It is unfortunate to see that Native Americans are left behind whilst the rest of American society progresses. Suffering a poverty rate of 27%, this is the highest of any ethnicity in the United States (U.S Census Bureau, 2013). Other areas in which Native’s are poorly ranked include education, with a high-school graduation rate of only 67% (HUFFPOST, 2014), as well as health, with a life expectancy of 4 years less than that of all races combined (Indian Health Service, 2017). The few areas where natives place high are also indicators of poverty rather than prosperity. One of these areas is drug abuse, with almost a sixth of Natives regularly abusing drugs, in comparison to only a tenth of all Americans (SAMHSA, 2016).
Despite an evident need of government spending and support, Trump’s administration seems to have done nothing but invite chaos and mayhem into the lives of the indigenous, beginning with the turmoil surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. By order of the President’s power through an executive decision, the construction will continue and will destroy sacred burial grounds and contaminate drinking water (HUFFPOST, 2017). Additionally, numerous forms of police brutality - often associated with African-Americans and not natives - have been displayed against protesters struggling to protect their rightfully owned land. Examples of this include excessive force, unlawful arrests, and mistreatment in jail, reaching a point whereby even the United Nations has decided to interfere. It is also interesting to note that the original pipeline route was intended to traverse the north of Bismarck in North Dakota, a predominantly white area, as opposed to the sacred Indian burial ground, yet was re-routed for fear of contaminating the water supply in the north of Bismarck. However, when the same concerns arose for colored citizens, their needs were overlooked, with the reasoning being claims of overall benefit through job creation. One wonders why this approach of utilitarianism only applies when those who suffer are not of European descent.
Regrettably, the meddling and disruption has not ended there. Speculation exists that Trump’s proposed ‘wall’ may drive right through the heart of a reservation located on the US-Mexico border in Southern Arizona, splitting the land in half, and once again, breaking an almost 200 year old treaty deal by disregarding the reservation’s autonomy . Panic arose when Republican Arizona State Senator John McCain was questioned on his position concerning the reservation wall, to which his office did not respond. Arizona’s other State Senator, Jeff Flake, commented on the matter saying that in order to ensure security across the US-Mexico border, it “might mean a wall in some places or a fence in others”, indicating that he will not be fighting against any disturbance this may cause to the reservation’s community (VOA, 2017).
Despite the aforementioned statistics entailing the progress - or lack thereof - of Native Americans in conjunction with the rest of the nation, the Trump administration has also speculated that it may reduce or remove funding for several programs intended to instill success in native communities, including education programs, law enforcement & safety programs, as well as climate change and housing assistance. One can clearly deduce from this sequence of events that Trump is no supporter of affirmative action, arguing that “My administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.” (Capriccioso, 2017). In essence, Trump implies that programs related to race may be deemed illegal.
Even if this were to be the case, it must be stressed that these benefits have not been given out on the basis of ethnicity but are in fact built on the ‘centuries-long political relationship between tribes and the United States’ (Capriccioso, 2017), as maintained by the National American Indian Housing Council.
Historical mistreatment of Natives is not just evident within United States, but also within its northern neighbour Canada. There exists no better description of the Canadian government's aims towards the treatment of the aboriginal First Nations than, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child”. Historically, it has been highly debated whether the term ‘genocide’ can be used to chronicle the removal and separation of 150,000 Indigenous children from their families to attend ‘residential schools’. While most of the 139 Indian Residential Schools ceased to operate by the mid-1970s, the last federally-run school closed in the late 1990s, marking the beginning of perhaps the deepest intergenerational damage thrust upon Canada’s natives.
The 19th century Canadian government believed that the best chance for success was for the aboriginal people to learn English and adopt Christian values, and thus we witnessed an abolition of native traditions. Its policy of ‘aggressive assimilation’ was to be taught at church-run, government-funded residential schools run under the Department of Indian Affairs. With agents deployed to ensure that all native children attended, 1,100 students were enrolled at the 69 schools nationwide, and in 1931, at the peak of the system, 130 schools operated in every province save Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. These academic institutions were born out of the assumption that aboriginal culture was ‘unable to adapt to a rapidly modernizing society’ and that native children could only be successful if they spoke English or French and assimilated into mainstream Canadian society. (CBCNEWS, 2013)
In answering whether or not Canada thus committed genocide against First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, comes the definition of genocide; defined in international law through the UNGC that prosecutors prove perpetrators had a specific intent to commit genocide (dolens specialis). This provision makes it difficult on a legal level to argue that genocide occurred over the long history of the IRS system in Canada. However, the conditions suffered by the aboriginal children gave way for the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement being approved by all parties in May 2006. Substandard conditions including physical abuse for speaking their native tongues, as well as convictions of sexual abuse arose in gender-segregated activities. Forms of psychological abuse included being 10 months away from their families and all correspondence written in English, which their families couldn't read. According to documents obtained by the CBC, schools also carried out nutritional experiments on malnourished students in the 1940s and 50s with the federal government’s knowledge, (CBCNEWS, 2013).As outlined in the IAP, sexual and physical assaults which were committed by an adult employee of the residential school or another adult who was lawfully on the premises and any other wrongful act or acts committed by an adult employee or another adult lawfully on the premises where the abuse caused serious psychological consequences for the claimant.
The implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement began on September 19, 2007. The Settlement Agreement included five different elements to address the legacy of Indian Residential Schools: a Common Experience Payment (CEP) for all eligible former students of Indian Residential Schools, an Independent Assessment Process (IAP) for claims of sexual or serious physical abuse, measures to support healing such as the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program and an endowment to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, commemorative activities and the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). (Government of Canada, 2017)
On June 11, 2008, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all its citizens, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons to acknowledge the intergenerational damage caused by this policy to former students of Indian Residential Schools, their families and communities; to offer an Apology; and to ask for forgiveness from the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly. The Apology underlined Canadians' resolve to learn from these tragic events to ensure they will never be repeated. “The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a Government, and as a country. There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again. You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey. The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.” (Government of Canada, 2010).
There is a huge chasm in public perception and belief that ranges on the one hand from those who whitewash history and deny the impact of these atrocities on Aboriginal peoples to those who admit to past wrongdoings and move forward to begin the politics of reconciliation. The neo-conservative right in Canada fears a truthful telling of the history of governmental-Aboriginal relationships. This fear is easily understood; to admit the history is to admit to both a record of racism in the past and to the possibility of continued racism against Aboriginal peoples in the present. It is time to end this denial, to acknowledge the truth about our recent past, and to accept that the mainstream of Aboriginal peoples should never be forgotten. Only then will an era of true reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples begin. (Adapted from Wayne Warry, Ending Denial: Understanding Aboriginal Issues).
Capriccioso, R. (2017, June 6). Trump Budget Serves Deep Cuts in Many Indian Areas. Retrieved September 2, 2017, from Indian Country Today: https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/politics/tribal-budget-serves-deep-cuts-indian-areas/
CBCNEWS. (2013, July 30). Aboriginal nutritional experiments had Ottawa's approval. Retrieved from CBCNEWS: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/aboriginal-nutritional-experiments-had-ottawa-s-approval-1.1404390
Government of Canada. (2010, September 15). Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Retrieved from Statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools : http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100015644/1100100015649
Government of Canada. (2017, August 15). Statistics on the Implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Retrieved from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1315320539682/1315320692192
HUFFPOST. (2014, July 7). The Education System Is Failing Native American Students. Here’s Proof. Retrieved September 1, 2017, from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/native-american-education_n_5593253.html
HUFFPOST. (2017, January 24). HUFFPOST. Retrieved August 29, 2017, from Native Americans Ready To Battle Trump Over Dakota Access Pipeline: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/native-americans-trump-dakota-access-pipeline_us_5887ca3de4b098c0bba73a30
Indian Health Service. (2017, April). Indial Health Disparities Disparities. Retrieved September 3, 2017, from Indian Health Service: https://www.ihs.gov/newsroom/includes/themes/responsive2017/display_objects/documents/factsheets/Disparities.pdf
SAMHSA. (2016, February 18). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved September 1, 2017, from Sunrise House: https://www.samhsa.gov/specific-populations/racial-ethnic-minority
U.S Census Bureau. (2013, February). Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007-2011. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf
VOA. (2017, May 3). Native Americans Fear Loss of Culture Over Trump's Border Wall. Retrieved August 30, 2017, from VOA: https://www.voanews.com/a/native-americans-fear-loss-of-culture-over-trump-border-wall/3836769.html