Indigenous Peoples’ Day: American First Nations Continue to Struggle Against Racism, Poverty
In the United States today, there are 574 federally recognized tribes, as well as numerous others that enjoy recognition at state level or which have no official status. Roughly 9.6 million people, or 2.9% of the US population, claim Native American descent on either one or both sides of their family. The vast majority of them do not live on specialized reservation lands set aside for tribes.
According to US government statistics, one-quarter of Native Americans live in poverty - the highest poverty rate of any racial or ethnic group. That rate is even higher on reservations, which often have few well-paying jobs or quality educational facilities. In addition, Native Americans on average are paid just 60% of the wages of their white counterparts.
Their lands are also used for weapons testing, the most notorious examples being the more-than-100 nuclear bombs detonated in Nevada and New Mexico, which irradiated the land and water, poisoning those who were exposed and denying the land’s use to others for decades - and possibly even centuries - after.
500 Years of Colonization and Decline
When 13 of the British colonies in North America declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States, European settlement was restricted to a strip of land along the Atlantic coast no greater than 300 miles wide, and patchy settlements in what was then a northern part of New Spain. Although many Native tribes had been driven off those coastal lands, the rest of the continent fell under their sovereignty and they were recognized as independent nations that concluded treaties with European states.
Indigenous people heroically resisted, forming coalitions and mounting guerrilla campaigns against the US Army and the many settler caravans crossing their territory. However, in the end there were simply far too many settlers and they could not compete with technology like the rifle, the railway, and the barbed wire fence.