It might sound strange to ask “where” when it comes to asking a question regarding a period of time.
Shouldn’t I ask “When is Native American Heritage Month?” Well I did, and the answer to my own question is what prompted this post.
Then “when” is now, November.
I ask “Where,” then, because I’d never heard of it.
Every year we in America honor various groups of people with commemorative months.
Rightly, such communities should be celebrated and honored and their contributions to America are well deserved of recognition. There is, of course, Black History Month in February, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, National Hispanic Heritage Month from September to October. The LGBT community gets two months (Pride month in June and History month in October).
Heck, even Ice Cream gets July, and it is even called National Ice Cream Month.
The problem I have is I’ve heard more about National Ice Cream Month than I have heard about Native American Heritage Month.
Maybe I’ve just lived in the wrong places and have never seen the television commercials or print ads commemorating Native American Heritage Month. Of course I see and hear Black History Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the like each and every year.
But Native American Heritage Month?
I was wondering if there was such a thing and had to do a little research to find out that yes, indeed there is.
And coming to find this out, I can only wonder why I’ve never heard of such. I wonder if you have ever heard of it either, let alone seen any announcements of it in the media. My gut tells me very few, if any, have.
Such absence is just another example of the gross marginalization of entire groups of people.
So in honor of Native American Heritage Month, I offer some information and modern statistics for the peoples who in total had 97.7 percent of their land stolen from them.
First off, of any ethnic group, Native Americans have higher rates of disease, lower rates of medical coverage, and higher death rates (MinorityHealth).
Making up a little over 1 percent of the entire US population (perhaps reason in itself why Native American Heritage Month gets little to no attention), there are currently 566 recognized tribes consisting of roughly 5.1 million people according to the US Census Bureau. Only half of such are Native only (i.e. not mixed race).
Collectively, the Native American community has the highest national poverty rate (census.gov) and whereas the national unemployment rate as of April 2014 was 6.7 percent, the Blackfoot Reservation faces a staggering 67 percent unemployment rate (US Dept. of Labor). Compare such to when America was at an all time low, the Great Depression, and the rate was 25%. In 1995, over 20 percent of Native households earn more than 5,000 a year compared to 6% for the rest of Americans (PERC). As of 2008, the tribe with the highest per capita income for a non-gaming reservation was the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation with an income of 12,000 dollars (The State of the Native Nations).
When it comes to health, while most of America has seen a decline in infant mortality rate, Native communities have seen an increase and Native American men have been found to be dying at a faster rate than any other people. The main causes of death are heart disease, cancer, and accidents. In addition, the suicide rate on reservations is higher than the national average.
And of course there is the staggering problem of alcohol and drug abuse. Now one might say, they’re just a bunch of drunk Indians. That is just plain ignorance. First off, alcoholism is a medically recognized disease, but perhaps more poignant is Alcoholics Anonymous’s definition of alcoholism as a spiritual disease. Now it is no secret that the American government as it conquered the country’s first people tried to systematically eradicate Native religious/spiritual practices, mainstays of their very ways of life. If alcoholism is indeed a spiritual disease, then it is no wonder why the problem exists and that problem (as well as its creation) rests on the shoulders of America.
So much for some general information, how about something a little more specific?
Here are statistics from the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the nation’s poorest:
- Unemployment rate of 80-90%
- Per capita income of $4,000
- 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
- 5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
- Twice the rate of heart disease
- 8 Times the United States rate of Tuberculosis
- Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%
- 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
- Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
- Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
- Infant mortality is three times the national rate
- Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate. (re-member.org)
So why is Native American Heritage Month so little celebrated in America?
Is it because the population is relatively small and they are “tucked away” in their reservations?
Maybe not enough people care.
Maybe those in charge of bringing us the awareness of these months (ie the media and the government sponsored programs) don’t want us to even think about it–don’t want us to see the poverty, see the personal and communal destruction our country has brought upon entire groups of people, don’t want us to see the veritable genocide that made possible the great and God blessed country of America.
So what can you do to help spread awareness? Share this on facebook, tweet it, be-blog it, for only with awareness can things change.