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Cheryl Saban Ph.D. Headshot

Lift our Indian Reservations out of Poverty

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I experience an emotional jolt when I read about our Native American population and the conditions that exist on many of our country's Native American Indian Reservations. The Housing Assistance Council states that "Native Americans living on Native American Lands experience some of the highest poverty rates and worst housing conditions in our nation." Poverty is a persistent problem for Native Americans, but is especially so for those living on Native American Lands.

No matter how we spin it, the "way the West was won," remains a wound in our history that for many, has never properly healed. And it seems we haven't found the methodology for nation-wide healing to occur, either. In today's LA Times, a piece written by David Kelly discusses a trailer park that took shape in 2000 (without permits) on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation. It has now grown to a shantytown with sub-standard wiring, an inadequate sewage system, a dearth of garbage receptacles, and abundant fire hazards. It's unhealthy living for all involved. And this inadequately supported "town" is apparently one of many that have spontaneously developed on Indian lands, without permits, sufficient infrastructure, or funding to implement such standards.

I don't know how to resolve the dilemma of moving a population that has illegally set up house on lands that don't belong to them. Moving these folks now would apparently constitute the biggest forced eviction in recent history. And clearly, this is an issue that exists in other parts of the world, as well. Answers to this conundrum have eluded some of the greatest diplomats of our time.

But this is happening here - in our beloved United States. And the fact that answers are difficult to obtain, is no excuse for not pursuing them. Our Native American foremothers and fathers deserve better. While the national poverty rate for individuals is 12.4 percent, approximately 32.2 percent of Native Americans of Native American lands live in debilitating poverty.

So, while the shantytown shouldn't have been allowed to develop in the first place, now that it exists, I hope that appropriate federal agencies will work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ensure an infusion of funds to this Reservation. Not only to meet the most basic of needs for the existing Native American community members, but to ensure that nobody lives in squalor on Native American Lands. Our Native American ancestors had a proud heritage. Unless we change the devastating cycle of poverty for this current generation, the pride they should be feeling now, will be little more than a memory.

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