A dog stands guard outside mobile homes on the outskirts of the town of Red Lake, Minnesota in the Red Lake Indian Reservation on Wednesday, March 23, 2005. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa have been here for more than a century.

Living or Surviving on Native American Reservations

Duane Champagne
10/8/11

A concerned Northwestern tribal member sent me an e-mail some months ago. She suggested that people in her community were mostly trying to survive, but were not living as individuals or as a community. She asked how is it possible to move beyond survival mode and create communities where people are living or flourishing. By living, she probably meant having the time and energy to realize the central values of culture, community, and individual life.

Immediately it is possible to think of many reasons why tribal members are often focused on economic survival. The high unemployment rate on many reservations does not provide a stable economic base. Most reservation people either work at low paying jobs or receive some government assistance. Since a significant portion of tribal members are supported by government resources, they often have time, but few funds.

The Canadian reserve system provides an interesting comparison. Canada is a much more socialist country than the United States, and the Canadian reserves are modeled after the British work house. Unemployed people were fed and housed in the work house, and were trained to find employment. The administration of the work house greatly constrained the individual freedoms of the participants.

Native American Reservation Pine Ridge 1956

The Canadian reserve system, like the United States reservation system, were designed as temporary places of transition to work and life in mainstream society. Most reservations are small and without enough resources to support tribal communities, and often became places of dependency, marginalization and poverty.

The Canadian reserves provide a cradle to grave support system for tribal communities, but one where most economic and political actions were controlled by the Indian service administration. Sometimes reservations are called total institutions, like prisons or mental institutions, where extensive external control resulted in limited choices for tribal members. Like inmates in other total institutions, many tribal members find reservation life economically and politically challenging.

Since the 1960s, some reservation administration has changed for the better, but many reservations remain subject to substantial external control.  Most contemporary Canadian reserves remain subjects of considerable external economic and political control.  Many U.S. reservations continue to experience considerable economic, political and legal dependency on federal administration and resources.

The reservation system has created considerable distress among tribal members, which is seen in intergenerational trauma, excessive addictions, poor health, few economic opportunities, and family violence. Perhaps the people who are surviving within reservation communities are doing fairly well. However, the tribal member’s point is well taken. Many contemporary tribal people and communities are not in a position to fully realize their community values and individual goals. Should indigenous peoples settle for less? The reader says no, she says she wants her community to live, not just survive the holocaust of reservation conditions. How can we do that?

The vision around the world is that indigenous peoples seek greater cultural, political, and economic autonomy. The total institutional model of reservation management has been challenged by most tribal communities in the United States. Since 1980, U.S. government policies, legal decisions, and economic support has declined in real terms, despite emphasis on self-determination policy. Perhaps the most significant change has been the broader and greater understanding of indigenous identity, community, legal, and human rights.

Indigenous communities have become more politically self-aware, and have mobilized to realize their political and human rights at national and international levels. Nation states, however, continue to be willing to provide human and civil rights within national jurisdictions, but seem to have little knowledge or willingness to engage indigenous communities and indigenous rights. National governments should be helpful materially and politically, but indigenous peoples cannot look there for full realization of their communities and values.

Indigenous communities are their own strongest asset. Ultimately, indigenous peoples must look inward to themselves for leaders, institutions, innovation, and community consensus for taking on the task of developing healthy, sustainable, culturally grounded indigenous communities that will be satisfying and sustainable into the indefinite future.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Wonderfull

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
ta tonto o' odam * when you go around the world asking what is wrong with me, " because you don't want tohurt your family emotionally and physically". THANK YOU AFH MLH DLH Seamless

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Thank you! This article really helped me on my history paper.

veronica Bickford's picture
veronica Bickford
Submitted by veronica Bickford on
I am an 85 year old lady rom Dorset in England,but I can only pray night and morning for you very dear and fine people .You deserve the best that the government can offer and conditions to help you maintain well deserved pride.I and my family and friends offer you our Best Love and prayers. XXXX

ANGELICWISDOM_4U's picture
ANGELICWISDOM_4U
Submitted by ANGELICWISDOM_4U on
THE ONE THING I CANNOT COMPREHEND IS OUR STINKING GOV. STOLD THIS LAND ALL OF IT FROM THE NATIVES THAT WERE HERE . THEY WERE THE ANCESTORS OF THESE PEOPLE WHY ISN'T OUR GOV. TAKING CARE OF ALL THEIR NEEDS IT ISNT' RIGHT I DON'T CARE HOW YOU CUT IT. I HAVE NATIVE BLOOD IN ME NOT ENOUGH TO GET ANYTHING FROM GOV. BUT ITS STILL THERE. AND THIS MAKES ME SOOOOOOO MAD. LOVE ALL OF YOU READING THIS JUST ME REBECCA GONZALEZ IF YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND JUST ADD ME

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
(from the article): The high unemployment rate on many reservations does not provide a stable economic base. Most reservation people either work at low paying jobs or receive some government assistance. Since a significant portion of tribal members are supported by government resources, they often have time, but few funds. _______________________________________________________ So, we who prided ourselves in our self-sufficiency were herded into concentration camps, denied the most basic privileges like education and healthcare (not to mention food) only to have modern Conservatives call us "free-loaders" and welfare queens and demand an end to the "Socialism" that helps us survive. __________________________________________________________ If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, . . . with liberty and justice for some.

tmsyr11's picture
tmsyr11
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
As children growing up on the REZ, we never paid attention to being "classified" as poor by Proregressive standards. It wasn't until we got older the social reengineering methods of 'progress' gave us the notion of what we don't have. My family is still very PROUD even if we're below the US Gubermets measure. The If only the system of Indian Tribal Govt was really supportive of our family following the spirit or steps of using assistance (health, education, court/public safety, economy/jobs, etc.). This where the 'outside' help is needed, BUT, the social pervayors of racial hate are too consumed with irreverent topics as a Mascot.

tmsyr11's picture
tmsyr11
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
The constructive ppls are accurately askING "what are tribal governments doing with the federal funding appropriations" "Why did the Navajo Govt return 96 million in unmet federal housing dollars?" I am asking these same questions. Yet instead social media pervayors of white hate are too consumed with the Democrat Party platform of racial radical racism in The Mascots, these educated morons can't see what is true from right!
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