The Problem with Indigenous People Day

By Zachary Wright, Copy Editor

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Map of Native American reservations. Courtesy of Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Before anyone misunderstands this article, I do not have a problem with people getting to know and celebrate the beauty in Native American culture. I’m glad that Native Americans are getting some sort of recognition beyond controversial events like building the Dakota Access Pipeline or just a mere, few paragraphs in a history textbook, I do have one problem with it as a whole. For replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People Day, it’s like saying sorry without actually meaning it.

To me, it is more of an apology on behalf of Columbus himself, not on the atrocities committed within our borders in times past. Keep in mind, these atrocities are one in the same. Entire cultures have been destroyed, entire languages and histories are gone, and entire groups of people are extinct.

Even still, there are tribes, not just in the United States even, that are facing extinction. My tribe is one of them. As a Native American, this is very concerning to me.

For one day, at least in more liberal cities and universities, we celebrate the culture with a parade but yet, so few care to understand or help fix the issues Native Americans face daily. It almost comes off as, “Hey, look what we’re doing for you now,” but there’s no attention given to us after. It’s almost like a trend, one of those that comes along for months and then the hype dies down later. Once the day is over, we’re forgotten about, left alone to face the exact problems others who are not facing them are so quick to help resolve. We’re accustomed to protesting, fighting for other noble causes but there’s little regard when it comes to the struggles Native Americans face.

I often wonder if people who celebrate understand the problems, on and off our reservations. Would they understand the quality of life many Native Americans have, especially that of those living on reservations? While there are some reservations that can provide for their people, we have to keep in mind those tribes are often well funded, have wealthy members of that tribe, and have basic necessities like quality food, clean water, have access to a decent education, and aren’t living in overcrowded homes.

For others, much like my reservation, many have no choice but to go without even the most basic necessities and needs. Quite simply, reservations were never meant to save us. No reservation is even owned by the tribe that inhabits it. Each year, the laws that are meant to protect Native Americans on reservations are broken by various ways.

Many reservations are essentially third world countries – rural ghettos that are scattered across the nation like broken glass across the floor. Native American poverty rates are also among the highest of any communities in the nation at 28 percent of Native Americans living in extreme poverty.

That is almost double the national average. Without career or educational opportunities that are lacking for a majority of reservations, it is difficult to get out of extreme poverty. Many make enough to barely take care of themselves, let alone an entire family. It is something to wonder about the people who are so quick to be an ally for others who live under constant scrutiny, but essentially turn a blind eye to this – which is caused by extreme discrimination, hatred, and oppression. Now, I support causes that help others, but is it too much to say for that Indigenous People Day is essentially a half hearted apology that still doesn’t actually say anything about what happened to Native Americans in the U.S?

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