You will not be forgotten as long as I'm in this White House
January 10, 2010 10:01 PM   Subscribe

"Indian country begins where the serene prairie of Custer county gives way to the formidable rock spires marking out South Dakota's rugged Badlands. The road runs straight until the indistinguishable, clapboard American homesteads fade from view and the path climbs into a landscape sharpened by an eternity of wind and water. At this time of year, the temperature slides to tens of degrees below freezing and a relentless gale sets the snow dancing on the road, a whirligig of white blotting out the black of the asphalt."

A sobering look at one Native American community and their hopes during the Obama years, by The Guardian's Chris McGreal.
posted by saturnine (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the first link: But the modern perception among many Americans is also of tribes growing rich on casinos and Native Americans living well from treaties that require the US government to provide subsidised housing, free healthcare and regular welfare cheques.

This rings true to me as I've followed the recent progress of the Shinnecock Nation in their struggle to obtain federal recognition. Currently an enclave of poverty in one of the nation's wealthiest regions known for its volatile racial tensions; the Shinnecock story of legendary bravery and sacrifice always takes a back seat, in even the most level-headed coverage, to the prevailing Indian stereotype: "These people are about to get a casino!"
posted by peeedro at 11:34 PM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to be a little surprised at the vehemance some local Maori activists would have whenever the topic of pushing a line of multiculturism rather than biculturalism under the Treaty of Waitangi, but as I've learned more about US racial politics I can understand why - one look at how Native Americans have ended up the bottom of the agenda would make me suspicious that the available political capital for race issues could easily dissapear into factions of your colonisers fighting over the stuff they nicked from you.
posted by rodgerd at 11:47 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


But Two Bulls and other Oglala Sioux leaders know that it will take the kind of money that only the federal government can provide to begin to turn the situation around: their hopes are pinned on Obama, who has told them: "You will not be forgotten as long as I'm in this White House."

I hope Obama makes good on this, I really do. It's part of the reason why I campaigned for him and voted for him: I believe that he understands the plight of the Native American.

I don't know the answer to this problem. I'm a card-carrying Sicangu Lakota and I don't know how to keep my cousins on the rez from harming themselves. The only thing that I think that will help to stem the tide of destruction is education. And that requires money, alot of money, to send these kids away from the rez to good schools and then send them back to make things better.

My grandfather perhaps had the right idea: he left the rez so his children would be born in better circumstances. And I, his first grandchild, was the first in the family to go to college. Now I'm a math teacher in the poorest feeder pattern in one of the poorest school districts in the USA. Not a day goes by that I don't think I should be on the rez teaching. If I could support my family teaching on the rez, I'd be there tomorrow. But I can't. So here I am in Texas, instead.
posted by blessedlyndie at 12:31 AM on January 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Years Plural? It's barely been one! I read the article earlier and that was the only part that stuck in my craw, apart from the 'look-at-how-horrible-these-people-have-it', was to put this on Obama's head (now, so soon) is grossly unreasonable.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:36 AM on January 11, 2010


Related (two recent articles well worth reading):

Cold War-era uranium mining leaves a poisoned legacy for the Navajo (from the December 2009 Brooklyn Rail)

Ghosts of Wounded Knee (from the December 2009 Harper's)
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 1:10 AM on January 11, 2010


How timely. I read this artice during some research from the metafilter collaborative novel we're working on. So incredibly sad, and - for me - so evocative of some of the problems indigenous people in remote Australia are facing, too.
posted by smoke at 1:58 AM on January 11, 2010


The Pine Ridge article portrays the efforts the Obama administration as (so far) empty promises but neglects last month's 3 billion dollar settlement with American Indian tribes.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:17 AM on January 11, 2010


Obviously in the grip of winter, right now, there's not much to do but survive, but in the summer, what's stopping them from building more houses or repairing the ones they have? It's not going to be the pinnacle of modern architecture, but don't they have the right to fell trees and harvest lumber?

I'm not sure how to fix "broken" communities, when alcoholism and lack of education has gone so far as to make a community completely unsustainable, but this is just so tragic.
posted by explosion at 4:52 AM on January 11, 2010


Fell what trees? The rez may be called Pine Ridge but it's in the Badlands of South Dakota. Not much there but rocks and grass. And right now, snow.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:52 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know the answer to this problem. I'm a card-carrying Sicangu Lakota and I don't know how to keep my cousins on the rez from harming themselves. The only thing that I think that will help to stem the tide of destruction is education. And that requires money, alot of money, to send these kids away from the rez to good schools and then send them back to make things better.

My grandfather perhaps had the right idea: he left the rez so his children would be born in better circumstances. And I, his first grandchild, was the first in the family to go to college. Now I'm a math teacher in the poorest feeder pattern in one of the poorest school districts in the USA. Not a day goes by that I don't think I should be on the rez teaching. If I could support my family teaching on the rez, I'd be there tomorrow. But I can't. So here I am in Texas, instead.


posted by blessedlyndie at 3:31 AM on January 11

[Have you thought about passing this story along to someone along the Obama food chain? This would be an incredible story for them to use (and try to act on) to increase funding for reservation schools. Obama's history with community based organizing means his folks are all about the power of individual narratives to push things through--I got several emails soliciting health care stories from Organize for America as the legislation battle heated up.]
posted by availablelight at 5:52 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I lived in SoDak Indian Country for a couple years back in the eighties while my dad worked as a doc on the rez at Eagle Butte. The situation was dire then and it's even worse now.

It's not brought up a lot, but we have to recognize that our government promised to provide medical care to all Native Americans for free and in perpetuity. This happened in 1924. It was short shrift for the trail of tears, but on paper it was a good start. Today (and thanks to the great work by John McCain as chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee) the Indian Health Service is 50% underfunded. Vital services are being severely rationed. A clinic might only be able to bring in a mental health professional or cardiologist once a month, and surgeries are backed up for years.

All this, and people are still in shock that Native Americans are six times as likely to die from alcohol-related causes, five times as likely to die of tuberculosis, and three times as likely to die of diabetes as all other races. You can't expect to make reasonable progress on any of these disparities without properly funding the system, and I don't think anyone in Congress has the balls to do it.
posted by The White Hat at 6:03 AM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


"A sobering look at one Native American community"

Flagged as missing [NOT RACIST] tag.
posted by Eideteker at 6:32 AM on January 11, 2010


Obama has been making a real effort with the tribes here in New Mexico. He had their support during the campaign and met with tribal elders several times. Currently, Jemeez Pueblo is waiting on stimulus money to study geothermal energy. A geothermal power plant would be a boon for the tribe and environment.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:49 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


> "Years Plural?"

That Obama chap has another three years minimum to go. The tribe talks about looking forward, and hoping things will change while Obama has the power to make them happen. Perhaps you should read the article again? It's really not a pity piece - I found it shocking and respectful writing into a sorely under-reported issue in the US.
posted by saturnine at 10:44 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Finally finished it. Great article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Eideteker at 12:17 PM on January 11, 2010


I just finished a good book about Pine Ridge by Ian Frazier, called On the Rez. Thanks for the post.
posted by anshuman at 3:52 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's really not a pity piece
You're right, it's not. When I read it first thing Monday morning it was only bad news - and ok, maybe there is mostly bad news to be had there, but without a sense of the things that are being done to address the issues (and maybe nothing is being done, not substantially) afflicting this community it reads as one-sided.

The damage that has been done to indigenous communities in North America is staggering, and that it has not been remedied or at least looked at critically is always surprising How hard can it be to plunk down a dozen/hundred houses? Habitat for Humanity? Anybody? US Gov.? This would cost, what, a single fighter jet? I start chasing my tail on this... America's consistently hostile stance towards communities and the people that make them up always saddens the shit out of me. Obama has so much to do and if can put up the structures to start helping these communities function he will have done the right thing - though it might not be evident until after he leaves office, the President takes a dis-proportionate amount of heat for what he can actually do.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:15 AM on January 12, 2010


The thing that bugs me most about this - the article and the discussion here, for that matter - is the radical difference in perspective. These are not charity cases to throw a couple of pennies at. These are the people who survived the systematic genocide (in some cases), theft, displacement, and brutalisation of large-scale colonialism. The place that is now the United States was, for the most part, stolen lock stock and barrel from them - if not by the Bristish, by the French or the Spanish. Even after a war which was supposed to end the tyranny of slavery, the next ofrder of business was the further alienation of the indigenous people from their increasingly pitiful holdings.

The Waitangi Tribunal, even the less effective Canadian effort with the RCAP or the Aussie progress of resulting from Mabo, such as it is, provide at least some recognition and recompense for the fact that these modern nations were built squarely on the theft of the property of the indigenous peoples, and that, as such, redress is not a matter of charity, but a matter of restoration of injuries.

I noticed in the recent thread on KFC in Aussie that Americans love to throw the treatment of Aboriginies there as proof of how racist Australians are. Newsflash: the treatment of Native Americans in the United States is decades behind Australia.
posted by rodgerd at 1:44 AM on January 12, 2010


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