I spend eight hours of my day researching the trying conditions of people living in third world countries. My parents are (understandably) afraid that I will flee the country and resurface somewhere in Africa. But what I’ve recently realized is there are people living in third-world conditions right in our first-world country. One of the most impoverished ethnic groups is the Native Americans.
Of course, the only reason why the Native Americans are making the news right now is because of the New York Mets. The Mets recently approached the American Indian Community House (AICH) to offer them a chance at collaboration to host a Native America Heritage Day. And then they happened to schedule the Atlanta Braves game for the same day. The name of the team, obviously, derives for the Native American nickname for a warrior. They Mets really weren’t sure who was worse to offend, but in the end they decided to stay on good terms with their fellow baseball team, deeply offending the AICH, who promptly pulled their sponsorship.
And though it has been widely criticized as a flop, Johnny Depp’s latest film The Lone Ranger is stirring up feelings of anger for his casting as Tonto, though Depp insists many tribes offered their blessing. Even if the movie doesn’t excel in the box offices, Depp’s net worth is still high enough the he recently announced plans to buy Wounded Knee, a 40-acre tract of land considered to be sacred ground for Sioux. In 1890, the South Dakota land was the site of a bloody massacre that left 300 Sioux dead. Reports indicate that Depp intends to purchase the land in order to return it to the Sioux.
It is undeniable that the Native Americans deserve at least this meager piece of their land back. But there are greater, more pressing dangers, namely the fear their culture is slipping away and being combined with American culture to such an extent that it becomes unrecognizable. The Indian Health Services has at best half the money it needs to properly service its patients. Oftentimes, its money only lasts till May, and those who get sick afterwards cannot rely on modern medicine. As Native American funding comes primarily from the government, sequestration is only serving to exacerbate a growing concern. Legislation has consistently shortchanged the Native American community. An unreasonably high amount of treaties between the U.S. government and the Native Americans remain unfulfilled. They subsist on a trail of broken promises and elaborate loopholes.
If you take a minute to look around, you can see the fingerprints of Native American culture everywhere. It’s a simple as looking at enough street signs and town names (my home state of Connecticut comes from the Algonquin word for “long tidal river”). But don’t just think of Native Americans on Thanksgiving, or when you eat beef jerky, play the flute, or watch a lacrosse game (all of which can be traced to Native American culture). The next time you consider sending aid to a third-world country, look outside your doorstep.