as we move into an ever more uncertain future. Are we willing to listen?

"The depth of Native American history is readily ignored by a government that wishes to tell an American story devoid of land theft and genocide."

While America's battles against tyranny need to be taught to all Americans, Calcaterra writes that "So too should every single historical US government policy directed toward Native nations, the vast majority of which were aimed at disenfranchising Native people, taking their lands, and erasing their cultures. As a nation, we should cultivate a deep knowledge of the Indigenous people such policies attempted to eradicate."

American Indian Proclamation

On the same day as he issued the National American History and Founders Month proclamation, Trump also issued one recognizing National American Indian Heritage Month. After recounting his administration's many achievements on behalf of Native Americans, Trump's declaration reads:

"During National Native American Heritage Month, we affirm our commitment to working toward a society that fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diversity of culture and history of the 573 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native nations in our country.  This November and every month, we celebrate the culture and heritage of these remarkable Americans who deeply enrich the quality and character of our Nation."

If that were true, action would be taken to address these issues:

  • The Indian Health Service estimates annual Congressional appropriations only meet 52% of health care needs with 24.1% lacking health insurance coverage and relying solely on the Indian health system.

  • The poverty rate in 2009 was 23.6% with 32.4% of those under 18 living in poverty.

  • Although the average income is $33,300, those living in Indian Country (e.g. on reservations) have incomes less than half the national average of $46,200.

  • Alcoholism mortality is 514% higher than the general population.

  • Suicide rates are more than double with Native American teens having the highest rate of suicide of any U.S. population group.

  • Diabetes is 177% higher with the highest rate of Type 2 diabetes than any other population.

  • Tuberculosis is 500% higher.

  • The national graduation rate from high school was 49.3% for 2003-2004 compared to 76.2% for whites with only 13.3% having undergraduate degrees.

  • Approximately 2% of children in the U.S. are American Indians or Alaskan Natives, but represent 8.4% of children in foster care. Violence, injuries, homicide and suicide account for 75% of deaths for ages 12-20.

  • More than four in five Native American or Alaskan Native women have experienced violence with more than one in two experiencing sexual violence. Alaskan Native women have the highest rate of sexual assault and rates of domestic violence, up to 10 times higher than the rest of the country. On some reservations, Indian women are murdered at a rate of more then 10 times the national average.

Is this any way to treat a people whose ancestors inhabited our lands even before the settlers arrived?

In South Carolina, Chief Harold Hatcher for years has been fighting for federal recognition of his Waccamaw Indian People, but has been stymied by impossible government requirements. His people, he says, feel as though they are "invisible," that they don't matter in the eyes of the government.

He points out that Native Americans make up a tiny percentage of voters in the U.S. and so, without more political clout, continue to be mistreated and ignored.

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