Civil Rights Crisis being ignored

There is a civil rights crisis in America that remains unspoken. It has nothing to do with Blacks, Hispanics, or Asians. It concerns the indigenous people of America. The very people who settled here long before the first European landed on the shores of our land. The Native American people remain the most impoverished in our country and rarely do we ever hear about them. Rarely do we find campaigns waged on their behalf finding their way into mainstream media. It is almost as if they do not exist, except for old movies where they are depicted as savages or drunks. It is shameful that we allow these noble and great people to live in squalor that matches or rivals that of third world countries. They were here first. It was our ancestors who drove them from their lands, made treaties that we broke, and continue to keep them locked in a vicious cycle of poverty. They need and deserve to be heard. They need and deserve to be given the skills necessary to achieve a higher standard of living.
According to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, 25.3 percent of Native Americans live in poverty and 29.9 percent do not have health insurance. They further state that most tribes do not have casinos or even much tourism due to their remote locations. They give a stark example of how bad it is through a reference to the Blackfoot Reservation located in Montana. Here the unemployment rate is a staggering 69 percent. That is unacceptable for a people who once lived prosperously across our country.
Aside from the location of many of the reservations that the United States Government forced upon the Native Americans being remote from urban areas where employment might be found, the problem of low high school graduation rates hinders a better life for Native Americans. According to an article from Diverse-Issues in Higher Education from 2010, “fewer than 50 percent of Native American and Alaska Native students from the Pacific and Northwest regions of the U.S. graduate from high school.” Graduation rates for Native Americans as a whole “average 46.6 percent” across our country while the graduation rate for other ethnicities in the U.S. range from a high of 77.9 percent for Asians to 50.8 percent for Hispanics (Diverse). Among the reasons given for the high dropout rate for Native Americans, according to the article, are “lack of student engagement, perceived lack of empathy among teachers, passive teaching methods, and lack of parent involvement.” These are problems that can be solved in the educational realm provided the funding exists and teachers are well trained for the needs of Native American students. This is not unlike the widespread efforts that continue to assist students who are speakers of other languages that exist in our schools. The article points out a list of strategies needed to “reduce dropout rates. These strategies include avoiding policies that demean, embarrass, harass, or alienate native students; providing opportunities for students’ involvement in their language and culture; and better preparation for educators who work with American Indians.”
Again, this is much like what educators in areas having large Hispanic or other immigrant populations already must learn and practice in order to reach their non-native students. In those situations, we have dual language classrooms in some areas and mandatory workshops on strategies needed to teach English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). In Florida where I taught, for example, all teachers need at least 60 hours of ESOL training and those teaching English/Language Arts need 300 hours in ESOL training or an ESOL endorsement on their teaching licenses. We also had many schools where the diversity of their students was celebrated through cultural activities highlighting all cultures.
Native American students should be encouraged to learn and share their native culture within their schools. There should be lessons where their cultural diversity should be integrated within the curriculum along with the diversity of the other cultures within their schools. For those Native Americans who are educated on schools located within reservations, they need teachers who are well trained in the culture of the tribe or tribes that are located within the reservation. Those teachers can then embrace that culture and utilize it to enhance the curriculum that will enhance student learning and understanding. Along with this, there needs to be more technology within Native American schools so that the students are able to master the skills necessary for them to bring jobs that are more prosperous to their communities. Native American parents need to be encouraged to get involved in their student’s education through volunteer opportunities. Native American schools need to encourage adults who lack job skills to gain them through classes geared toward their needs. The cycle of poverty that appears rampant on many reservations can be curtailed with education that is delivered in harmony with their cultural beliefs.
Along these lines, more needs to be done to address the severe poverty that grips many who live on the more remote reservations. While tribal laws can sometimes be complicated, surely there must be some way that tribal leaders and those outside the reservations can work together to come to some way to assist those living on reservations in gaining a better infrastructure both physically and technologically. In an ever-increasing global economy, being remote from urban areas should be a bridge that is easily crossed through better technology and technological skills.
Why are we as a country choosing to ignore the situation faced by many Native Americans? Part of their situation is due to our past practices in attempting to exterminate them from what were their lands in the first place; this includes forcing them onto reservation lands that were either far from their native lands or into portions of them that are distant from infrastructure that could assist them in bettering their situation. Therefore, it should fall in part onto us to help them change their circumstances for the better.
As with all of my posts to this blog, I know I do not have the all the answers to the problem. However, I do want to give some food for thought that will hopefully bring about a change for the better.

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