Let’s empower Native Americans

During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate was 29.4 percent.

Today, the unemployment rate for urban Native Americans is 52 percent.

And this is the low end of the spectrum. According to an article by Albert Blender in “People’s World,” several Dakota reservations had unemployment rates well over 75 percent. The Senate acknowledges that eight of the 10 poorest counties in the country consist of over 70 percent Native Americans.

With off-the-chart unemployment rates, insufficient health accommodations and a near absence of education in their own language, Native Americans are politically and socially oppressed. Manifest Destiny seems to have never stopped.

To fix this, the government must increase their political power.

Native Americans need more authority in order to oust outdated land usage laws and regain control over health and education. The outdated legal framework surrounding reservations hinders growth.

“Unfortunately, I think a lot of the ways tribes are operating and receiving or not receiving resources are based on outdated treaties — treaties that don’t reflect contemporary situations,” said James Shields, director of the Bonner Center for Community Learning. “If they don’t have access to resources, then this doesn’t work.

“The area I’m familiar with, the Crow reservation, is a very rich area in terms of natural resources, but until recently, the tribe as a whole wasn’t able to take advantage of that. And even then, the only way they were able to receive any monetary value from it was by selling the rights as opposed to them creating their own company.”

Further problems face Native Americans. For example, many tribes suffer from high diabetes rates and poor general health.

“(Native Americans) have a real dependence on commodity food,” said Jill Eisenbarth in a phone interview.

Eisenbarth worked with women, infants and children as a meal planner for the Cherokee and Comanche tribes.

“(This dependence) made my job as a food counselor harder, because they couldn’t afford vegetables and healthy food,” Eisenbarth said.

Furthermore, Native Americans require more opportunities toward higher education. Education opens avenues to higher-level jobs so people can buy higher-quality food.

Giving Native Americans access to better education will increase employment and health awareness. Additionally, they will have more power to preserve their culture.

In short, increasing political power increases self-determination, and until we increase Native Americans’ political power, unfair treaties, high diabetes rates and poor health will continue to plague reservations.

So here’s the big question: how do we increase Native American political power?

Here’s the solution: reservations should be upgraded to counties.

This way, tribes would be able to control their education, promote their language through signage and cultural events and provide more Native Americans with county-level jobs. Additionally, reservations would be able to apply for more federal and state grants to better their economy. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Shields’ and Eisenbarth’s only concern is that some corrupt tribal leaders may gain power, as seen in some tribes now. But they agreed it is worth a shot.

This solution resembles the Nunavut policy in Canada. Established in 2002, Canada carved out a new territory where the Inuit people live. So far it has been successful in promoting colleges and bettering the quality of life of the people who live there.

We can’t continue to turn a blind eye to Native Americans’ plight. If America really is a democracy, then she must value the voices of all her people — including the people who got here first.

It’s our new Manifest Destiny to fix this.