Back in 2004, I was introduced to a highly decorated Major in the US Army who had recently returned from a 2nd tour of duty on the front lines of the Middle East. He was speaking with a homeless veteran whom my wife and I befriended and took under our wing until his death in 2019. [See, “Putting a Face on Our Homeless Veterans”, posted 4/5/23]. The Major was in his mid-thirties, was a career military officer, and was a proud member of the Cherokee Nation who grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma. Having never met a Native American I was curious about his background and had many questions surrounding the history of he and his Tribe. The young Major freely shared details surrounding both and began to educate me about the plight of Native Americans.
Given that November is “American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month,” it seems only appropriate to share some of the facts and information the young Major (now a Colonel) shared with me surrounding the plight of Native Americans. Having been educated about the plight of Native Americans I have remained interested regarding both the historical and current facts impacting Native Americans who occupied America long before the arrival of Europeans.
Historical Facts: Native Americans, especially, from the Iroquois nation known for their fearless nature, have been instrumental in erecting high steel upon nearly every iconic skyscraper in the United States. Unfortunately, the treatment of Native Americans by our government has been less than ideal. :
- There are 574 recognized Native American sovereign tribes or tribal nations located across 35 States, 240 of which have no tribal lands or reservation.
- There are 334 Native American Reservations in the United States, whose members are citizens of their tribe as well as citizens of their State and US.
- Native American Reservations represent just 2.6% of the territory previously occupied by these 334 Tribes.
- Each reservation is a federal enclave governed by both tribal and federal law, and exempt from State law.
- The “Indian Removal Act” of 1830 required the removal of all Native Americans east of the Mississippi and relocation to “Indian Territory" in what is now Oklahoma.
- At least 2.5 million Native Americans, mostly women and children, were sold into slavery, excluding those who were enslaved by other tribes.
- Most Native Americans were not granted US citizenship until enactment of the “Indian Citizenship Act” of 1924.
- Most Native Americas were prohibited from voting in State and Federal elections based upon “literacy tests” until enactment of the by “Voting Rights Act” of 1965.
- Native Americans spoke more than 300 languages, but were prohibited from teaching their own languages to their children upon reservations until adoption of the “Indian Education Act” in 1972. [See, How the Navajo language impacted World War II, below].
- All but two Native American Languages are in danger of disappearing altogether by 2050.
Ironically, the young Major taught me that the United States military used the languages of Native Americans, particularly the Navajo peoples, to communicate battle plans during World War II. Although the axis members could de-code nearly everything else, they had never heard, understood, or could de-code Native American languages. Despite the impact the use of Native American languages had upon the outcome of World War II, it was illegal to teach these same languages to future generations for almost thirty (30) years after the war was won.
Current Conditions: Aside from ready employment in erecting high steel, Native Americans continue to struggle in adapting to the European lifestyle thrust upon them nearly 200 years ago by the "Indian Removal Act" of 1830. Native American people continue to suffer under living conditions that are far below the standards of any other demographic in our country.
- Native Americans comprise 2% of the overall population in the United States, representing approximately 7 Million people.
- Approximately 70% of Native Americans live on or near reservations.
- The average life expectancy for Native Americans is approximately 72 years, almost 10 years less than the national average for other demographic groups.
- Unemployment rates on reservations average more than 50%.
- Approximately 30% of Native Americans live in poverty having a median income of just $23k, making them worse off than any other demographic.
- Native Americans suffer from alcohol abuse disorders at a rate of almost 11% as compared to 8% amongst other demographic groups.
- Native Americans traditionally serve in the US armed forces more than any other demographic, averaging 19% versus just 14% for non-native Americans.
- Native American Women living on reservations are ten times more likely to be murdered or go missing than American women in general.
- More than 80% of Native American men are victims of violence.
Simply put, Native Americans suffer in silence more than any other ethnic group in our Country, even though a higher percentage of them serve in the armed forces than any other demographic.
Had I not met the young highly decorated Major back in 2004, I would very likely know very little about the plight and hardships facing Native Americans. Yet as he educated me about the plight of Native Americans, the young Major never expressed anger or sought sympathy. He simply wanted me to know the multiple obstacles Native Americans must overcome in our Country. Native Americans, are proud “warriors” eager to serve the interests of the United States, without pointing fingers over the obstacles they face.