Why are Native American reservations so impoverished


After Columbus' discovery, North America was populated by numerous ethnic groups (English, French, Germans ...). More and more settlers poured in needed space, so cities came into being. Industry developed that also took up space. So the US government took drastic measures to satisfy the growing hunger for land. They took the land from the indigenous people, who now began to fight for their way of life. The Indian Wars broke out and killed more than 400,000 natives between 1790 and 1891. Hundreds of thousands died of epidemics. Little by little the land was depopulated by the Indians. The survivors were driven to areas of land that were considered economically insignificant on behalf of the government. The soil was barren. This is where the reservations were made. If one still needed this land, one appropriated it through breaches of treaty. The tribes were relocated and were given even more barren land. These government policies caused great suffering to the Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Reservations (also reserves) are protected areas. In the United States of America and Canada, it is the residential areas of the Indians. They received it from both governments as property, which was not for sale. In 1786 the first reservations were established in the USA. They were administered by the Department of the Interior in Washington and the Office of Indian Affairs. It was run by an Indian commissioner. So-called Indian agents lived on the reservation in the Indian agencies and were the contact between the government and the Indian leaders.

As new immigrants came to America from Europe, the reservations became smaller and smaller in the course of American history - sometimes even dissolved. The railway companies and unscrupulous property speculators were responsible for this, but also the settlers, adventurers and prospectors. They simply disregarded government contracts. Another reason was the ignorance of the living conditions of the Indians.

The prairie tribes should give up their tipi and build huts instead, and instead of hunt, do agriculture. For the proud warriors, fieldwork was women's work. It was also humiliating to dress like white people and cut your hair.

Oklahoma was the great Indian territory. In the nineties of the 19th century, contrary to the agreements concluded, it was released for settlement by the whites. In Canada the Indians became citizens with equal rights and the reservations were not affected.

Reservation land was not the same as Indian land. Twenty-five percent of the US's 258 reservations are land that the government can decide on what land to lease to white farmers and corporations. The companies can pass on their lease rights to other companies - e.g. B. for the construction of roads, for the construction of power plants and for the settlement of other industries. There is no federal law in the United States that regulates the restoration of a landscape that has been destroyed by mining.

When it was discovered that the reservation areas were rich in natural resources, a campaign began to depopulate the reservations. Coal, oil, uranium and rare minerals were discovered which are important natural resources for the economy and industry. Attempts were made under the Eisenhover government to finally solve the Indian problem by trying to lure the Indians into the cities through resettlement and integration. The BIA was responsible for this matter. Keeping the standard of living on the reservations low supported this policy.

Large deposits of coal and oil were discovered in Oklahoma in the 1950s. The BIA supported the corporations by passing on false information to the tribal councils and promising large compensation. Most of the money went to the tribes - what a coincidence, but so did the BIA.

Large coal deposits were discovered in the area of ​​the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana in 1966 - likewise in Wyoming and Dakota. Electricity companies were interested in these deposits. Cheyenne and Crow were the tribes affected.

The most extreme example of corporate exploitation of Indian land is the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Of the 9 million acres of land left, 3 million are mostly prairie land. 25 percent of it has been leased to whites for 50 years. 270 Indian families share the rest of the land on which they farm and raise cattle. However, the soil is so poor that it cannot be used optimally - let alone profits can be made.
When they wanted to work the land together in order to achieve better results, the BIA refused the funds for agricultural machinery and for cattle. 11,350 Oglala-Sioux live in this reservation, 50 percent are unemployed and only 1,500 of them have a regular income. 70 percent of families live in inhumane housing. Since there is not enough money back and forth, the electricity connection is often blocked - even in winter. This is a situation that often leads to offenses.

But there are also examples where hope arises after 100 years of decline.

A four-story casino - the Turning Stone Casino Resort - rises in the middle of pine groves and cornfields in the Oneida reservation in New York State. The boss and also the general manager is Ray Halbritter - an Indian of the Oneida tribe. The New York Times once called him the most dangerous warrior of all time, as he knew how to beat the whites with his own means - money and academic education. Its business success is based on the legal situation in the USA that guarantees the Indian reservations extensive autonomy. Goods can be offered tax-free, as can the issue of gaming licenses.

Otherwise banned in the USA, casinos and bingo halls are being built on the reservations, which are the most important sources of income for the Indians. The Oneida make hundreds of millions of dollars a year from roulette and blackjack. But the Oneida don't just want to make money through casinos, they want their hunting grounds back. In the 18th century it was 120,000 hectares, almost 100 years later only 13 hectares. They have now been able to buy back 5,000 hectares, but are demanding 100,000 hectares of their former tribal area in one of the largest land lawsuits. You have a good chance of achieving this.

Today (2000) 556 tribes and groups are recognized. Almost 2 million Indians live in the USA - a third of them on reservations. 370 contracts concluded between the government and the Indians regulate health and social care, the payment of pensions and services to the Indians on the reservations. 351 mostly smaller spots are Indian territory.

No matter where the Indian population lives today - on reservations, among the whites in the cities or in their pueblos - they often fail due to the conditions of American society - so that they no longer want to be Indians. Here are a few reasons:

- About a third live below the poverty line (13 percent average in the US).
- A third leave schools without a school leaving certificate.
- One in six young people tried to take their own life - that is, suicide
at risk (4 times higher than the usual average in the USA)
- One in four of the Indians at the universities is endangered by alcohol
- A third of all Indians die before they reach the age of 45
Diseases associated with alcohol (almost 5 times higher than the average).

There are positive as well as negative examples in the Navaho reservation in the southwest of the USA - an area almost the size of Bavaria. 170,000 Navaho live in this area, making the tribe the largest in the United States. They control their reserve on their own. There are schools, hospitals, their own fire brigade and police on the territory of the reserve. The government transfers grants annually, otherwise only the FBI takes care of the Navahos when there is a crime. The capital of Navaho is Window Rock. It consists of numerous social buildings, a few stalls and other buildings. The city lies in a valley basin. The unemployed line the supermarkets. Alcohol is forbidden, so you can drink a $ 2 brew of water and hairspray. The intoxication occurs after a few sips. This mixture is harmful to your health, but where do you get the money for licensed alcohol, which is only 10 kilometers away from the city.

Most Navaho do not live in cities, but in rural areas. They live in trailers and raise horses and sheep, grow corn and pumpkin and weave their beautiful carpets. The Navaho have little money, their wealth is their flock. Those who master rituals are also considered rich.

The Navaho tribe took the organization into their own hands. The government grants are used in a targeted manner. They go to impoverished families in order to finance a new beginning on their own. Affected people and social workers put together a plan that will help them out of need. They receive further training, debt relief and withdrawal treatments to lead them out of social dependency. - Only now is the money flowing.

Any Navaho can stay in the reservation. Here they can speak Navaho and take part in all traditional ceremonies. Only when they need tools do they have to go into the world of whites. In this way they can feel a form of dignity that the state has long denied them. They can live, dwell, speak and keep their faith like their ancestors.

The reason why the BIA reacts as described above is simply because it is subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, to which departments for mining, electricity supply, hydropower ... are connected.

The figures vary between this page and the 20th century page. On the latter page are the figures from 1972 and here - on this page - are the figures from the year 2000.

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