Learning from Ferguson, Part II

Although Red Cloud signed the peace-making Fort Laramie Treaty, he decried reservation life that ensued

Although Red Cloud signed the peace-making Fort Laramie Treaty, he decried reservation life that ensued

Structural issues—poverty, education, advancement opportunities and health disparities—affect communities in significant ways.

Some of the larger issues are being tackled right now, in part because of the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri.

Fortunately some reporters, critics, pundits and politicians are paying attention to the more macrosocial effects on communities.

We can’t just blame the current social unrest on one police officer for one act of violence.

If we do, then we’re ignoring the deeply rooted, contextual features that privilege some groups over others.

On a trip to see family in Pine Ridge, my uncle John said only three generations have passed since our ancestors were corralled onto reservations.

John said the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (signed by several of our relations) was an attempt to make peace between the Sioux and the United States.

The treaty marked the beginning of the reservation system.

Indians were encouraged to camp near forts where rations were doled out. In a short time, most became dependent on the provisions.

One outpost was Pine Ridge, where several of my relatives lived. Here Valentine McGillycuddy, a surgeon who tended to Crazy Horse at his murder in 1878, had been appointed Indian Agent.

McGillycuddy’s job was to civilize the Native. Despite his sympathy for the Indians’ plight, McGillycuddy adopted practices that created greater dependency, thus diminishing the resolve and agency of the Sioux.

He wanted them to learn farming and educate their children in white schools.

Red Cloud hated McGillycuddy, who was starving the Indians. Red Cloud even travelled to Washington to complain, but to no avail.

After becoming titular head of Pine Ridge, McGillycuddy cut so many corners that in a few years he was able to impress Washington by saving $50,000: funds that were earmarked to sustain Indian life.

In a short time reservation life dramatically altered lives. Indians were forbidden from speaking their languages and practicing their religions.

And in the space of just three generations, Indians are held to a standard foreign to their cultural milieu.

The disparity between American Indians and non-Indians is striking. According to the CDC:

• The high school drop-out rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives is 19%–double that all racial groups (9%)

• Poverty rate for the Indian-Alaska group is about 15%, compared with 11% for all racial groups

• Smoking rates for Indian-Alaskans over 18 are 34% compared to whites at 26%

• Tuberculosis is higher for Indian-Alaskans at a rate of 6% while for whites, less than 1%

• Diabetes affects 16% of Indian-Alaskans, who are three-times more likely to die from diabetes compared to all racial groups

• The suicide rate among Indian-Alaskan adolescents and young adults (age 15 to 34) is two and-one-half times higher than other groups

• About 47% of American Indians and Alaska Natives live on reservations or territories designated for indigenous peoples

Statistics show only one way to observe problems that American Indians face.

But one thing is for certain: the issues reflect social and structural barriers to health, education and happiness.

Blog #28 for Native American Heritage Month



About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, authenticity, framing, Indian, journalism, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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