Sacheen Littlefeather, second from right in the front row, listens to ceremonies marking the 50th … [+]
Sunday marked the 129th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre during which U.S. Army soldiers killed hundreds of Lakotas, almost half of whom were women and children.
It was an episode beyond shame piled upon a history of racism, genocide, imposed misery, and unchecked greed.
The ugly and inhuman attitudes were on open display everywhere. Even L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz book series, regularly spewed venom and argued for the “total annihilation” of all Native peoples. “Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up with by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”
Such sentiments haven’t been seen in a daily newspaper for a long time (although with the current atmosphere in the country, you might wonder). Congress officially apologized for the killings in the 1980s and there’s been a recent push by some in Congress to rescind 20 Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers involved in the massacre.
All that, though, is more like a temporary aberration. As a society, we’ve more frequently buried the whole question of Native Americans. There’s a lot of needed discussion about long-term oppression and ongoing prejudice and mistreatment of many other groups. But I’ve found that when talking about income inequality, police shootings, and other topics, many people tend to ignore the peoples who were here first.
With a new year, it is a good time to remember not just the genocide, broken treaties, destroyed families, and other horrors, but the impact they’ve had and the results as seen through some statistics.
Here are some poverty by race or ethnicity numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Poverty rates of different racial/ethnic groups.
Health insurance coverage is critical. In the Census Bureau’s annual publication on health insurance coverage, one table after another that has “race and Hispanic origin” categories list only non-Hispanic white, black, Asian, and Hispanic. Apparently Native Americans are the group most undercounted by the census. The bureau does note that it doesn’t consider
Some numbers show the results, like Native Americans being three times more likely to have diabetes and having a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the U.S. average. Or that while overall suicide rates were up 53% between 1999 and 2017 across all ages but increased 139% for Native Americans.
An examination of the monthly employment situation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t seem to have any numbers for Native American or American Indian as a class. The agency does have a 2017 unemployment rate of 7.8%. However, if you look at the Census Bureau My Tribal Area tool, you find great variation in unemployment within different states and tribal areas. For example, the Crow reservation and off-reservation trust in Montana has a rate of 15.3%, while the estimated unemployment rate of the Kickapoo Reservation in Kansas is 3%.
The difficulty in getting the same level of information for Native Americans as for other groups is a practical indication of how they are typically swept under the rug. And when your statistics don’t exist, there’s little push in public opinion or among politicians to do anything because you’re not there.