The U.S. Has Abandoned Natives

Dale Schlundt

When one says American Indian, what comes to mind? Is it the fierce-looking warrior on horseback or perhaps the individual in war paint holding a repeating rifle, ever ready for battle? We have so many political and societal issues being discussed regarding 21st century American citizens, yet it is truly rare to hear any issues relating to present-day American Indians—present day being the key phrase. Isn’t it unfortunate that a people who were forced to accept a European-based society are today left to be their own advocates in the U.S., typically having little voice at all? If asked to picture a person of indigenous ancestry, I would argue a much more realistic depiction would be one living a modern American life, much like you and me. But many also continue to see the negative effects of the past that have yet to be corrected.

Poverty is a huge issue in American Indian communities. Of course, not every person of North American indigenous ancestry is poverty-stricken, yet the numbers are sobering. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Indian poverty rates peaked at 27 percent, compared to a national U.S. average of 14.3 percent. My question: How does the U.S. justify such misfortune among a people when it has exerted so much influence over them the past 250 years? Is the country so far removed from the immoral actions of its own ancestors that its responsibilities to the well being of Native communities is ignored? In a time where recognition of past wrongs is vital, it is certainly not the sole solution either. The phrase talk is cheap did not originate because it was false statement. Real advocacy, as well as action, is needed for the status quo to see a positive change in favor of the various American Indian heritages.

A loss of culture, if not the worst atrocity, is truly one not to be overlooked in terms of collateral damage done to native societies. Just research the Carlisle Indian School, opened in the late 19th century, in an effort to “convert” Indian children to an American way of life. Youth were not allowed to speak their own language, practice their faith, or wear non-European clothing. The hope was for them to grow up and be able to assimilate into white society, essentially wiping out Indian culture.

One thing that history proves is that public opinion is uncontrollable. The chances of successful Indian assimilation in that time period, despite a few individuals' best intentions, is minimal at best. Although the Carlisle School had a devastating effect, it was only on a relatively small group. According to an insightful work called “Revitalizing Native Culture," a part of PBS's Indian Country Diaries, in the 1990s there were 175 native languages spoken compared to the many hundreds in pre-European contact. Once again, staggering numbers that are very telling of the degeneration of indigenous populations and their heritage.

I always begin my first day of the semester teaching U.S. History classes for college freshman with a picture of candidate Barack Obama visiting the Crow Tribal Reservation. I ask them why this is significant. Typically they answer correctly, even if not realizing the significance of the larger context: We don’t see politicians giving American Indian groups a voice in American politics. Do Indians come to mind when picturing the American electorate? While we continue to argue over healthcare laws and asking What can we do to help me, I can’t help but think of the story of the Indian students from the Carlisle Indian School, getting off the train to greet their parents after being separated for so long. Perhaps it is time to right the wrongs.

Dale Schlundt holds a Master's Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College and Our Lady of the Lake University. Dale has two new books available, Tracking Life's Lessons: Through Experiences, History, and a Little Interpretation and Education Decoded (A Collection of My Writings) now available on Amazon.

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hesutu's picture
I wonder how many people understand the historical significance of the president choosing to visit the Crow rather than any other nation.
Larry Crehore's picture
It's more a case of the government has NEVER recognized Native American. Obama's visit to the Crow reservation was the first politician giving us some form of public validation. And even that is waning away so I can see the feelings of Abandonment.
Larry Crehore
Michael Madrid's picture
I"m not going to play the "he likes us more than he likes you" game. I have no idea WHY Obama visited the Crow nation over any other, but I suspect that it had more to do with convenience than him knowing the difference between the Crow, or the Sioux, or the Abenaki. You can't read something negative into everything a politician does. Frankly, I think that the best way for Obama to win the Native vote would be to pardon Leonard Peltier. Of course, he'd have to follow up with other equally relevant actions, but it would sure catch everyone's attention!
Michael Madrid
hesutu's picture
The first visit ever of an american president is an enormous honor. The specific nation was not chosen lightly or casually. The choice has meaning. It is not a generic choice, or one chosen at random. And the message and reason is exceptionally clear.
curtj's picture
Whatever the reason he visited the Crow Reservation first, get over it. What is past is past. Learn what happened back then, then work positively for the future of our kids and grand kids. Life is too short, quit holding grudges and attacking each other while Natives are still getting displaced from their resources and lands. Do any of you think the Crow will get preferential treatment over the rest of us. It should make Natives mad that we're still attacking each other while all of us are losing what little we have left. Natives should be coordinating legislations and figuring out how to take the state and federal governments on in the court system, I mean the International Criminal Court system, which the US government refuses to join because of the same policies dispossessing us from our possessions. if anything, ask your leaders what are their ideas on how to take the state and federal governments on in the international arena, since the state and federal courts are already stacked against anything Native.