Why the Disparities in Indian country?

The disparities between Indian country and the rest of America are obvious. What is less obvious is how little Americans know about them. I am grateful that this knowledge has shaped NRC programs and the way we work with our reservation partners. But I also want more Americans to understand about the quality of life for the Indian people.

Many Americans believe that Indian casinos and treaties with the U.S. government are addressing the problems. We have also learned that some folks are ignorant or apathetic toward American Indians or the fact that basic human needs are going unmet. Yet on the reservations, food insecurity is real.  A lack of access to education limits progress. And housing takes the meaning of the word “basic” to a whole new level.

Did you know this:

  •  Reality:  Unemployment for American Indians is about 49%. This is partly due to the lack of opportunity on the reservations and partly due to the prejudice that exists off the reservations. Disparity:  In 2009, unemployment for the rest of America topped out at 15.9%.
  • Reality:  Per capita income for Native Americans living on reservations is still less than half the U.S. average. On some reservations, annual family income is $3,500.  Disparity:  Comparatively, the 2009 Federal poverty guidelines allow $22,050 for a four-person household in America.
  • Reality:  Nearly 1 in 4 American Indians goes hungry or lives with food insecurity.  They have a limited ability to buy food, a concern about running out of food, do not eat so the children can eat, or experience persistent hunger. Disparity:  American Indians suffer food insecurity more than any other ethnic group in the U.S.
  • Reality:  High school dropout rates on the reservations where we work range from 30% to 70%. Only 17% of American Indians who graduate from high school make it to college, and only 11% attain a college degree. Disparity:  Other Americans are 3 times more likely to have a college degree than American Indians. 
  • Reality:  About 90,000 American Indians are homeless – nearly 5% of the Native population. About 40% are under-housed, homes are overcrowded, and 20% or more of reservation homes lack utilities and running water. Disparity:  In contrast, 1% of other Americans experience homelessness in a year.

Why is this okay?  Sadly, these all contribute to living conditions that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs cites as “justifiably compared to third world nations.” It helps that many donors, grantors, in-kind partners, program partners, and disaster relief organizations work with National Relief Charities and take the responsibility to help do something about it. What also helps is getting informed about the reservation facts and letting others know.

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