Native Americans and The Trouble they Face

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My Public Policy Paper for American History, it is a required paper for all Juniors to write in order to graduate.

Submitted: June 05, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 05, 2013



Kirsten Mazur

Ms. Schouvieller

Period 8 American History

22, May, 2013


Native Americans and the Trouble They Face


America is a nation that takes great pride in its history. The Native Americans were a group of native people who helped guide the British when they first came to this land. However, they are often portrayed as “savages” in historical accounts. These ‘savages’ are the reason America is America. Even now in 2013 these people native to the land that many of us call home are being belittled by the government, which is giving more attention to healthcare in prisons rather than on reservations. The Native Americans are becoming more and more angry and frustrated with the little help they get. The history between the Natives and Americans is part of why current reservations have higher crime rates than the whole nation put together. Policies and acts, like the Westward Expansion, Assimilation and Removal all led to the Native Americans being pushed off their land. The Native Americans mistrust the federal government because of how in the past they have done nothing to help them, and when the government signs a treaty, they go against everything they promised. Not many people like being told what to do, or enjoy feeling worthless, but the Native Americans in particular feel somewhat helpless.

The Native Americans have fought for their rights just like everyone else has throughout history, but the difference is they do not get noticed. They only get pushed under the rug by the federal government, as though their problems do not exist; like they do not exist. Just as they do not exist, apparently their crime rate does not either. The federal government can help stop the violence on Native American reservations by the simplest things: apologizing for the past, increasing the availability of healthcare, increasing educational opportunities, changing a law that gives reservations authority over their own land, and lastly, giving the Native people the respect that they deserve.

In the 1800’s the Westward Expansion began. Many Americans started to take their families and lives and moved west. The expansion of America was good, but it came at a price for Native Americans. As America grew, the government realized that a majority of the land was owned by the Native Americans. Having known the relation between the Native Indians and America, they had to think about what to do very carefully. In 1802 the government started Assimilation. Assimilation was a policy that told the Native Americans that they had to either choose to move elsewhere, or change their lives as Natives and become American citizens. Henry Dearborn’s thoughts on Assimilation were that,

The government considers it a very important object to introduce among the several Indian Nations within the United States the art of civilization -- to induce the men to engage in agriculture and the raising of stock, and to convince the women of the benefits they would derive from a knowledge of the domestic arts and manufactures. (Digital History ID 192)


In other words, the government believed that the Native Americans should become more civilized and more American. The government soon realized that the Natives were not willing to move off their sacred land, nor did they want to become American citizens. The government decided they needed a more aggressive approach. Indian Removal was the next step. In 1836 this “act” came into effect. It stated that the Natives would be forcefully kicked off their land. This forced them all to move west, a place that would allow them to live their lives, and keep their culture.

The troubles, however, did not end there. In 1876 the Battle of Little Bighorn occurred.

This came about because the government went back on their word. They had promised land to the Sioux tribe, but in later years discovered the Sioux land was rich with gold. They immediately got the American military to attack and seize the land. The Sioux tribe fought back to protect their land. Unlike most encounters of war between Americans and Natives, this war was a huge victory for the Native Americans. They beat General Custer and his military, and showed America that they were not just savages, but they were strong. It is a moment in history that shows that the Native Americans can fight for what they believe is right. Although they won, and got to keep their land, it only furthered the mistrust between the Sioux tribe and the federal government. The history between the two very different cultures should at some point be able to be resolved. However, the only way that it can happen is if America takes responsibility for the things in history that they did wrong to the Native Americans.

The Native Americans have had many struggles throughout their existence, but every time they continue to adapt and overcome their challenges. Today the problem that they are trying to deal with is a high poverty rate. Right now the annual income for most Native Americans is about $33,627, which is less than the average American who usually earns more than $50,000 per year (Rodgers). Since the Battle of Little Bighorn, the government has been refusing to abide by treaties made with tribes by simply not honoring them. Since this has happened one in every four American Indians, about 25.3%, lives in poverty (Rodgers). A major cause for poverty is the lack of opportunities given to the Native Americans. Only about 36% of males in poverty-stricken reservations have full-time or year-round jobs.

Since 1992, Congress has failed to reauthorize the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act. This was passed in 1976 and was supposed to increase the level of healthcare for Native Americans. This is most likely the reason why 29.9% of American Indians are without health insurance (Rodgers). The federal government is currently spending 30% more on healthcare in state prisons than they do on the Native American reservations. With so few Native Americans working jobs with benefits, healthcare is unattainable. Just recently there was a 5% cut across the Indian Health Service (I.H.S). This service is what provides all the basic needs for almost two million American Indians to live a healthy life (The Sequester). In 1985 a law that was the model for the current sequester, (which is a general cut in government spending), said that the annual cuts to the Indian Health Service could not go over 2%; but it has. This current 5% cut, is cutting over $220 million from the I.H.S, which operates 320 health centers, 45 hospitals, 115 health stations and four school health centers in different reservations across the nation. With all these cuts to the reservations, the American Indians are bound to struggle with the little knowledge they have of how to handle these health problems that are currently spreading across the Nation.

Also in 2003 the U.S Commissions on Civil Rights found that “Native Americans receive disproportionately lower funding than the general population for federally administered services and programs” (Rodgers). This basically means that for every service that our government provides to the citizens, like common laws and education, the Native Americans get less than any other part of the country.

President Barack Obama’s election symbolized America overcoming racial discrimination and the scars that mark our history as a nation. Obama’s promise “ reduce poverty in America [and to] extend [it] to the Native American communities that feel poverty most acutely and that have been relegated to the shadows of our society for far too long” (Rodgers). Obama also said “Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans” (Stossel).

The common theme is that the government basically says that they realize that the Native Americans have been ignored, but then do nothing about it. In fact, the government has made almost all of the Indian tribes cities of the states: the government manages their land, provides their healthcare, and pays for housing and child care. The American Indians need the help from the government in order to stop the poverty that has hit them so hard in these past few years. Along with poverty comes the disrespect that they have endured.

On May 2nd 2011, the notorious murderer and terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed by the Navy Seals. The code name for this mission: “Geronimo.” Geronimo is a word that kids these days use when they do something that they think is really outrageous. Little do they know that Geronimo was actually a famous Native American chief of the Apache tribe. President Obama “knew the mission to execute Osama bin Laden was complete when he heard “Geronimo had been killed” (Martin). Something not considered, is how people, in particular the Native Americans, would react to the use of “Geronimo.” The answer was this: “The use of the name of the legendary Apache leader Geronimo has caused anger and hurt feelings among Native Americans, and not just members of the Apache tribe” (Martin). Though ‘Geronimo’ is generally closely linked to the Apaches, the Navajos also share the history of the chief, because they are both descendants from a tribe in Canada (Waldman). Ben Shelly, President of the Navajo Nations, wrote a letter to President Obama to show his anger; “It is not only disrespectful to Geronimo and the Navajo Native Code Talkers, but to the 11 Navajo warriors who have recently lost their lives fighting against terrorism since 9/11” (Navajo). Stating that the Native Americans do many things to help America.

Geronimo is famous because while three “encroachments” continued, conflicts began to start between the Apache and the Mexican and American people. Geronimo fought hard to protect his people, but the Mexican forces killed his family; his wife, three kids, and his mother. With all this built up anger he led resistances against the “encroachments.” Some feel that using ‘Geronimo’ was out of context with history, that the government was “pairing up” a very evil killer, mass murderer and terrorist (Osama bin Laden) with Geronimo. The only connection people can find between the two are that both bin Laden and Geronimo were being chased for a long period of time, and were so skilled at eluding their pursuers that they avoided being captured.

In Ben Shelly's letter he concludes with,

Today, I ask President Obama and the Pentagon to change the operation code name ‘Geronimo’ from this day forward. So that U.S history books will not continue to portray negative stereotypes of Native Americans and that America’s youth will remember Geronimo as one of our greatest war heroes (Navajo).


This comparison that the government is making between Geronimo and Osama bin Laden, only further portrays Native Americans as savages. An unfair portrayal when in reality they are often the victims of brutal crime.

The crime rate on reservations is not just petty crimes like robbery, or DUIs. Their crimes are more serious like rape, sexual abuse and homicides. In February of this year the Senate reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act; a law that in 1994 recognized crimes such as rape, domestic abuse and stalking as matters of human rights. This law applies to all Americans, but is not enforced for Native Americans. The House Republicans are refusing to make revisions that would “enhance” protections for Native Americans.

Native American women are the victims of most of the crimes on reservations. To raise awareness about the abuse Native American women in particular, wear red shawls to honor survivors of sexual violence to public events. Women specifically are the target of most crimes, but get little help.

According to the Justice Department, one in every three Native American woman is raped over her lifetime, while many others say that the women are too demoralized to report rape (Erdrich). Along with rape, sexual abuse is very common, but 65% of the sexual abuse cases are declined by federal prosecutors (Erdrich). This reason is because more than 80% of the sexual crimes are committed by a non-Native man and on reservations these men are immune from prosecution by tribal courts (Erdrich). “The Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center says this gap in the law has attracted non-Indian habitual sexual predators to tribal areas” (Erdrich). But it is not just sexual assaults that women face.

Native American women are ten times as likely to be murdered than non-native women (Williams, High). “They are raped or sexually assaulted at a rate of four times the national average, with more than one in three having either been raped or experienced an attempted rape” (Williams, High). When trying to report a crime, charges are often not filed. The prosecutors say that they cannot help because of a lack of usable evidence, so most reservation cases are turned down. The tribes argue that they never get an answer as to why the prosecutors do not pursue the cases. All they want is a reason why the government will not help them punish criminals. Jerry Gardner, a member of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute in California, says “The federal system takes a long time to make a decision, and when it comes to something like a child sexual assault, the community gets the message that nothing is being done” (Williams, High).

Alexandra Pierce, an author of a report on sexual violence against Indian Women in Minnesota back in 2009, found that rapes on upstate reservations increase during hunting season, and therefore tribal police cannot arrest them (Erdrich). In order to protect the women on the reservations tribal authorities have to be able to apprehend, charge and try rapists, regardless of where they are born. Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, but then the Supreme Court decided to get rid of it. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa said, “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right? … So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial” (Erdrich). If it is not fair for the non-Indians, then how is it fair for the Native Americans to be tried by a jury that is made up of all non-Indians? It is not. People mostly just think about how it is not fair for Americans, but never the other way around.However, reservations are not made up of just Native Americans, there is a substantial amount of non-Indians living on reservations, almost half the Native families are often mixed (Erdrich).

The Wind River reservation in Wyoming is one example of how bad the crime is on reservations. It has a crime rate of five to seven times the national average, and a long history of homicides (Williams, Brutal). President Obama tried to decrease the crime rate on several different reservations, by sending in more police enforcement. This helped three out of the four reservations, but Wind River’s crime rate increased by 7% while the extra patrol was there (Williams, Brutal). On most reservations the number of officers is six, but Obama increased them to 37. Even with all the law officials, crimes included the murder of a 13-year-old girl, and the killing of a 25-year-old man. When asked about the crime on the reservation, Kim Lambert, a tribal advocate responded, “There has always been the horrendous murder. There has always been the white-Indian tensions. It’s always been something” (Williams, Brutal).

During the surge of officers, they were unable to prevent the death of Marisa Spoonhunter. She was an eighth grader who attended the local middle school. She was supposedly killed by her own brother, who apparently walked in on her as she was having sexual intercourse with their cousin. Having all been intoxicated, he choked her to death, tied up her body, and dragged her behind his car. Their father, Vern Spoonhunter, said “Marisa had been in the third generation of Spoonhunters to be murdered at Wind River” (Williams, Brutal). She met the same fate as his father and his own brother.

It is not only the Wind River reservation that has high crime rates; it is all of the reservations. Their rates of crime are higher than all but a handful of the nation’s most violent cities (Williams, High). The Justice Department only files charges for 50% of Indian Country murder investigations and turns down nearly two-thirds of the sexual assault cases (Williams, High). This information is according to the new federal data collected in previous years. The nation itself has a relatively high crime rate, but the reservations are more than two and a half times higher than the national average. There are very few reservations, and most reservations are about half the size of Rhode Island. To have a higher crime rate than the nation put together is not very good, and it does not help that they get very little jurisdiction.

The tribal courts do have a very limited ability to prosecute and sentence those convicted of a crime. They can only sentence those criminals to no more than three years in prison. A sentence that hardly fits a serious crime. The former chief judge of the Tonto Apaches in Arizona, Tao Etpison responds to the little authority tribal courts have when he says “These crimes are very serious for the reservation, but the prosecutors really do not see it from a reservation perspective” (Williams, High).

In the last year, the government has refused to conduct investigations on 65% of rape charges, and has rejected 61% of cases involving sexually abused children, at least 40 cases (Williams, High). One rape charge that was not pursued was a charge on a 31-one-year-old man who was accused of pouring root beer schnapps into the soda of a girl who had recently turned 13. The girl was unaware he had done this so she drank the soda. Once she had passed out, the man covered her face with her own clothes and raped her. He only served one year in jail after federal prosecutors declined to file charges. Even after there was a DNA match and two statements from relatives who had interrupted the attack. The crime rate on reservations is at a high, and crimes like this one, needs to be treated fairly, and not with only a few years served in prison.

In order to stop the violence on Native American reservations, the government needs to own up to all the things they have pushed aside. It is not just the violence that is a problem, it is also what leads up to the violence. The history of how the Natives were treated and the poverty that they endure has dragged them down into a hole. Over the years, the government has neglected certain issues: poverty, healthcare, violence, sex crimes, and has only mainly focused on the problems that are in the news. For example, back in 1862 the government refused to honor a treaty made with the Sioux tribe during a time of starvation. This just makes the Native Americans feel as though they cannot trust the American government, because to them, their word is useless.

One issue that has caused the Native Americans much grief is the past. Though the government cannot change all the pain they caused in the past, they can always make it right in the days ahead. All the land that was taken from the Native Americans cannot be given back in full, but the United States could allow them more land than they have now. They could give back to them as much as the Native Americans gave to the British (America’s ancestors) when they first arrived. Though the history of the relationship between the two has not always been the best, there is a time and place to shake hands and apologize to the Native Americans for taking advantage of them. And there is no better time than the present. The apology should directly be about the history between the two societies and then also about the President using the name Geronimo as the code word for Osama bin Laden’s death. Going forward, the United States should be careful about what words and terms they use when dealing with government and or public problems. Because to them a word used one way, could be offensive to people of that culture.

To solve the problem of poverty the government should realize that, just like everyone else in America, the Native Americans need better jobs and healthcare. The government budget cuts for Native Americans should not be directed at the funding for the reservations. They should reinstate healthcare, and provide help to make it even better. They also should keep the limit of annual cut to the Indian Health Service at 2%, unlike the 5% in recent years.

The government also should prioritize the economic opportunity in the reservation communities. The amount of men who have full-time jobs is at 36%. To increase the opportunity and get the Native Americans out of poverty would be to mostly focus on the schools and education. The government does make getting into college easier if you are a Native American, but only to a certain degree. The government should focus more on the education that Native Americans get in high school and junior high. If the education and graduation rates increase, Native people will be more likely to get a better job than what they would have had.

Every one of these problems have led up to the violence on reservations. If a city like New York had a crime rate that was five to seven times the national average, the government would not hesitate to jump in and help. The Native American reservations have that much crime. The reason fighting crime is so hard is because more than half the time it is committed by a non-Native man who is immune to being arrested. A law that would make it legal for police officials on the reservation to arrest a non-Native man would help bring down the crime rate. The government thinks it is “unfair” that a non-Native man would be tried by an all Native jury. Yet the government lets Natives be tried outside their reservation by an all non-Native jury, the logic just does not make sense. To give the Native Americans the power to arrest anyone, no matter their ethnicity would show the Natives that their problems are also America’s problems.

Providing the reservations with more funds for law enforcement would also be beneficial to them, increasing the number of officers would enforce the laws more. Another thing that could help bring down the crime rate is to have the federal prosecutors prioritize more of the sexual assault, abuse and rape cases. This would show the Native women that their horrific encounters are important to someone and show them that someone does cares.

The reason that supporting the Native Americans is important is because it shows that America can overcome problems of the past. People who believe that it is unnecessary to support Native Americans, should consider the fact that America is spending more money on healthcare in prisons. So those terrorists, pedophiles, and murderers are healthier than the people who helped create America. The people of America need to think if they want to help keep criminals healthy or people like the Native Americans who actually need the help.  

In all, there is not one specific thing that can be done to fix the violence on reservations. There are many factors that led up to the situation. If the government actually considers this, then the relationship between America and the Natives will slowly over time change to a “friendship” rather than just a “relationship”. This will not only benefit the Natives, but also America in the long run. America can benefit from the knowledge of the Native Americans. The beads they make, the canoes from trees, and the jewelry are all items that can help boost the economy in America. People are always looking for unique and exotic materials. The Native Americans can provide that.

Throughout the history of America, the Native Americans have been forgotten, their culture diminishing. Their reservations look like the towns of Honduras, in ruins, like a storm has hit them over and over again. While we live in our huge houses, nice and warm in the winter, or nice and cool in the summer, the Native Americans live in those houses that look like mud huts. Along with their homes, their culture is also diminishing right before their eyes. The Native American culture is one that people should know about. African American history is taught in schools, but why not the Native American history? Their past is just as important in creating the place so many call home. In total, America owes a big thank you and a lot of respect to the “savages” that were here to help America’s ancestors, create this beautiful land we call America.


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