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The Nation Continues Failing Native People


Deb Haaland, the Native woman just elected to represent the Albuquerque area in Congress, has a great piece on how the nation simply ignores the plight of Native people.

In a few short weeks, I will be sworn in as the first Native American women in Congress, alongside Rep.-elect Sharice Davids (D-Kan.). Together, along with our colleagues, we want to ensure Congress commits to giving Native Americans a quality of life that will give every child an equal chance at success. But that’s not where we are. In spite of the United States’ trust responsibility to Indian Tribes, our government has consistently failed to fully fund the critical programs it is legally obligated to fund.

For folks who are less familiar with Indian Law: when the U.S. government forcibly removed Native Americans from our lands through genocide, forced assimilation and relocation, the U.S. government made a series of legal promises though treaties, executive orders and in court decisions. They promised to provide resources for housing, education, health care, sovereignty, self-determination and safety in our communities to ensure equity for us all. That promise — legally known as a “trust responsibility” — has been broken.

Today, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released its report “Broken Promises: Continuing Federal Funding Shortfall for Native Americans.” It tells us what Indian Country already knows: that we are in a state of crisis — not just in terms of education or missing and murdered Indigenous women, which are top priorities of mine, but across the board on programs related to health, justice services and housing, as well as many other issues.

In 2003, the Commission called the situation a ‘civil rights crisis in our nation,’ yet federal programs continue to be chronically underfunded, leaving basic needs in our tribal communities unmet. The federal government’s failure continues to have life and death consequences for indigenous people.

We cannot allow this crisis to continue. I call on my colleagues in Congress to join me to pass a spending package to directly and immediately address critical unmet needs in Indian Country to ensure Native Americans get the full equity we’ve been fighting for.

To’hajiilee Chapter isn’t alone. The report found the federal government is completely failing Native American students. Schools on Indian Nations across the country; many which are rural communities, are physically crumbling with insufficient resources. It’s not just education. Indian Health Service covers only a fraction of Native American health care needs for everything from physical and mental health to water sanitation. This has serious consequences: Native American babies are 60 percent more likely to die in in infancy than white babies, our life expectancy is 5.5 years less than the national average, and diabetes rates are double the national average. Epidemic suicide and alcohol addiction aren’t being answered with the kind of bold attention or agenda being paid to our nation’s opioid crisis — by Congress or the cadre of 2020 candidates currently testing the waters.

It is absolutely true that the government has ignored the plight of Native people. I will also note though that it is also true that even among liberals and on the left, when race is discussed, it is almost always about black-white relations. Native people are an afterthought for nearly every group in the country and in nearly every discussion about inequality and racism, except in certain specific circumstances, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. The erasure of Native issues from our national dialogue is something we almost all hold some responsibility for and it helps explain why the government remains so indifferent, even when Democrats hold power.

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