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Blueroses's avatar

Can Native American reservations be raised out of poverty?

Asked by Blueroses (17715 points ) July 3rd, 2012

A European friend recently asked me about the culture and standards of our native peoples. They don’t have a large presence on YouTube or the internet at large, so he had no real idea of what they are (outside of Hollywood portrayals).

I’ve always lived near western US reservations, but my only answer was: “Similar to your gypsies, insular but with tribal-owned land. The houses are crap, the cars are crap and there’s a good reason for our phrase, ‘Tough as a res dog’.”

I hadn’t ever given much thought to why the res towns are so dusty, ugly and have nothing but residences, churches and one school. No businesses to make you stop.

They look like foreign places in our country, with good reason: They are sovereign nations inside this nation.

This article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoppisch/2011/12/13/why-are-indian-reservations-so-poor-a-look-at-the-bottom-1/
does a pretty good job of summarizing the observations I’d always taken for granted.

If you don’t want to read, I’ll summarize: Tribal government and free/cheap housing provide for the very basic needs of people being met. Tribal laws don’t support civil contracts or judgements, so outside businesses (including franchises) will not build on tribal lands. No bank will loan to a reservation resident because it’s impossible to recover a default. The land is not owned by individuals, but by the tribe. Hence, no collateral for loans/credit and no incentive to maintain the property.

Something has to change. What would you think would work?

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28 Answers

syz's avatar

I was shocked the first time I was on a western reservation (the Havasupai, I believe, and Navajo). I can’t believe anyone was ever able to survive there. It was like driving on mars, or some post-apocalyptic landscape. It was beautiful in an alien way, but I couldn’t help but conclude that we had shoved them onto some truly shitty land. I’ve read Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee and some other histories of the shameful treatment of the Native Americans, but that was the first time I felt an immediate and present impact. I don’t pretend to understand all of the complexities of modern life for native tribes, but it does seem truly horrendous that there are still so, so many issues.

(Don’t even get me started on the overt racism that I saw exhibited every day.)

Blueroses's avatar

@syz That is something else my friend made me ponder. I have some very close friends who grew up “on the res”. Montana, Arizona, Washington. They got sports or acedemic scholarships and never looked back. In the article, Mr. Yellowtail points out that those who leave and succeed are seen as sellouts. No longer tribal.

I really don’t understand. What is the pride in not ever leaving and not ever changing?

I agree. The Havausupai were some of the most insular I’ve ever met, and the most separate from the very wealthy private land owners just around the corner.

YARNLADY's avatar

The acceptance of Indian Casinos around the country has led to a complete change in much of the Native American economy. The Choctaw Nation is very prosperous and nothing like the poor tribes mentioned above. We have clans (communities) all over the country. The largest group is right here in California.

Most of the government benefits (U.S. and tribal) are only for those members who live in the boundaries of the Nation in Oklahoma.

creative1's avatar

Well first do you thing that the government would give the native americans the choice land of course not they were only here first. Next when you separate one culture from another and expect them to live in the little bubble we put them in how do you expect them to strive for higher when all they know is what they grew up with.

ETpro's avatar

We white conquerors shoulder a lot of the blame for the lousy hand we dealt the Native peoples. But their own tribalism, beliefs, culture and attitudes are keeping the poverty riddled tribes where they are. As independent nations, they could negotiate trade treaties and set up a legal framework that would let them participate in the benefits of the world around them, but the ones mired in poverty are there because they chose to stay as they are.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but the light bulb has to be willing to change.

WestRiverrat's avatar

It really depends on the tribe and the attitude of the leadership on the rez.
There are some reservations I have visited that were prosperous and the resident’s industrious.

There are others within an hour’s drive that are run down with poor leadership and peopled by residents that wanted everything done for them, so they pretty much refused to do anything for themselves.

Blueroses's avatar

@YARNLADY That was one money-making solution but in Montana, when the state made gambling legal and there’s a casino in every gas station and bingo parlors everywhere, that is not a money maker for the reservations.

CWOTUS's avatar

Of course the reservations can be made more prosperous, but that can only be done by the people who have a vested interest in doing them (the residents) and then only if they want to.

There can’t be (and won’t be) prosperity handed to them or dictated to them by the Feds. Really, they need to become independent of the federal government or, just like Washington DC and most of our territories, they will continue to languish. And as long as Indian lands are administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, one of the least responsive, most corrupt and best-hidden agencies in a government that is full of such, that’s unlikely.

ETpro's avatar

@CWOTUS They are self governing nations, so blaming the US Government, no matter how visceral your hatred of bureaucrats, is a real stretch.

CWOTUS's avatar

The BIA has lost billions of dollars due to the Native Americans for oil and other mineral rights, over scores of years. I don’t think we have quite the same pull with most other self-governing nations in the world.

Other self-governing nations also don’t have to petition Washington DC for recognition, law enforcement and the right to open particular businesses within their borders, either. Or how to administer alcohol sales or prohibition.

Yeah, they’re self-governing like I am “free”. An apt topic for the day, I think.

ETpro's avatar

@CWOTUS Don’t get me wrong. I am not even remotely suggesting that the BIA are a bunch of geniuses, or even that they have the Indian Nations and not their corporate lobbyists interest at heart. I am saying it is up to the Indian Nations to break free of that. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

woodcutter's avatar

Too many of them don’t care to change. I see it where I live every day. They get their basic needs met, their cheap homes( that started out nice), Medical, other necessities. Many of them are not motivated to want more. Drug abuse is rampant. They have shitty cars many with no liability insurance. They’re called “Indian cars” We out here know what that term means. They trash their homes. Why not? The govt will rebuild them every few years for free. Flak me if you want but native Americans are no different than any other people who are provided for with checks from nowhere. They don’t appreciate what they have because they did nothing to get it. Its a sad situation for some of these people.

Nullo's avatar

Given that @woodcutter‘s analysis seems sound, the best thing might be to take the free out of free money. Seems cold, but if that’s the catalyst that they need, then so be it.

woodcutter's avatar

Generally they don’t have the material needs as most Americans have. They are fine with having less than the one’s who have Master card and Android phones who are known as “Apples”- red on the outside, white on the inside.

YARNLADY's avatar

@woodcutter Only by racists, and yes, every culture has them.

woodcutter's avatar

@YARNLADY Yeah, the red man’s uncle tom

Symbeline's avatar

@ETpro and @woodcutter

I don’t know very much about Indian reserves, so I’ll gladly stand corrected if I’m wrong, but I thought the point of a reserve was so that Indians could retain their ways and cultures, at least partially.
The change brought by the white man came way too fast for them, and without the proper time to adapt, (ya know, without naming all the oppression, poisoned blankets and shit) a large portion of them got all messed up.
In Winnipeg a lot of Indians are alcoholics. I was explained that Indians have been introduced to alcohol since like…the last 300 years or so? While the rest of the world has had it for centuries, even the most under developed countries in the world. Even if it’s a poison, people got used to it, but that was gradual. Of course, there are alcoholics everywhere…
A lot of Indians couldn’t hack it and it destroyed their lives, and continues to do so. One can’t expect Indians, who lived the same type of lifestyle for centuries, to just be ready to take on all the new stuff at once, that we were gradually allowed to take in, from consumption to politics to religion. I mean Indian kids were taken from their parents to go to white schools, and were beaten by teachers if they spoke in their native language. That’s bound to fuck a few generations up when it happens en masse and at the same time.
I realize this happens all over the world, and that showing a copy of American Ninja to the more primitive people of Africa probably isn’t a good idea, but it remains that Indians in Canada and the United States were smashed in the face by changes so severe and most likely so confusing to them that the ramifications it had on them, which we still see today, can’t really be rectified by ’‘just get out there and do it, foo’’ approaches.
Sadly though, since the government doesn’t seem to give much of a fuck about stuff like that, they are going to have to go out and fend for themselves, even when we owe them so much. And some do. A lot of Inuits got out of their rut by exploiting natural resources. (even if that goes against the general beliefs of their people, much like their Indian cousins) Others don’t…

What I’m talking about is/has been seen all over, and people can get out of it. Take some poor sucker who lives in an under developed country, immigrates over here and becomes a successful businessman. It happens. But when you fuck up an entire people, say like the Mayas for example, their descending generations may fall afterwards, especially given the types of lives they had for centuries. Very spiritual and resourceful. One has to consider this, as well as the oppression that initiated the changes. It’s not because it isn’t like that anymore that generations of certain peoples can just adapt.

woodcutter's avatar

Assimilation goes from generation to generation. It’s not like natives born 20 years ago will ever lament those good old days of running buck naked through the woods while hunting game. Nor can black Americans bitch much about those southern plantation slave days. There’s been more than enough time to be able to get with the program…so to speak, and the vast majority have. It is that small numbers who cling to those days when life was intolerable. Some will cling to their victimhood like a second skin because they believe it will serve them better. And some just plain don’t give a shit.

JLeslie's avatar

Lisa Ling is doing an episode on her show Our America on the OWN network about living on the reservation. I am not sure day and time? The OWN website is giving me trouble and my xfinity App is not working to look it up. I will try to look it up again ater or tomorrow, or maybe another jelly knows when it is airing.

ETpro's avatar

@Symbeline OK Councilor Troy, I get your point. I just crashed ahead of all that mitigating data to the conclusion that it isn’t going to get better on the Res. till the people living there decide it should.

@JLeslie The OWN network came up for me. It said Our America with Lisa Ling is on Tuesdays at 10/9 Central. If it’s coming up for you, here’s a link to the Life-on-the-Rez trailer.

JLeslie's avatar

Thanks.

Symbeline's avatar

@woodcutter It is that small numbers who cling to those days when life was intolerable. Some will cling to their victimhood like a second skin because they believe it will serve them better. And some just plain don’t give a shit.

True on the last two points; like someone on welfare not wishing to help themselves. But I’m not entirely sure this whole thing would be an issue if only small numbers of Indians were hurting. If indeed a large number of them are, there must be a reason, and I really do think the government could do more to help them than it does now. Of course natives born 20 years ago won’t care about their old ways, but they still live in the degeneration that’s plagued them ever since being colonized, so they go with that. Drinking, drugs, poverty, if something becomes part of your heritage it’s probably pretty hard to break out of. I’m not saying hand everything to them on a silver platter; @YARNLADY gave a good example on how some of them get out of it. But I do think they deserve more help than they currently get, and I don’t think they find themselves in this state just cuz ’‘they dun wanna’’.
As for assimilation, I explained my thoughts on that. Given their condition and what kind of people they were, I don’t think it’s that simple.

woodcutter's avatar

@Symbeline How can the govt do any more? The govt can’t make anyone want more, to want to better themselves. It can’t be done. And throwing more money at them will evaporate almost immediately.It’s the ignorance working its magic, evil magic. Give ignorants more money and it’s gone daddy, gone, gone, gone. When the tribe decides its time to do better then we may see something get better. They get better health care than I do, which is nothing.

There comes a time…

Symbeline's avatar

I don’t know how the government can do ’‘any more’’, otherwise I would have suggested that in my answers. I’m not necessarily talking about giving them more money, but maybe things like programs for the drug/drink users, or more opportunities for them to get out there and do something. Something that beats a metis card, for example. So far we just stick them in some rural area where they have barely adequate sewage, and the only resources they have to get something better is with whatever government handouts they get. My point is I don’t think we give them enough tools to assimilate, there must be a way around that.

On one good point though, we don’t give enough of anything to our own suffering people either, though.

woodcutter's avatar

There are bound to be a few shining stars who get the idea they can do better but they struggle on their own just enough to be recognized where more help comes their way and they get out of the res shithole and do well enough to teach their own kids to follow their example and thus, the chain of poverty is broken for that one family. Sort of how it works pretty much everywhere with everyone who isn’t fortunate enough to have the silver spoon entitlement early on. It galls me to see these “pull yourself up by your own bootstrappers” who got their success because their goddamned parents gave everything to them and there they are, gloating how they made theirs, as is the case with most US conservatives.

CWOTUS's avatar

I still think the problem is the government doing and trying to do too much, not too little.

There’s a parallel that I’ve heard of in nature, that sounds apt (if true). Apparently a butterfly breaking free from its chrysalis really struggles – with what appears to human viewers to be extreme difficulty – to break open that shell, push its flimsy wings through the case and widen the split so that its body can follow and it can then break free and fly away as they eventually do. If you think that you’ll just “give the little guy a hand” by opening the chrysalis and saving it all that effort, then the wings that it had to push fluid through to stiffen and break apart the hard case will never stiffen enough to enable flight, and the insect will die soon after. Because you helped it.

There are unintended consequences to “helping too much”. That’s the bad news; the worse news is that the government is not always filled with nice-nice people in the first place. If you wanted to use immature butterfly larvae as fish bait, then wouldn’t it be great to be in charge of a butterfly ranch as an administrator with a federal salary and pension and all?

mattbrowne's avatar

The problem is education. Schools should be funded by the state and not the local communities.

bkcunningham's avatar

@mattbrowne, the way I understand it, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is a bureau of the US federal government’s Interior Department, is in charge of all aspects of education on reservations in the US.

http://www.bia.gov/FAQs/index.htm

From the government website:
The BIE school system has 184 elementary and secondary schools and dormitories located on 63 reservations in 23 states, including seven off-reservation boarding schools and 122 schools directly controlled by tribes and tribal school boards under contracts or grants with the BIE. The bureau also funds 66 residential programs for students at 52 boarding schools and at 14 dormitories housing those attending nearby tribal or public schools. The school system employs approximately 5,000 teachers, administrators, and support personnel, while an estimated 6,600 work in tribal school systems. In School Year 2006–07, the schools served almost 48,000 students.

In the area of postsecondary education, the BIE provides support to 24 tribal colleges and universities across the U.S. serving over 25,000 students, and directly operates two institutions of higher learning: the Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It also operates higher education scholarship programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

There have been three major legislative actions that restructured the Bureau of Indian Affairs with regard to education since the Snyder Act of 1921. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 introduced the teaching of Indian history and culture in BIA schools, which contrasted with the federal policy at the time of acculturating and assimilating Indian people through the BIA boarding school system. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (P.L. 90–638) gave authority to the tribes to contract with the BIA for the operation of local schools and to determine education programs suitable for their children. The Education Amendments Act of 1978 (P.L. 95–561) and further technical amendments (P.L. 98–511, 99–89, and 100–297) provided funds directly to tribal schools, empowered Indian school boards, permitted local hiring of teachers and staff, and established a direct line of authority between the OIEP Director and the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs.

In 2001, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107–110) to bring additional requirements of accountability and academic achievement for supplemental program funds provided by the U.S. Department of Education through the OIEP to the schools. In 2006, the OIEP was formally elevated to bureau status by secretarial action and renamed the Bureau of Indian Education.

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