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Data

Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Native Americans in the United States of America

View Group Chronology

United States of America Facts
Area:    9,372,614 sq. km.
Capital:    Washington, DC
Total Population:    270,312,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

Although there has been a history of militant activity in the past, it is unlikely that Native Americans in the United States will use this strategy in the future. While unlikely, it is impossible to rule out such action entirely. The group's economic situation is extremely poor, and there does not appear to be a lot of hope for a reversal of this situation any time soon. The group does not possess the risk factors usually associated with protest, such as repression, political and cultural restrictions or a fragile democracy, but protest is likely. The group has used protest throughout the past century and is likely to continue. The indigenous movement has gained attention throughout the world, and the Native Americans have numerous issues which need to be addressed. Native Americans are among the poorest, least educated people in the country and suffer from sub-standard health and housing conditions. In large part, this is not due to current discrimination but, rather is a result of past government discrimination and the conditions of life on reservations. At the same time, however, there is some discrimination in society. Affirmative action programs created by state and federal governments to alleviate discrimination seem to be a double-edged sword for Native Americans. While they do not seem to benefit from these programs as much as other ethnic groups do, they do suffer from the backlash which affirmative action has engendered among whites and others with more strictly merit-oriented inclinations. Until these issues and various land rights are resolved, the likelihood of continued protests is high.

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Analytic Summary

Until the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, Native Americans were the sole inhabitants of North America. With European expansion and the Indian Wars ending with the Battle of Wounded Knee, the Native population has been reduced to a marginal group in American society. Almost half of the Native American population (those who self-identify themselves as such) live on various reservations across the country (GROUPCON = 1). The Native American population is comprised of several different bands and tribes, including Inuit in Alaska. Due to this variety of groups and interests, the Native Americans do not compromise a cohesive group. The group speaks a variety of native languages, and most also speak English (LANG = 1). The group also has ancients customs (CUSTOM = 1) different from the majority group. The group is also easily identifiable due to their race, although there has been intermixture over the years (RACE = 2).

Native Americans face serious demographic disadvantages due mainly to poor public health conditions. Alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide are serious problems on many reserves. While the group is not currently restricted politically, economically or culturally, there has been a history of discrimination which has left the Native Americans severely under represented and near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder (POLDIS06 = 1; ECDIS06 = 0). Unemployment on some reservations is 50 percent or higher. The U.S. government has a trust responsibility toward its Native Americans. This means that the government must act in the best interests of native peoples. The trust relationship also means that Native American groups do not own their land outright. Their land may not be leased, mortgaged or transferred without federal as well as tribal approval. One result of federal control of Native American lands has been serious environmental problems. People who leased Native American land often left behind polluted water and soil. The federal government did not deal with these problems, and the tribes did not usually have the resources to do so. One area where the Native Americans have attempted to improve their economic status is through gambling on their reservation. These casinos have brought millions of dollars to the tribes who have managed to secure them. While the group still faces racism and discrimination by the society as a whole, there have been no reports of overt government repression. Communal conflict between Natives and European Americans has occurred at the level of harassment but no fatalities have been reported in recent years (INTERCON04-06 = 1)..

Native Americans are represented by national organizations such as the American Indian Movement, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indian Youth Council (GOJPA06 = 2). While these groups claim to represent all of the Native Americans, they appear to lack the influence to adequately address the concerns and demands of the group with federal and state authorities. Among other political demands, Native American organizations frequently call for increased sovereignty rights or full implementation of sovereignty rights legally granted (POLGR06 = 3). Economically, the group is demanding greater economic opportunities and more public funds to deal with the issues that are plaguing their communities, such as soaring unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse (ECGR06 = 2). Another concern of the group is the protection of their lands from outside economic investors wanting access to various natural resources. Culturally, Native Americans have always been concerned with the protection of their culture, traditions and way of life. Recently a new demand has arisen, that being the elimination of sports mascots that are deemed to be derogatory, such as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins (CULGR06 = 1).

The group began protesting their condition in the late 1940s (PROT45X = 1). During the 1970s the protests took on militant tones (REBEL70X = 3), but recently this type of protest has not been seen (REB01-06 = 0). While protest has continued to the present (PROT04-06 = 1) over such issues as racial problems and the stereotypes in sport mascots, its intensity has decreased. However, most of the sport mascot court cases were tried and decided by the beginning of the 21st century. Now tribes will occasionally gather to protest environmental or religious issues, such as oil companies being built on reservations, or motorcycle rallies being too noisy near praying grounds.

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References

Champagne, Duane. 1994. Native America: Portrait of the Peoples. Detroit: Visible Ink Press.

Champagne, Duane, and Michael A. Pare (eds.). 1995. Native North American Chronology. New York: UXL.

Fleras, Augie, and Jean Leonard Elliot. 1992. The Nations Within: Aboriginal-State Relations in Canada, the United States and New Zealand. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Facts on File. 1990-1995.

Keesing's Record of World Events. 1990-1995, 2001-2003.

Keohane, Jeff R. 2006. “The Rise of Tribal Self-Determination and Economic Development.” Human Rights: Journal of the Section of Individual Rights & Responsibilities. 33:2. 9-11.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1995-2006.

National Congress of American Indians. Various reports. http://www.ncai.org.

Ogunwole, Stella. 2002. "The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2000." http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/c2kbr01-15.pdf

Ross, Jeffrey. 2006. Native Americans and the Criminal Justice System. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006