"In order to stop the continuous taking of our resources – people, land, water and children- we have no choice but to claim our own destiny."
~ Phyllis Young, Founder, Women of All Red Nations.
~ Phyllis Young, Founder, Women of All Red Nations.
Last year the Lakota Sioux, a native American people, declared their intention to withdraw from all treaty obligations with the US because the US had never honored the agreements.
In December 2007, the Lakota declared their sovereign nation status and now there's an update on the situation of the Lakota, in an interview with Russell Means, the chief facilitator of the Republic of Lakota. Listen here for a discussion of how US treatment of the native peoples has inspired repressive and genocidal regimes around the world. The interview will also explain clearly why the native Americans remain the poorest people in the US. It's an amazingly simple equation.
In addition to treaty violations, the US has enacted a number of laws that directly target native peoples, in order to genocide them culturally or otherwise:
* Homestead Acts - for settlers only that gave them title to 160 acres of "underdeveloped" land outside the original 13 colonies; 1.6 million in all got around 270 million acres, or 10% of all US land between 1862 - 1886;
* Allotment Acts - various "act(s) to provide for the allotment of land in severalty to Indians on the various reservations and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States over the Indians, and for other purposes;" for example, the 1887 Dawes Act that distributed mostly unwanted and unviable land in Oklahoma; it was done by dividing reservations into privately-owned parcels to destroy Native cultures, impose western values, and achieve forced assimilation;
* the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 to force citizenship on all Native Americans; the words of one spoke for many: "United States citizenship was just another way of absorbing us and destroying our customs and government; how could these Europeans come over and tell us we were citizens in our country; we had our citizenship;" it's "in our nations;" forcing their citizenship on us "was a violation of our sovereignty;"
* the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (aka the Wheeler-Howard Act or the Indian New Deal); it reversed Dawes provisions and created what Native Americans call the first Apartheid Act that still applies; the 1964 Bantu Development Act copied this law and institutionalized black and white separation in South Africa; the same practice exists now in Occupied Palestine, in US inner cities, and wherever else white supremicists want unwanted people kept out of their restricted spaces;
* forced relocations continued during the 1950s and 1960s;
* Supreme Court rulings against Native American religious practices; in City of Boerne v. Flores (June 1997), the Court ruled against the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that prohibited the government from "substantially burdening" a believer's religious practices; the Court held that this act attempted to overturn its own First Amendment interpretation; in Employment Division v. Smith (April 1990), the Court ruled that Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even for a religious ritual; in other words, this and similar practices aren't protected under the First Amendment freedom of religion provision; and
* Native Americans on reservations aren't entitled to the same constitutional rights (like free speech, religion, assembly, and due process, etc.) as other Americans even though they're legal citizens; non-Indian people when on reservations (so-called "tribal trust status lands") also relinquish these rights while there; in addition, "tribal sovereignty" benefits leaders alone, not their people, and tribal chiefs get their authority from the Interior Secretary and US-run Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The article linked above also quotes from the Republic of Lakota website, which contains a number of interesting facts and statistics about the effects of the genocide to date:
* Lakotah men have a life expectancy of less than 44 years, lowest of any country in the World (excluding AIDS) including Haiti.
* Lakotah death rate is the highest in the United States.
* The Lakotah infant mortality rate is 300% more than the U.S. Average.
* Teenage suicide rate is 150% higher than the U.S national average for this group.
* Median income is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
* 97% of our Lakotah people live below the poverty line.
* Many families cannot afford heating oil, wood or propane and many residents use ovens to heat their homes.
* Unemployment rates on our reservations is 85% or higher.
* Government funding for job creation is lost through cronyism and corruption.
* Elderly die each winter from hypothermia (freezing).
* 1/3 of the homes lack basic clean water and sewage while 40% lack electricity.
* 60% of Reservation families have no telephone.
* 60% of housing is infected with potentially fatal black molds.
* There is an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (may only have two to three rooms). Some homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL:
* More than half the Reservation’s adults battle addiction and disease.
* Alcoholism affects 8 in 10 families.
* Two known meth-amphetamine labs allowed to continue operation. Why?
* The Tuberculosis rate on Lakotah reservations is approx. 800% higher than the U.S national average.
* Cervical cancer is 500% higher than the U.S national average.
* The rate of diabetes is 800% higher than the U.S national average.
* Federal Commodity Food Program provides high sugar foods that kill Native people through diabetes and heart disease.
* Indian children incarceration rate 40% higher than whites.
* In South Dakota, 21 percent of state prisoners were Native, yet they only make up 9% of the population.
* Indians have the second largest state prison incarceration rate in the nation.
* Most Indians live on federal reservations. Less than 2% of Indians live where the state has jurisdiction!
* Only 14% of the Lakotah population can speak the Lakotah language.
* The language is not being shared inter-generationally. Today, the average age of a fluent Lakotah speaker is 65 years.
* Our Lakotah language is an Endangered Language, on the verge of extinction.
A study (in .pdf) from Harvard University listed a number of factors that have traditionally been used to explain continuing poverty among native American populations, especially on reservations, as follows:
• Tribes and individuals lack access to financial capital.
• Tribes and individuals lack human capital (education, skills,
technical expertise) and the means to develop it.
• Reservations lack effective planning.
• Reservations are subject to too much planning and not enough
• Reservations are poor in natural resources.
• Reservations have natural resources, but lack sufficient control
• Reservations are disadvantaged by their distance from markets
and the high costs of transportation.
• Tribes cannot persuade investors to locate on reservations because of
intense competition from non-Indian communities.
• Federal and state policies are counterproductive and/or discriminatory.
• The Bureau of Indian Affairs is inept, corrupt, and/or uninterested in
• Non-Indian outsiders control or confound tribal decision-making.
• Tribes have unworkable and/or externally imposed systems of
• Tribal politicians and bureaucrats are inept or corrupt.
• On-reservation factionalism destroys stability in tribal decisions.
• The instability of tribal government keeps outsiders from investing.
• Reservation savings rates are low.
• Entrepreneurial skills and experience are scarce.
• Non-Indian management techniques won't work on the reservation.
• Non-Indian management techniques will work, but are absent.
• Tribal cultures get in the way.
• The long-term effects of racism have undermined tribal self-confidence.
• Alcoholism and other social problems are destroying tribes' human
The authors of the study note that the factors listed above are not equally weighted, do not apply across the board, or may even be insignificant. Certainly, many of these factors are not brought up in the interview with Russell Means.
Much, however, is made of forced assimilation, so that it would appear to be a significant factor in the situation of native American peoples today. Amnesty International has information on the legacy of native American boarding schools, schools that were specifically designed for forcibly assimilate the native peoples of the US and destroy their cultures:
The schools were part of Euro-America's drive to solve the “Indian problem” and end Native control of their lands. While some colonizers advocated outright physical extermination, Captain Richard H. Pratt thought it wiser to “Kill the Indian and save the man.” In 1879 Pratt, an army veteran of the Indian wars, opened the first federally sanctioned boarding school: the Carlisle Industrial Training School, in Carlisle, Penn.
“Transfer the savage-born infant to the surroundings of civilization, and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit,” said Pratt. He modeled Carlisle on a prison school he had developed for a group of 72 Indian prisoners of war at Florida's Fort Marion prison. His philosophy was to “elevate” American Indians to white standards through a process of forced acculturation that stripped them of their language, culture, and customs.
[ . . . ]
Physical hardship, however, was merely the backdrop to a systematic assault on Native culture. School staff sheared children's hair, banned traditional clothing and customs, and forced children to worship as Christians. Eliminating Native languages—considered an obstacle to the “acculturation” process—was a top priority, and teachers devised an extensive repertoire of punishments for uncooperative children. “I was forced to eat an entire bar of soap for speaking my language,” says AIUSA activist Byron Wesley (Navajo).
The loss of language cut deep into the heart of the Native community. Recent efforts to restore Native languages hint at what was lost. Mona Recountre, of the South Dakota Crow Creek reservation, says that when her reservation began a Native language immersion program at its elementary school, social relationships within the school changed radically and teachers saw a decline in disciplinary problems. Recountre's explanation is that the Dakota language creates community and respect by emphasizing kinship and relationships. The children now call their teachers “uncle” or “auntie” and “don't think of them as authority figures,” says Recountre. “It's a form of respect, and it's a form of acknowledgment.”
Many of the policies of forced assimilation and cultural genocide, and even the economic policies, will sound familiar to the Kurdish people and perhaps the solutions sought by the Lakota can inspire solutions for the Kurdish people. Those interested can keep up with news from the Republic of Lakota through their website, republicoflakotah.com.