OPINION: Let's talk about poverty in Native American Communities

A Native American guardian totem. Via Unsplash.

In the year of a pandemic, people across the world have suffered plenty of heartache. A feeling many Native Americans have been experiencing for a long time with their reservations being underfunded by the government and the spiraling effect of it.

According to the American Community Survey, one in three Native Americans are living in poverty. That is a large number for the U.S., who is supposed to create equal opportunities for everyone.

It is unfathomable to think we have neglected a group of people for so long, yet they don’t get much media attention. 

In 2018, 25.4 percent of Native Americans were in poverty and there is no indication those numbers are going down. That is a higher percentage than Black, Hispanic, white and Asian people in poverty. 

To make matters worse, the reservations the government has forced them onto may also lack access to running water, sewage and proper garbage disposal. The lack thereof for these services hints towards a bigger problem, environmental racism. A problem that the government doesn’t seem to want to address anytime soon. 

How have we been able to keep such a large group of people on the back burner for so long? It is not like this issue came out of nowhere, it has been happening steadily over time since they were sectioned onto reservations. 

Part of the reason Native Americans cycle through poverty is shown through their high rate of dropouts. According to the National Indian Education Association, the dropout rates for Native American students is between 40 and 60 percent during freshman to senior year of high school. 

Historically, Native Americans were put into boarding schools as a tactic to assimilate them into the new American culture. This essentially is white-washing them into forgetting their language, music and parts of their culture as a whole.

It wasn’t until the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that Native American families were given the right to reject having their children removed from their homes to be placed in homes outside the reservation. We aren’t as far removed from these tragedies as many people assume, only 43 years have passed. The boarding schools may be gone now, but their effects linger. 

Among the top 10 poorest counties in the U.S. for 2020 was Apache County in Arizona. The poverty rate was 35.3 percent, the unemployment rate was almost nine percent and the median household income was approximately $33,000. 

On the reservations, there is a huge housing shortage. There are few homes in rural areas on the reservations that can hold generations of Native people and there simply aren't enough homes to fit everyone. Some reservations have homes with two to three bedrooms, but house up to 12 people.

One may ask, “Why don’t the Native Americans build more houses?” The answer is, yet again, poverty — every penny of their money goes towards food and shelter.

It should come as no surprise that COVID-19 ripping through the reservations adds to their worries. Since Native American homes are overflowing with people, it only makes sense that if one gets COVID-19 then everyone gets infected. 

The Indian Health Service, a division of health services that tends to Native Americans and Alaskan Native people, has been hit hard during the pandemic. They have experienced shortages of personal protective equipment and coronavirus test kits, due to the lack of funding into their health division.

According to the CDC, Native Americans are almost twice as likely to die from COVID-19 compared to non-Hispanic whites. As a population of people who have been pushed out of their native lands, they continue to struggle to get above the poverty line.

It’s long been time to talk about the injustices Americans and our government have committed against the Native American population. The government needs to fund their reservations properly so they can begin to have access to everything that the rest of the U.S. has access to. This would allow them to live comfortably in their homes and reservations without worrying for their well-being.

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