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A special agent overlooks the Shiprock land formation on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The reservation, the largest in the country, is one of about 200 federally recognized Indian reservations where the FBI has investigative responsibilities.

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Crime in Indian Country

Duane Champagne
10/6/13

Poverty is a root cause of crime, and without solving the poverty issue it may not be possible to solve the violent crime issues plaguing Indian reservations. Where there are high rates of poverty, so there are high rates of crime. The official poverty rate for individual Indians in the United States on reservations is 29.4 percent, compared to the U.S. national average of 15.3 percent. The reservation poverty rate for Indian families on reservations is 36 percent, compared to the national average of 9.2 percent. Urban Indians have a poverty rate of 22 percent, which is better than reservation poverty rates. Some of the worst poverty rates are on reservations in the states of Washington, California, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona and New Mexico, where poverty rates often are higher than 60 percent.

Poverty is associated with low income, high unemployment, poor health, substandard housing, lack of market opportunities, and low educational achievement. Cycles of poverty are extremely difficult to break and tend to last over generations.

Poverty is closely related to social distress. Impoverished persons are more likely to be engaged in underground economy, use drugs and alcohol, which, in turn are highly associatied with violent crimes, domestic violence, and high crime rates.

In 2009, rapes in Indian country outpaced the total in Detroit, which is one of the most violent cities in the United States. Violent crime in Indian country increased during the 2000 to 2010 decade. Over the same decade, national violent crime rates fell, while Indian country violent crime rose by 29 percent.

Murder rates in Indian country increased 41 percent between 2000 and 2009. Nevertheless, federal funding for police and courts serving Indian country declined during the same period. While the decline in federal funding of public safety in Indian country may account for the rise in violent crimes, the funding decline does not account for the persistence of high rates of violent crime. More police, courts and jails will only partially address the fundamental issues of violence associated with poverty and social distress.

A recent study on high violent crime rates in U.S. cities points to the relations between poverty and violent crime. The 10 cities with the highest violent crime rates all had poverty rates over 20 percent, while the cities with the worst violent crime rates had poverty rates from 30 to 41 percent. On a per capita basis, cities provide more funds to police, courts, and jails than Indian reservations.

U.S. cities and counties also pride themselves on having better trained police, courts, and incarceration facilities. The two worse cities for violent crimes were Flint, Michigan, and Detroit, Michigan. Flint has a poverty rate of 40.3 percent and Detroit’s poverty rate is 40.9 percent. These statistics suggest that much of the violent crime on Indian reservations is highly associated with poverty, and increase funding of public safety, by itself, may not significantly curtail violent crime and improve public safety.

Indian reservations with poverty rates above 30 percent are particularly at risk. High rates of violent crime on reservations can be expected on reservations like Pine Ridge and San Carlos, which both have poverty rates over 50 percent. High rates of poverty combined with justice discrimination and cultural marginalization may account for higher rates of violent crime on Indian reservations than the rest of the nation. More investment in police, courts and public safety are necessary, but not sufficient for reducing crime and restoring healthy tribal communities.

More police and courts may help contain violent crimes, but do not address the root causes of crime. Solving the poverty issues in Indian country is only a partial solution. Federal Indian policies, and tribal governments need to meet the challenges of providing college education for tribal youth, achieve market sustainability, provide jobs to tribal members, restore individual health, improve housing, support cultural renewal, and reestablish the exercise the inherent powers of tribal governments. High crime rates are symptoms of deeper social and cultural distress, and there will be no solution to high rates of crime without solving the causes of distress.

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Audrey's picture
Audrey
Submitted by Audrey on
I agree with this article, but how can we start breacking the vicious circle? How can we create employment in Réservations, according to you?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Reservations need an economic based which allows people on the reservation to stay there and live and not just survive. A way to live without believing they have to leave those they love or their land in order to have a way to exists in this life. The national denial of the ongoing genocide is wrong.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Reservations need an economic based which allows people on the reservation to stay there and live and not just survive. A way to live without believing they have to leave those they love or their land in order to have a way to exists in this life. The national denial of the ongoing genocide is wrong.

g.christopher's picture
g.christopher
Submitted by g.christopher on
The problem is elected council,herititary leaders would not do that to there people.no child or elder would be left out.how many millions upon million of dollars go to these management and administrations.no one likes to discuss that. i'm sure people would like to know that.

Bernadine Martin's picture
Bernadine Martin
Submitted by Bernadine Martin on
The 2010 Census says there are over 178,000 Navajos living on the Navajo Nation; the great majority of these residents are law-abiding. I agree that poverty is the root cause of crime--this has been shown in all jurisdictions. What can we do immediately to bring the crime rate down sooner than later? Your suggested remedies are long-term and Native America has little influence in national politics. You aren't tell us rez folks anything we don't already know.

Michael Christy's picture
Michael Christy
Submitted by Michael Christy on
"More investment in police, courts and public safety are necessary, but not sufficient for reducing crime and restoring healthy tribal communities." Building more jails is only a bandaid type of approach. However, I agree with the public safety aspect, as more needs to be done. I think tribal governments need to be held accountable. There is a lot of waste. Tribes hire Casino Managers and pay them millions while their people are starving. For what is paid to top managers, tribes could pay the way for almost every tribal member who wanted to attend college.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
How could the government and private enterprise help in a way to increase employment, health, etc. while allowing the people to keep their tribal identity and customs?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
We must reform IRA Indian Polices, Laws, Education from the violent and genocidal Eurocentric, Racist, Rapist, Imperialist Philosophies, Hate, Violence Greed and Selfish they're Institutionalized, Colonial, Dominating, Existence and their white racist cravings to dominate indigenous red human beings, societies, nationhood's and our traditional original intrinsic, human indigenous resources and divine human rights to all that belongs to us, through the covenant with the Creator of all life forces and all living things!

Rosemary Ridley Handerson's picture
Rosemary Ridley...
Submitted by Rosemary Ridley... on
The people in powerful places who can affect education don't care about reservations. I should say most of them don't. People have to care to help others and there is a short supply of the ones who care. Come on everyone, stop thinking about yourselves and get in there to help.

In Phoenix's picture
In Phoenix
Submitted by In Phoenix on
I disagree with the statement that "Poverty is the root cause of crime.." If this is remotely true, why do people who make six figures or more stealing? Why is there rampant corruption in all governments, on every level, when people are paid? What needs to be done and is being done, is children and people need to help themselves to an education. I can give you a list of places/people who want to give money to Native Americans to get an education. Not just one degree either. You cannot count on anyone but yourself and to teach your children, that if you do not get some type of higher education, you will be locked out of the material aspects of the "american dream" and this can cause you to commit crimes, do drugs, become an alcoholic, etc. Its "personal responsibilities", not the government, not your mom/dad. You are where you are at, because you want to be. Its what I know.

Ramona Worth's picture
Ramona Worth
Submitted by Ramona Worth on
As an 84 year old woman, i have watched this all of my life. I remember as a child going to Pryor Oklahoma with my parents and saw the poverty even then and wondered why the people that I admired as a kid had to live in that way. Now as an old woman I find that my thoughts are not only with the people on the reservations but in anger at the Government for not doing anything about the situation. My heart goes out to all of you who have survived this and to those of you young people who are in the midst of it still. God knows that I'm not the only one who sees this and wonders why. We take care of those who enter our country from every direction but we have sacrificed those who really belong here, even more than me. My prayer will always be with you all.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
The problem is not poverty. It is a decay in morality. With a decay in morals you find a certain percentage of a population gets involved in drugs, drinking & wild living. It ALL starts in the home & spreads out in any type of community for better or for worse. Laying the blame on poverty is just ignoring the primary problem: Morality. That has to start in the home at an early age. Too many parents don't want to be the parents they need to be who set the example of what is good, decent, right & wrong, set boundries & assign strong consequences to the offenders who break those rules. It was not like this in the times of the ancestors. If those children were disrespectful or acted up they got their rears tore up, if young adults became shameful they were whipped by the community as they had to take that walk of shame out of the village. The community used to handle everything. We had no need for outside interference. Our peoples need to get back to those ways & stop trying to behave as the washichu & impose those ways on our people. The waschichu government is evil folks! Don't be trying to act like them. Our ancestors ways are the best so why should our leaders settle for anything less? They shouldn't be! If our First Nations peoples are going to see improvements in our communities we MUST see a return to the ancestors rules, ways & our cultures. Stop trying to please, act like, watch & listen to the things of the Invaders. It is NOT our ways or our beliefs. It is just a way to become as they are! Don't be sell-outs who are defeated! Where you have no set group of acceptable behaviors & consequences for breaking those rules THIS is what you are going to see happen: far more crime, indecency, personal property damage, disrespectful children, young people, assaults of various kinds & all sorts of shameful behaviors that should not even be allowed to be going on in a community. There are mankind's rules & then there are those of the Creator for ALL His creation. I think we should ALL be worried about what the Creator thinks & be trying to please Him. When people are pleasing the Creator they are going to find things are going to be much better for them. Stand up & be counted as someone who is returning to the ways of our ancestors & be the proud people they were: Good, decent, respectful & respectable, honorable, men, women & children of integrity who bring pride to the Great Spirit from living in a good way! Hoa!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Tim, First, payment to tribes is not a handout, unless you consider honoring financial agreements to be handouts. Second, are you ready for what will actually need to happen for there to be strong tribal economies -- true freedom for Indian tribes to take full control over their natural resources, the ability to capitalize their lands, to enforce their laws on non-Indians, &c?

Ernie Crey's picture
Ernie Crey
Submitted by Ernie Crey on
Many, many communities need infrastructure to attract investors and access to roads, rail and highways.

Joannie's picture
Joannie
Submitted by Joannie on
The courage to hope and claim the future must rise again along with the traditional values of the elders to cherish life--and we can't forget the need for an economic as well as spiritual rebirth--each life is precious--How do we make a difference? Where do we start? Right where we are. Don't give away our power. We define ourselves on our terms. Don't let anyone "rent space in our head", define us and have us buy Their definition of us-not any more---those days are over! We can make a difference--one step at a time. Dare to dream once again, big bold dreams.

Jo 's picture
Jo
Submitted by Jo on
If there were sustainable jobs for the families on the reservations and at the tribal level there would be less crime, less dysfunction, less abuse and less child neglect and child endangerment. Tribes should leverage the federal funds they receive to benefit the tribal members and their needs. Tribes need to recognize that their best resource is their people. Create jobs by creating businesses and store fronts. Utilize the tribal CDFI and loan program assist tribal members in becoming self sufficient and entrepreneurs.

James in Baltimore's picture
James in Baltimore
Submitted by James in Baltimore on
According to U.S News and World Report, the causative factor of the crime rate is the number of single parent families within a defined area. The article doesn't mention race, but it does list the disadvantages: poorer school performance, higher chance of drug use, incarceration, death. Does anyone know if suicide is more prevalent among single parent families?

indianmedicine's picture
indianmedicine
Submitted by indianmedicine on
Many of the Posts "hit" key issues on "Root Causes", however I believe The Native American has QUIT RESPECTING themselves as a People. ................................................................................................. That "disrespect for themselves" transfers to their Children when they are young; from Generation to Generation. ................................................................................................. NAI Culture was "BUILT ON RESPECT", of Self,Nature,People,Elders,and Nation - so from the lack of that respect for those general areas - develops lack of RESPECT for Self. ................................................................................................. Every time an NAI looks at the Four Colors of The Directions,and People of Turtle Island; they should remember the origins of their Nations & Beliefs as being unique and different from the American Culture we blame for our difficulties. .................................................................................................. NAI Women are some of the most Beautiful Women in The World, but they are not taught the beauty on the OUTSIDE and INSIDE because they ignore their True Culture. ................................................................................................... NAI Men are some of the Bravest Warriors that walk among Men, but they are not taught the Values of Being An Warrior, because they have confused those values with what the Entertainment Industry has painted for them. .................................................................................................... NAI "Elders" are some of the the brightest Governing Bodies of Nations, yet they try to "mimik" Governments who copied the Original "NAI Federations" for their own Constitutions and By Laws - i.e. "The Great Law of Peace". ..................................................................................................... NAI "Medicine People" have some of the greayest Wisdom of Creation, yet ignore those principals - yet NAI have had some of the Greatest Walk Among Them as True Messengers from "The Creator" to His Children. ..................................................................................................... NAI "Economics" can out perform the "American Culture" if The NAI Learn How To Manage those Natural Resources of The Bones and Blood of Mother Earth on their Domains - instead of "Out Sourcing" those RESPONSIBILITIES to Predator Corporations. ..................................................................................................... NAI has the " K E Y' S " to their Domains & People if they decide to RECOGNIZE and RESPECT them for what they can do for them. ...................................................................................................... NAI need to QUIT blaming Others, and having "Pity Parties" for what they generate for themselves, and include their TRUE Culture Values with Contemporary Knowledge in Caring for themselves and their Nation Tribes. ...................................................................................................... A friend of mine went back to the Navajo Reservation as a Peace Officer, because he wanted to make a difference by Teaching what he learned off the Reservation to Up and Coming NAI Peace Officers - and I APPLAUD those Men & Women who want to make a difference to their People and Nation ! -De Oppresso Liber- !!!!!!!!!! ....................................................................................................... NET-FLEX has a series - Navajo Cops - available too watch if you want to see the "Inner Self" of the Reservation - and what the Reservation "First Responders" do on a Day to Day Basis - then you will have an idea of what the Author is addressing. ........................................................................................................ I suggest The Elders of All Tribes look at this to Guide their Thinking Process in Critical Problem Solving. ........................................................................................................ So, "Children of The Corn"; look within your selves and Culture for the Answer if you "Want To Make A Difference" for yourself, your People, your Nation, your Culture; because this is "Indian Country"; and others are just borrowing it for a time. ......................................................................................................... I want to Thank fellow contributors for trying to Make A Difference for their Talking Points to consider in our thought process. - Indian Medicine - ..........................................................................................................

Wally's picture
Wally
Submitted by Wally on
Tribal governments need to encourage entrepreneurship. In America's capitalism, a person can open any business he or she wants, as long as the business is not illegal. On some reservations, the tribal government owns and operates most if not all of the businesses. Tribes need their members to start their own businesses. Jobs will not solve every social problems but job creation is one step in the right direction.

Wally's picture
Wally
Submitted by Wally on
Tribal governments need to encourage entrepreneurship. In America's capitalism, a person can open any business he or she wants, as long as the business is not illegal. On some reservations, the tribal government owns and operates most if not all of the businesses. Tribes need their members to start their own businesses. Jobs will not solve every social problems but job creation is one step in the right direction.

Lyle Frank's picture
Lyle Frank
Submitted by Lyle Frank on
I think we are all missing the boat and not attributing the poverty, poor health, etc. to the real cause. It is colonization, oppression and racism. Considering all these issues can be attributed to a specific product, socioeconomic conditions, reservation policy, they point to a socially constructed environment. These systemic processes that operate at national and global levels. The inequity is systematic, produced by social norms, policies and practices that tolerate or actually promote unfair distribution of and access to power, wealth and other necessary social resources. There are larger causes of the causes or distal determinants of unhealthy conditions (Czzyzewski, 2011). That is colonialism.

waziwica's picture
waziwica
Submitted by waziwica on
The traditions are beautiful, sufficient, and effective. When the bottle, or substance abuse enters the picture, all bets are off. The primary teaching of; "helping one another" becomes enabling. The entire community suffers.

Dixon Terbasket's picture
Dixon Terbasket
Submitted by Dixon Terbasket on
This so true!!And we own this country in our heads at least!! And yet we make these deals and stay where we are hmmmm something wrong with this picture!! Dix

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Read!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I don't believe that "poverty" is the actual cause of crime, because I know many people who have no money but are very happy, because you are only "poor" if you believe you are poor, in comparision to others. Therefore, if you are living in a country where others have access to all of the wealth and resources, but you are so oppressed that you don't actually have access to the "means of production" necessary to even survive, then you are likely to do anything within your power to feed yourself and your children. Worse yet, you will probably have so much anger and rage at "The System" that is impoverishing you, that you will direct your rage at anyone and anything that represents that system. I believe this is where the violence comes from: OPPRESSION & RAGE - not poverty. The reason I believe this is because in cultures where people still live "on-the-land" and still have access to the "means of production" to grow their own food, build their own homes and make their own clothiing, and practise their traditional way of life, even though they are very "poor" by capitalist standards, they are generally much happier than the people who are considered to be "rich" in industrial nations. Therefore, I do NOT believe that "poverty" is the cause of crime. I believe that OPPRESSION is. In solidarity & love - FOREVER Idle NO More!!!

Dorene Wiese's picture
Dorene Wiese
Submitted by Dorene Wiese on
The poverty rate for Indians and the crime/murder rate is pretty high here in Chicago.In fact the 2012 murder rate was the highest in the country. The census data does not tell the true story of off-reservation poverty because the data includes East Indians,and Indigenous people from Mexico and South America, and thousands of others who are not legally American Indian by federal law standards. Poverty is the same for Indian people where ever they are, but for the 78% who do not live on reservations, there are few advocates.
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