Clearly, the biggest mistake Native Americans and Alaskans ever made was saving white people's asses from dying of starvation in the middle of their cornfields. As a continued thanks for their offer of integration, indigenous people now have difficulty voting, are virtually invisible in pop culture, and of all the NFL teams associated with their culture, the most racist one is the most popular.
Most recently, police have decided to dust off their grandpappy's Union uniforms and get back into Native suppression, firing rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and concussion grenades at protesters in North Dakota. However, the atrocities of the Standing Rock pipeline protests are but a few drops in the giant, Olympic-sized pool that is the U.S. government's continual fucking over of the rights of American tribes.
All American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) are supposed to get health care provided by the federal government, because that's sort of the least you can do after driving them to the brink of extinction. It's been ratified in a lot of treaties (fool them once), which is why they're exempt from the Affordable Care Act's insurance mandate, because they're supposed to have the option of getting some of that sweet, sweet health care through the Indian Health Service. Which would be a great boon if the IHS was any good.
Indian Health Service
For one thing, they let unqualified children run medical tests.
The big problem is that the IHS is incredibly underfunded. The agency basically gets a check each year, and only has that amount of money to spend on health care. Since it often runs out of money about six months into the year, you should really try to plan on getting sick exclusively in the springtime. In 2013, IHS spent an average of $2,849 on each patient -- a fraction of the national average of $7,717 per patient. Estimates place the IHS budget at around 45 percent adequate, which is a disappointing score for a Judd Apatow movie, let alone a health care program.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
You shouldn't get to tell two million people, "Eh, have you tried walking it off?"
This chronic underfunding becomes even more terrifying when you consider that Indian reservations can be massive. It's not uncommon for an ambulance to take hours to arrive at a medical emergency -- or in most cases, about 45 minutes after the medical emergency has become fatally less urgent. And those who do take the time to spend a hundred bucks on gas money to drive out to one of the dwindling facilities in the reservations are met with a lack of advanced equipment, and often turned away by the IHS because they only have resources for desperate circumstances, which means "people who will have an uneven amount of limbs tomorrow." Otherwise? Most of the time, you'll get sent home with an ice pack, an aspirin, and the knowledge that the United States has wiped its ass with yet another treaty.
We generally think of Indian reservations as being mini-nations peeking out of the United States, like tiny islands in an ocean of indifference. After all, isn't that what the "sovereign" part of "tribal sovereignty" is all about? But while the government likes to remember indigenous populations as being independent from them when it's time to hand out money, its memory gets a little foggy when it comes to letting them have their own legal system.
Basically, any non-Native can walk onto a reservation, commit a crime of their choosing, walk out, and indigenous authorities are powerless to do anything. Don't believe us? Watch the Chief Justice of the Cherokee Supreme Court tell Samantha Bee that he can do 100 percent of nothing if she were to walk onto Cherokee land and punch his mother in the face. That's because, when the perpetrator is non-Native and the victim is indigenous, only a federal officer can make an arrest, and since federal officers don't care to pass through tribal land except to lose their paycheck at a craps table, those perpetrators are basically immune, on account of there being no one around with the authority to arrest them.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
"Respect! Protect! You know, unless you've got something else going on."
How did we get here? In 1978, the Supreme Court began gutting tribal sovereignty, especially when it came to law enforcement, based on the argument that a bunch of 19th-century white dudes obviously never intended Indian tribes to have any kind of power over white dudes. The Court has historically also been receptive to arguments that boil down to calling Natives too stupid and biased to be trusted with real American lives.
This was the argument also made by the Dollar General corporation after one of their store managers was accused of sexually assaulting a Choctaw minor on the Choctaw Indian Reservation. When girl's parents found out that the state of Mississippi wasn't interested in prosecuting (let that sink in), they took the company and alleged molester Dale Townsend to the tribe's civil court for punitive damages. Dollar General immediately scuttled over to the Supreme Court, demanding that they dismiss the case on the grounds that tribal conceptions of justice are too primitive and prejudiced to hold non-Natives accountable. Or as former U.S. attorney Brendan Johnson put it: "The premise of Dollar General's case is that tribal courts are inherently incompetent and biased against non-members." The corporation eventually had to back down, but only because the Supreme Court had tied on the ruling. This isn't the kind of victory that should ever be won on a technicality.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sometimes this fucked-up system works in your favor, but not the way you want it to.
But even in the 21st century, the government is so scared of giving tribal courts any power that they're willing to let people get away with rape. In 2013, when Congress was reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, Republicans in Congress resisted the idea of giving tribes the power to prosecute non-Native men who assault women (a majority of the violence suffered by Native women is at the hands of non-Natives), nearly tanking the whole bill. Racism and sexism in one bill is an opportunity certain lawmakers just cannot resist.
In theory, juvenile detention is supposed to be different and less severe than prison, to rehabilitate underage offenders who don't necessarily understand the consequences of the crimes they committed. But for indigenous children, juvenile detention is basically just prison, only with less money.
"This will teach your ancestors to settle here before ours!"
The lack of funds that is unfortunately standard with every Native American program means that most reservations don't actually have juvenile facilities. This can often lead to incarcerated minors getting shipped hundreds of miles away from home, assuming they even make it to a juvenile detention facility. You see, because reservations are supposed to be sovereign territory, that means that if a minor commits a felony, they get put in the federal system. The federal government is good at many things, but taking care of children is not one of them.
However, it excels at shooting them with rubber bullets.
The federal system doesn't have a juvenile division, which means no rehabilitation programs, no education, and no probation for any Native American minors who find themselves in federal custody. There's also no funding to help any of them who might have mental health problems, or those who have been sexually assaulted, which is a lot of them. It doesn't help that they fall under what's been called a "patchwork" of agencies and organizations, like the world's shittiest quilt.
Investigations show that AI/AN minors are treated more harshly than white minors. For example, one teenage girl was restrained spread-eagle on a concrete slab for hours, pepper-sprayed repeatedly, and kept in isolation for weeks. Furthermore, Native children are often put in facilities for some pretty stupid reasons, such as truancy. One group found that Native youth have higher rates of PTSD than veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. That means a whole generation of American Indians have been traumatized by trying to survive the U.S. government. America sure loves its traditions.
There's a common misconception that American Indians weren't terribly advanced when European settlers stumbled into the continent, but the truth is that many Native tribes had substantially developed culture, technology, and ideas -- their only "shortcoming" was they hadn't managed to invent guns yet. But a century of mismanaged educational programs at the hands of the U.S. government has effectively stymied the education of every subsequent generation of Native Americans.
"Raise your hand if a shit system is selling your future short!"
In 1969, a Senate report on the state of indigenous education referred to it as "a national tragedy and a national disgrace." And as others have pointed out, little has changed. In the 2013-2014 school year, 69.6 percent of AI/AN students graduated from high school, making them the lowest-performing ethnic group (the national average was 82.3 percent). AI/AN students are some of the poorest-performing students in the country, but this is especially so for those who live on reservations. And, in a pattern that should now be familiar to any reader, a jumbled patchwork of government agencies appear to share the blame. It's such a bureaucratic clusterfuck that no meaningful progress is able to take place.
On top of that, the Bureau of Indian Education has a big management problem. It has had over 30 directors in 36 years, which is the kind of turnover rate that would be unacceptable at White Castle. Partially as a result of this, the bureau has continually suffered from financial mismanagement. Reservation schools have been described as "crumbling" and "unsafe" -- two words you don't want associated with a place that houses children. It also probably doesn't help that the isolation of reservations, high poverty rate, and low pay make hiring and keeping good teachers a problem for reservation schools. It's almost as if the U.S. government is failing indigenous children on purpose.
Swikar Patel/Education Week
We're pretty sure the wandering horses outside are receiving a better education.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
One of the major problems facing a lot of indigenous families is the high rate of poverty, both on and off reservations. In 2014, 28.3 percent of single-race American Indians and Alaska Natives were impoverished, the highest percentage of any race group and almost twice as high as the national average of 15.5 percent. On reservations, the problem can be even worse. Some reservations have poverty levels comparable to Detroit, which you may recognize as anywhere in between "not great" and "post-apocalyptic."
Another problem plaguing the community is high levels of suicide. Here's a graph:
Suicide rates among Native young adults are nearly twice as high as the national average -- and we're getting a little stressed out that "twice as bad as the national average" seems to be the recurring theme of this article. Even worse, studies suggest that suicide statistics for American Indians or Alaskan Natives might be underreported, so the actual number could be much higher.
Things get even worse. One in three indigenous women have been raped, part of the disproportionate amounts of violence committed against indigenous people. For comparison's sake, one in six female college freshman are raped. With all the necessary and desperately needed talk about rape and consent that has been occurring recently, you'd think sexual violence against indigenous women would've come up. But the only dialog about Native Americans which the U.S. government participated in this year was "Get off our land."
Michael Springer/Getty Images
More specifically, "Get off the land that was yours that we took from you."
And remember that whole "Reservations can't prosecute non-Native people" law we discussed earlier? That's how three oil workers were able to kidnap a Native woman, rape her, drop her on the road, then return to rape her multiple times before the sun rose, and completely avoid any repercussions. Unless the victim's attackers were also members of the reservation, reservation authorities are unable to even conduct an investigation.
And people get away with this.
There's no punchline that can soften that blow, unfortunately. Here's a video of Guy Fieri eating in slow motion.
Nimby Smith thinks that you should look up your legislators and call or write to them, telling them that you believe that there should be a law so that tribes can detain, charge, and try non-Natives for sexual assault under ANY circumstances. The RAINN sexual abuse hotline is 800-656-HOPE (4673).
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