Lilajane S. Oregon

Native Americans

Poor treatment of Native Americans and Alaska Natives is evident in education, poverty rates and job earnings, physical and mental health, substance abuse, and the institutional racism that is still very clearly happening today.

Dear President,

The lack of support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives greatly disturbs me. Native Americans and Alaska Natives did experience a genocide, which is poorly discussed and rarely brought to light. This centuries long genocide has resulted in a societal, systemic, and institutional racism towards Native Americans and Alaska Natives, as well as a poor and unequal life quality in the United States. Poor treatment of Native Americans and Alaska Natives is evident in education, poverty rates and job earnings, physical and mental health, substance abuse, and the institutional racism that is still very clearly happening today. It is imperative that you, as the next president of the United States of America, address these issues, and take great strides towards improving the life of Native American and Alaska Native people.

The past treatment of the Native peoples, is an immense issue unto itself, and I would love to discuss it with you, however the problem is so vast, and complex, that I am going to focus mainly on the current situations Native people’s face today.

A very prominent, and alarming situation is the poor education, and unequal academic opportunities Native American children and adolescents have access too. A perfect example of this, is how in 2011, only 18% of Native American fourth graders scored proficient or advanced, and 53% scored below basic in grade level reading. Contrast this to the 42% of white students who scored proficient or advanced, and 23% of white students who scored below basic, in the same subject.(The State of Education for Native Students 2013) The scores are nearly opposite of each other. This also shows that over fifty percent of Native American fourth graders were failing grade level reading in 2011. Why was this permitted? The ability to learn is not, and should not be determined by race. However statistics show otherwise, as demonstrated again, by the same study. In 2011, only 17% of Native eighth graders scored proficient or advanced in grade level math and 46% scored below basic. Scores for their white peers where almost the exact opposite: 43% scored proficient or advanced, and only 17% scored below basic in eighth grade math.(The State of Education for Native Students 2013) This is completely unacceptable. These opposite scores are not a coincident, but very clear evidence towards systemic racism. And they are not the only evidence in our education system.

Evidence is also shown in the improvement rates for fourth grade reading from the year 2005 to the year 2011. This time, the comparisons between Asian/ Pacific Islander, Latino, and African Americans also show drastic differences when compared to the white, and Native American improvement rates. White students improved by 2.1, Asian/Pacific Islander students improved by 7.0, Latino students improved by 4.1, and African American students improved by 6.0. However, it is then discovered that Native American students declined by -0.5.(The State of Education for Native Students 2013) This is very alarming. The decline in Native American fourth grade reading compared to the progress of all the other races, is very obviously the result of systemic racism. A very frightening aspect of this, is the comparison of the rates between African Americans and Native Americans. Both of these races have suffered from systemic racism in the United States, and yet the African American improvement rate is six point five points higher than the Native American declining ‘improvement rate’. This may be a result of things like the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and most recently Black Lives Matter. African Americans had to push back against systemic racism in large movements to get the equality they have today. Which, of course, is not even true equality.

There is even more evidence for systematic racism in public schools. This evidence comes in the form of NAEP scores of fourth grade reading in 2005 and 2011. The average scores for Native American, African American, and Latino students were 203, 199, and 201, respectively, in 2005. In 2011, Native student’s NAEP scores averaged at 202, and both African American, and Latino student’s scores averaged at 205. Similar results are shown in NAEP scores in eighth grade math. Scores in 2005 were 264 for Natives, 254 for African Americans, and 261 for Latinos. In2011, the scores were 265 for Natives, 262 for African Americans, and 269 for Latinos. (The State of Education for Native Students 2013) While it is good that schools across the nation appear to be improving for most minorities, the deterioration of Native student’s scores is quite alarming to say the least. Not to mention the fact, that this unfair education for Native Americans, is in direct violation of Title 20, Chapter 39, Subchapter 1, Code 1701 in the United States Code, that states,’The Congress declares it to be the policy of the United States that-(1) all children enrolled in public schools are entitled to equal education opportunity without regard to race, sex, or national origin:...’(United States Code). One might argue, that the poor education of Native Americans is not violating Code 1701, because most Native American students do not go to public schools. This information, however, is wrong, as 93% of Native students attend public schools.

Disturbingly, this trend [of poor education] continues on beyond elementary school, and into high school and college. In high school, 37% of Native students have not taken Algebra II, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, or Calculus, while only 16% of the entire population hasn’t.(2014 Native Youth Report) Knowing that, the fact that only about 69% of Native students graduate high school in four years, is unfortunately, not that surprising. Of course, 83% of white students graduate in four years, which is also not surprising. Of the Native students who took the ACT college-readiness benchmarks, only 24% scored college ready in math, and 35% scored college ready in reading. The percentages of white student’s scores who scored college ready, are both above 50%, at 54% and 62% for math and reading respectively.(The State of Education for Native Students 2013). These scores are appropriate considering the low-quality education for Native American youth. Obviously, there are major problems with the education system, but that it is doubtful that the education system is the only reason Native American’s suffer extensively.

A huge contender for that, is poverty. In 2009, 68% of Native fourth graders qualified for free or reduced price lunch.(Information on Native Students) The child poverty rate for Native Americans is approximately 34%, the second highest poverty rate by race. The highest is the African American poverty rate, which is 36%.(2014 Native Youth Report) This is not surprising, considering the history of both races in America. It is very unfortunate that this is to be expected. Native Americans and African Americans alike, need your help and support in surpassing these expectations and surviving the hundreds of years of institutional racism.

An obvious way to improve Native poverty rates, is to improve Native median income earnings. According to income data from 2008 to 2012, the median earnings for Native Americans were $21,775, while the median earnings for all workers was $30,000.(2014 Native Youth Report) The median earnings for Native Americans was $8,225 lower than the average median earning. This trend continues, despite higher levels of education. The median wage for all workers with a bachelor's degree or higher, was $51,035, but the median wage for Native workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher was only $41, 263.(2014 Native Youth Report) Native Americans earn, on average, 23.29% less than the average wage. Making that percentage smaller, would definitely improve Native American lives.

Life for Native Americans is just all around poor, so while improving average yearly wages would help, improvement in other areas is definitely needed. Sadly, 40.9% of Native youth aged 2-4 are overweight or obese, the highest percentage of any race or ethnicity.(2014 Native Youth Report) Easier access to healthy foods, and exercising facilities would lower this number. Providing classes for future, or new parents about health and parenting would also help. This is not a matter of differing life values, but of poor access to learning opportunities for parents. Parents just want their children healthy, and if fast food is all they can afford to insure their child eats everyday, that is what they will do. Promoting the importance of physical health, and insuring awareness of healthy versus unhealthy activities and food would help the obesity problem nation-wide.

Physical health is just one aspect of health, though, and another health problem that must be addressed is mental health. Mental health of Native American people, is alarmingly poor. In 2011, about 2,800,000 Native American males, and about 1,000,000 Native American females, between the ages of 15 and 24 committed suicide.(2014 Native Youth Report) The Native American population at the time was about 5,200,000.(American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month:November 2011) The average suicide rate for all races was 1,800,000 for males, and 400,000 for females in the same age group. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Native American male youth ages 15-24.(2014 Native Youth Report) New President, this issue must be addressed as soon as possible. A parallel issue is the Native adolescent’s drug use problems. According to the 2014 Native Youth Report, ‘Compared with the national average for adolescents aged 12-17, Native adolescents had the highest rates of lifetime tobacco product use, marijuana use, nonmedical use of pain relievers, and nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutics.’(2014 Native Youth Report) When remembering the generations and generations of genocide, institutional racism, systematic racism, cultural genocide, oppression, violence and abuse, the fact that Native youth turn to drugs to deal with the intergenerational and transgenerational trauma, as well as their own individual trauma, stress and mental or physical disorders, is not surprising at all, and the Native American community knows it.

Native American suffering needs to stop. It is your duty as our President to bring awareness to these issues, and pursue solutions to the problem. Ensuring educational equality, lowering poverty rates, raising annual earnings, dealing with the poor physical and mental health , and lowering drug use in Native American youth are just a few of the steps you need to take. Obviously, I am not the President, nor do I have any political experience, as I am a junior in highschool, so I cannot, by any means show you all the issues and provide adequate solutions for each one. That, Dear President, is your job. All I can do, is make sure you are aware that this is happening in your country, in our country.

As a sixteen year old Warm Springs and Yakama girl, there is a limit to how much I can change the world. I do not have much money, and my resources and connections are limited. But, still, I try. To me I have succeeded in changing the world if I’ve only changed one person’s life. If I’ve only made one person’s life better, at least I’ve improved one person’s life. Every single human on this Earth, deserves a beautiful life, regardless of age, race, sex, past mistakes, or any other reason societies can come up with to push people down. As President, you have the means to changes billions of lives-that is what your job is. And with great power, comes great responsibility. The responsibility is yours, Dear President, bear it well. (The State of Education for Native Students 2013) (United States Code) (2014 Native Youth Report) (Information on Native Students) (American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month: November 2011)