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Problems Facing Native American Indians in the Modern World
The Troubles of the Native American Today
The Native American Indian population of the United States faces serious cultural and social dilemmas that threaten their society. Among these issues are the problems of poverty, alienation and a high rate of alcoholism. There is also the threat of a loss of their cultural identity due to interracial marriages and the large number of young Native Americans who are leaving the territories of the Indian Nations and becoming fully integrated into American culture, leaving the old ways of their cultural history behind.
The Native Americans once ruled the continent until the arrival of settlers who conquered the old American Indian tribes in wars that came close to genocide for the Indians. The victorious American government put aside some land for the remaining Indians to live on, which have become known as reservations. There was an unwillingness to share the same land with the defeated race. These reservations have been the home of most, but not all of the remaining American Indian population. This mass segregation turned the once dominant American Indians into an oppressed minority. There are 24 million Native Americans remaining, which is a very small amount considering the population of the country. The new culture of reservation life that the Indian nations were forced to accept has spawned the new social problems which plague them today.
The isolation of the life on the reservations created serious problems for the American Indians. It limited all the way they used to survive and make economic profit. Farming, hunting and trading were all affected by their new limitations. Their inability to thrive as they had once done led to mass poverty across all the Indian Nations. The US Census says that the poverty rate among the Indian Nations is 25%. For the ones who do have jobs, their average salary tends to be less than is average. The median salary for a Native American is $34,000 per year. Only 30 percent have health insurance. Non-reservation Indians have only a slightly higher standard of living. Despite efforts of the tribes to become more economically independent in recent years, the race that once ruled the continent is now poor and hungry.
The desperation caused by poverty has induced recent generations of young Native American Indians to leave reservation life behind them and travel to other places where they can make a better living and provide for their families. This is causing a slow erosion of those still devoted to the old customs. The languages, traditions and practices that have been the heart of Native American culture for 1,000 years are being replaced more and more every generation that goes by. The old customs are being replaced by American culture, Christianity, the English language and a national educational system that doesn’t know anything about traditional tribal ways. For centuries, American Indian culture was not viewed as a valid culture to teach in schools and it is only recently that Native American studies have entered in academic curriculums.
The old oral tradition of passing down knowledge and tradition from parent to child is becoming a thing of the past. The older Native Americans fear that if the younger generations continue to refuse studying the ways of their ancestors, the history of Indian culture will be lost forever. Similarly, children of mixed cultures who live outside the reservations are often raised in the non-Indian culture and never learn about their other heritage.
The rate of alcoholism among the Native Americans is much higher than the national average. One in every ten American Indian deaths is alcohol related. The rate of alcohol consumption is higher than any other minority ethnic group in this country. Since the Native Americans have long been an oppressed society, the likelihood of alcoholism increases because people who experience depression, unemployment and poverty and statistically more apt to drink to access than others are. The most frequent alcohol related deaths are from car accidents and suicide. Native American women in general drink more than men, which may explain why Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder rates among the Native Americans are the highest in the country.
Every two hours, someone in the United States commits suicide, making it the third highest leading cause of death in the country. Native American Indian males have a rate of suicide which is almost twice that of any other racial group. In fact, the rates may be even higher than reported, since the social stigma of suicide might embarrass a family, its speculated that many suicides are reported as accidental deaths. Further, for each successful suicide, there are approximately 20 aborted or failed attempts.
While there are various factors that influence the possibility of suicide in every ethnic group, there are some which are unique to the Indian nations. The stress and mental trauma of the disintegration of their traditional culture, as well as racial conflicts and alienation. The social alienation, identity confusion and self-hate that so many Native Americans feel are strong reasons for their high alcohol and suicide rates.