We Have Betrayed the Native American Population

Cindy Casey
10 min readJul 6, 2020

Pandemic Diary Post #50

Medicine Man — killed at Wounded Knee — photo Wikipedia
Medicine Man — killed at Wounded Knee — photo Wikipedia

July 6, 2020

Black Lives Matter has been taking over the news in the last few months and that is a good thing. Raising awareness of the atrocities heaped upon our Black and Brown citizens is the first step in healing this nation.

But the voices of our Native American population have been pretty much been sidelined, until 45s visit to South Dakota.

In California we have two men, John Sutter, and Father Junipero Serra, whose statues are being re-thought because of their barbarity towards indigenous people. Across the country other symbols of oppression are being considered, such as Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus and Spanish colonizer Juan de Onate in New Mexico. It is time to bring the Native American population into the discussion and look at these symbols of tyranny through their eyes.

In 1995 my father and I were discussing Russell Means book Where White Men Fear to Tread. In hearing some of my conversation my mother asked if these things were true. The glossing over of the atrocities white man perpetrated against Native Americans was not taught when my mother was in school, but it was no better when I went through the California public school system either.

For school, I visited Sutter’s Fort and all the Missions that Father Serra built, and in both those places the Indians were reported as having been just a part of the great big family of inclusion. Myths die hard.

I knew nothing of the Trail of Tears or other horrible events that white man reigned down on Native Americans until I read Means book.

Lack of education, especially history, other than the white washed versions we get in American schools is one reason we have prejudice and disdain towards those that “aren’t the same as us”, running rampant in this country.

“History often teaches us to embrace ambiguity, to understand there aren’t simple answers to complex questions, and Americans tend to like simple answers to complex questions.”- Lonnie Bunch, III, Secretary of the Smithsonian

If you are listening to the news you will know that Native American populations are suffering Covid-19 in large numbers, disproportional to their per capita numbers.

Social demographer Desi-Rodriquez Lonebear, a Cheyenne, told the Guardian Newspaper “Health disparities are nice words for systematic racism … it’s the residual effects of the founding of this country.”

In Arizona, Native Americans have suffered 16% of the states Covid-19 related deaths while they make up only 6% of the population. In New Mexico one-third of Covid-19 cases are Native Americans and yet they are less than 10% of the population. (figures are from April 2020)

The Navajo Nation, which spans the states of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico Covid-19 infection rates are so high, that if they were a state they would rank third in the country for confirmed cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Native Americans experience diabetes three times more than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, and have the highest rates of asthma. Before the pandemic, the federal health system serving Native Americans was already chronically underfunded. The Indian Health Services (IHS)is a federal healthcare system that serves 2.5 million tribal citizens in 37 states.

Congress has long failed to allocate enough money to meet Native American health needs. In 2016 it set the Indian Health Service budget at $4.8 billion. Those monies are allocated to serve a population of 3.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives and amounts to $1,297 per person. Compare that to the $6,973 per inmate spent in the federal prison system.

Due to legalized casinos on tribal lands Native American tribes have seen an increase in per capital income. However widespread poverty still persists, born out with issues such as only 40% of all home in the Navajo Nation have running water. The median income for a Native household in the U.S. is about $39,700, considerably less than the $57,600 for American households overall.

Due to the Pandemic, tribal income from casinos and other aspects of tourism has dried up completely. This is often their only source of income. This is important, because, unlike state and county governments tribes can not collect enough taxes to pay for the wide range of governmental services that are needed. So with the tax base down to zero there is not enough money to run important services such as health clinics.

Not honoring America’s commitment to the Native American health is just one of many injustices heaped upon them.

I spoke of the Trail of Tears. If you are like many American’s unaware of this period of genocide in our country let me give you a very quick rundown.

In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. These Native American’s faced whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera, starvation, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of over 15,000 Cherokees died on the 800 mile journey by foot in an unusually harsh winter. Most of the dead were buried in unmarked graves. It was said that no one under 6 or over 60 survived the hideous march west.

This was just part of Jackson’s betrayal of the indigenous population. He was directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Native Americans, beginning with the Creek War of 1813. Thousands of Muscogee Creek people died in that conflict. Jackson led armies, largely composed of Tennessee volunteers, who had no compunction against including noncombatants, women and children in their killing sprees.

Jackson’s abuse of the Creek Indians can be found in his letters home.
“I detached Genl John Coffee with part of his Brigade of Cavalry and mounted men to destroy Creek Town,” he wrote, referring to an area in what is now Alabama.

Nay I may say the safety of our Frontier, and that a speedy end may be put to indian hosti[li]ty imperiously demand it. I shall wait no longer than the 20th. or 25th. instant. With such arms and supplies as I can obtain I shall penetrate the creek Towns, untill the Captive, with her Captors are delivered up, and think myself Justifiable, in laying waste their villiages, burning their houses, killing their warriors and leading into Captivity their wives and children, untill I do obtain a surrender of the Captive, and the Captors

Modern history is not being any kinder to Native American lands.

The Keystone Pipeline has been in the news quite a bit over the last several years. The pipeline would run for 2151 miles from southern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, crossing through six states and the territories of numerous tribes from the Dene and Creek Nations to the Omaha, Ho-chunk and Panka tribes.

Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network states that their primary concern in the building of the pipeline is that the State Department’s permitting process has overlooked tribal treaties with the federal government.

Earlier this year a federal judge in Montana ordered the army corps to suspend all filling and dredging activities until it conducts formal consultations compliant with the Endangered Species Act. Where this goes is anyone’s guess.

Moon House in Bears Ear’s National Park — Moon House is a multi-room cliff dwelling named for its celestial pictograph dating from the 1200s.

The Bears Ears National Monument was created at the request of Native Americans. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation recognizing the area’s “extraordinary archaeological and cultural record” and the land’s “profoundly sacred” meaning to many Native American tribes.

Eleven months later, in early December of 2017, Trump reduced Bears Ears by 85 percent, following a uranium firm’s concerted lobbying effort led by Andrew Wheeler, who now heads the Environmental Protection Agency.

Then we have Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. It has been in the news due to Trump’s holding 3rd of July ceremonies there, replete with previously banned fireworks.

In the Treaty of 1868, the U.S. government promised the Sioux, territory that included the Black Hills, in perpetuity. Like Bears Ears almost 150 years later, that treaty lasted only until gold was found in the mountains in the 1870s. The federal government then forced the Sioux to relinquish the Black Hills portion of their reservation.

And, just in case you are tempted to say that is old history, you should know that in in 1980, after decades of filing claims, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sioux Nation, acknowledging that the Black Hills had been appropriated illegally by the US government when it broke the treaty of 1868.

A little side history about the faces of Mt. Rushmore. The mountain was known to the Lakota Sioux as “The Six Grandfathers” named after the ancestral spirits (the earth, the sky and the four directions) who came to Lakota medicine man Black Elk in a vision. President Calvin Coolidge authorized workers to turn “The Six Grandfathers” into the carved edifice we know today, bearing the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

South Dakota was also the site of the last major defeat of Native Americans at the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890.

Burial of frozen Native American corpses in mass graves after the Battle of Wounded Knee — photo from Wikipedia

In his bestselling book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown explains that the “battle” was actually a massacre where hundreds of unarmed Sioux women, children, and men were shot and killed by U.S. troops.

While not intending to argue the merits of the Mt. Rushmore faces, it is important to hear the voices of the original land owners. “Visitors look upon the faces of those presidents and extol the virtues that they believe make America the country it is today,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “Lakota see the faces of the men who lied, cheated and murdered innocent people whose only crime was living on the land they wanted to steal.”

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Photo from @LaikenJordahl on Twitter
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Photo from @LaikenJordahl on Twitter

Trump’s border wall is another travesty being forced upon the land and an assault against the Native American population. A section of the wall is to be built on Monument Hill at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located on the Roosevelt Reservation.

This 516-square-mile park is home to more than two dozen unique species of cactus and countless varieties of wildlife. It was designated a UNESCO ecological preserve in 1976.

A 123-page internal report from the park service obtained by The Washington Post via the Freedom of Information Act warned that the border wall’s construction could damage 22 archaeological sites at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

According to tribal leaders, as well as archaeologists, Monument Hill is also home to a Native American burial site.

Members of Tohono O’odham Nation can trace the cultural significance of Monument Hill quite a ways back with possible references in letters written by Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary that proselytized in the area in the late 1600s.

According to Peter Steere, the tribe’s historic preservation officer “This hill, from the information we’ve been able to gather, was used by Hia-C’ed O’odham for religious ceremonies,” “This is also a place, when the Apache were raiding out here, if the Apache warrior was killed, his body was placed on this hill.”

The Trump administration has used a little known law written after 9/11 to build his wall. The REAL ID Act of 2005 gives the federal government broad power to waive other laws that stand in the way of “national security”. Under REAL ID, the Trump administration has steamrolled over dozens of laws — including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Environmental Protection Act — in its frantic attempt to build the wall.

It is time America started to take a good look at herself, we have a lot to atone for.

I find strength everyday watching the uprising of our nation against these injustices. This is a time of revolution, and it is a time of evolution. We have an opportunity to rectify so many wrongs in this time of world disturbance, let us hope the road forward is begun with a step in the right direction.

I hope you liked this article, if so please clap and let me know. Thank you.

Trivial Things

My Horoscope for today: You surprise yourself with an unexpected outburst of anger. It should be perfectly obvious that you’ll no longer countenance others telling you what to do.

San Francisco weather: 63 degrees and breezy

NYSE DOW opened at: 25996

NYSE DOW one year ago: 26835

Foreign word of the day: To get some fresh air

Spanish: Ventilarse
Italian: Ventilare

OED word of the day: alembic, n. (Chemistry An early apparatus used for distilling, consisting of two connected vessels, a typically gourd-shaped cucurbit (cucurbit n.1 1) containing the substance to be distilled, and a receiver or flask in which the condensed product is collected. Occasionally also: spec. the lid or head

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 117

Reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace / Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado/ Hagard Hawks and Paltry Poltroons by Paul Anthony Jones

Studying: History and Context of Russian Literature

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly from the Internet:



Cindy Casey

My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.