Trump has portrait of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson looking over his daily moves in Oval Office.
Published November 14, 2019
Why is life expectancy only age 57 for South Dakota Native Americans? That’s 24 years less than the state’s white residents. A big reason, according to a recent NY Times article, is substandard health care as administered by the federal government.
The Times article stated that since 2016 Indian Health Service, a federal program, has declined to pay medical bills for more than 500,000 patients, leaving them with over $2 billion in debt. Despite severe problems like diabetes at epidemic rates, Congress has refused to overhaul the way Native Americans get health care.
The tribes are trying to reclaim control of their own hospitals but the funding is hard to come by, lacking the casino income of reservations in other states. Alaska’s Indians have a good model to follow but they have better access to grant money.
Speaking of casinos, the Associated Press reported in May 2019 that two Trump-linked firms received $30,000 each to lobby against approval of a new casino in Massachusetts planned by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. The lobbyists represent casinos in Rhode Island, which don’t want competition. House Democrats dropped consideration of the bill, seeing that it was doomed in the Republican Senate.
Job prospects are grim on many reservations, the result of systemic abuse and neglect by America’s white majority. Unemployment ranges from 10% (over twice the national average) up to 60% for some tribes. Accompanying it are the usual symptoms of any poverty-stricken area: opioid drugs, gangs, alcoholism and under-funded schools.
Of course, we all know about the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes say the project jeopardizes their clean water supply and burial sites. Police used brutal tactics against the protesters, including water cannons in sub-freezing weather and flash grenades, which nearly blew off the arm of one participant.
President Obama, after a long delay, denied a permit for further construction. When our current Oaf of Office took power, he immediately reversed Obama, clearing the way for the pipeline’s completion.
In the meantime, Republican-controlled legislatures swung into action in several states. They passed laws criminalizing such protests with prison time and severe fines. There go our constitutional rights if we challenge the oil companies.
Another constitutional right of Native Americans, like other minorities, is in peril due to Republicans’ voter suppression laws. Many Indians don’t use an official street address, which recent suppression laws require. The Supreme Court declined to hear the Indians’ case.
Violence against Native American women is a terrible crime that gets little justice. CBSNews.com reports that as of 2016 over 5,700 Indian and Alaskan females had gone missing. These crimes are continuing, with little doubt that most of these women have been murdered. If that many white women had been killed, there would surely be swift action by law enforcement.
Savanna’s Act, a Congressional bill to combat such violence, has not been passed into law as of this writing, despite coming close last year, before being blocked by one Republican committee chairman.
While Democrats have been far from stellar in protecting the rights of Native Americans, Republicans have been much worse. Bright spots happened in the 2018 mid-terms when Democrats Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first Indian women ever elected to Congress.
Sharice Davids’ win was astounding when you consider she defeated a white male incumbent in a Republican-majority district.
Such victories provide hope that the 2020 elections will result in a Democratic sweep for Congress and the presidency. Maybe then some meaningful changes will finally benefit Native Americans.
Frank Lingo is a former columnist for The Kansas City Star and author of the novel “Earth Vote.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org