Saturday, November 17, 2007

Al Jazeera: Poverty and Indians

I am always struck by the invisibility of Natives/Indians in mainstream American race relations. For example, you will have to look hard to find comparative statistics that include Indians among other race/ethnic groups in the US. It is also just as hard to find comprehensive statistics that compare Indian life to that of other people of color.

Most outsiders looking in on Indian life would be shocked to see the levels of poverty that characterize life on the reservation. I travelled through the Navajo (Diné) reservation a couple of years ago and was simply shocked.

What I saw looked more like an apartheid township than the developed suburbs of history's most prosperous country.

I stopped in a convenience store on the reservation and bought a local newspaper. A leading report described how some sections of the reservation were just getting electricity and running water. In 2005!

Read that again just in case you thought I was talking about South Africa or India. I am talking about the US and its occupation of what it calls America.

Take a look at this news report that Al Jazeera produced on poverty and Indians (November 16).

Now read some of the comments that were left in response to the contents. I have made a selection of a few here:
evenstephen85 - "The United States stole their land, destroyed their culture and has slaughtered their people. We should be ashamed of the atrocities that our country has committed against the Native Americans."

sugarpuddin88 - "American Indian casino wealth is greater than Vegas and Atlantic City combined -- Yet, they don't share with others. Forty thousand years ago Australian Aborigines settled the Americas. Their cave paintings depict Asiatic tribes, (American Indians), exterminating them 10,000 years ago. American Indians were the ones who killed off the original peoples of the Americas: Australian Aborigine peoples. My grandfather was dirt poor, and he was part of a western (Appalachian) tribe of Shawnee.

rararaHusky - "White man conspiracy, wtf? get a job you hooch!"

M3ridius - "Oh dear =( too bad you're not getting them back. The big mean white man built too many roads, factories, hospitals and skyscrapers on the land to want to return it to you now. They're American lands by conquest. Deal with it."

The last comment really gets my nerve. It is the same kind of racist arrogance that defines the colonial mindset. It is a comment that can be used anywhere where colonialism has reduced Indigenous people to little more than genocide survivors.

And we are not free.


***Update***(Saturday, November 17)
I looked at some census data and would like to provide the link here for anyone who wants to see some of what is officially reported on Native life in the US.

See also data contained in the "We the People: American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States" [2000: PDF 752K] report.

What follows is a selection from this 2000 report:
*In Census 2000, 4.3 million people, or 1.5 percent of the total U.S. population, reported that they were American Indian and Alaska Native.

* The educational levels of American Indians and Alaska Natives were below those of the total population in 2000.

* Seventy-one percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives 25 and older had at
least a high school education, compared with 80 percent of the total population.

* Eleven percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native population had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24 percent of all people.

* The labor force participation rate for American Indian and Alaska Native men (66 percent) was lower than that of all men (71 percent), while the rate for American Indian and Alaska Native women (57 percent) was slightly lower than for all women
(58 percent).

* The ratio of American Indians and Alaska Natives living below the official poverty level in 1999 to that of all people was more than 2.

* In 2000, about 34 percent of the American Indian and Alaska Native population lived in American Indian areas (AIAs).

Based on this set of data we 'know' that almost two thirds of all Natives live outside the various reservations.

But living off the res has not decreased the significant lags in the typical socio-economic indicators between Natives and the general US population. The most significant is that if you are Native you are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than anyone else in the US.

In the past few days I have also been thinking about comparative data, particularly between so called minority populations in the US.

I found data that indicates Native communities bear a "greater burden of health risk factors and chronic disease than other racial/ethnic minority populations": See the CDC's Office of Minority Health and Minority Health Disparities (OMHD) report and others here.

In my comments section Shush li makes reference to an article that appeared in the Willamette Week by Beth Slovic entitled "Urban Indian: A Tight-Focus Lens on Portland's Invisible Minority", you can find that article here.

Regular readers of Eugene's blog will be interested in his comment (#20) on Slovic's article.

A slightly modified version of this article appears at Indigenist Intelligence Review.


Eugene said...

I'll have to check this article out.

The second comment, well, alleged archaeology/anthropology is really...a joke in this nation and pretty much a tool of genocide justification when it comes to Indians. According to Kroeber, the exploiter of Ishi in the early 20th century, there were less than a million Indians in the United States. How did he know this? Simply because he said so, I kid you not.

I Love that last comment as well, it's helping me wake up this early am since I already have a fucking job. You see, that comment also justifies terror enacted by enemies because, it is simply a process of beginning a conquest. It is the beginning of economic destruction. However, that would also justify some group going to that worthless f***s house, killing him (after torture, of course), raping his wife AND KIDS! kicking them out of their house, and moving in themselves leaving the stupid bastards to fend for themselves.

...I'm sharpening my hatchet.

Shus li che dut nah (Spring Thunder) said...

Thanks for this video, Ridwan. I want to put it up on my electronic history book (blog); hope you don't mind.

The poverty and stats are horrific on Pine Ridge and other reservations. The legacy of substance abuse, violence, and accidents make life all the worse.

This video reminds me of some coverage Willamette Week (a weekly Portland newspaper) did on Urban Indians' plight here in Portland. I thought it was excellent, until David Liberty (co-host of the radio show Eugene does) pointed out that always showing Ind'ns as impoverished serves to perpetuate that as the norm. He also pointed out how "successful" Ind'ns aren't usually given any media coverage. David himself has a master's degree, was a PhD candidate, and has a great position with Columbia River Interfisheries Council.

I don't agree fully with David, but I see his point. It is good to keep the gross persecution of reservation Indians in the public eye. Maybe someone will care enough to offer real help.

And, it relates to my own status as a Native. Often, I am not perceived as Native because I don't fit the ONE image of being dark and/or living in poverty. Even some people who know my history don't consider me to be a Native American. This rejection of my Native status is a type of genocide in and of itself.

Ridwan said...

Hello brother Eugene:

Thanks for pointing to that rationalization and the manner that it allows for 'ownership' and abuse of Indians.

It amazes me how this mindset is not as uncommon as the liberals would want to argue.

And it is telling how much of this attitude is found wherever the colonial is settled.

Thanks again, please let me know what you think about the clip when you get a chance.

Peace and struggle,

Ridwan said...

Hello there Shush li. Thanks kindly for your comment.

When I watched the clip I thought that some of it came across as telegraphed. But I also wondered about its audience.

Most of the world now has access to Al Jazeera's excellent news channel except the US.

Most of the folks I know in South Africa and India would be taken aback by the contents of that clip.

Indians are characters of Hollywood in the imagination of too many.

The clip puts the poverty issue on the table in 3 minutes.

I think it asks viewers to question the images that the US is prosperous and that all its 'peoples' have a slice, etc.

It also asks us to consider some of the state of the colonized, if even not directly.

This then was the strength for me.

I hear what David Liberty is saying and it is a valid observation from someone well versed in these issues.

The story of Indians must be seen as more than just poverty on the res.

And it is important that a fuller picture emerge in this kind of forum and on Al Jazeera.

At the same time, we cannot obscure life on the res or the folks who were highlighted in the Willamette article with contextualized issues of class.

I talked a little to Eugene about the Willamette article and he seemed also to approve of its content.

If I remember right the woman who started a successful agency to serve impovershed Indians also had to deal with 'not looking like' an Indian.

That is simply not right in any terms.

You have given us a lot to think about here sista.

Thanks again,

ps. I am happy to know that you can use the clip too :)