Native American Poverty – UN Report

Wow!  Finally . . . the United Nations is now probing Native American poverty.  Hats off to James Anaya,  American James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law.[1] In March 2008, he was appointed by the United Nations as its Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples. Here is James’ website.    

Here is a copy of the news before the investigation started:

UN to investigate plight of US Native Americans for first time

The UN human rights inquiry will focus on the living conditions of the 2.7 million Native Americans living in the US 

 in Washington,, Sunday 22 April 2012 17.20 BST

The UN is to conduct an investigation into the plight of US Native Americans, the first such mission in its history.

The human rights inquiry led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is scheduled to begin on Monday.

Native American Reservation Red Lake Band of Chippewa 2005

Many of the country’s estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.

The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America.

A UN statement said: “This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples.”

Anaya, a University of Arizona professor of human rights, said: “I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States’ endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.”

The US signed up in 2010 to the declaration, which establishes minimum basic rights for indigenous people globally.

Anaya said: “My visit aims at assessing how the standards of the declaration are reflected in US law and policy, and identifying needed reforms and good practices.”
Bathing a child at Pine Ridge Reservation


Apart from social issues, US Native Americans are involved in near continuous disputes over sovereignty and land rights. Although they were given power over large areas, most of it in the west, their rights are repeatedly challenged by state governments.

Most Americans have little contact with those living in the 500-plus tribal areas, except as tourists on trips to casinos allowed on land outside federal jurisdiction or to view spectacular landscapes.

Anaya is originally from New Mexico and is well versed in Native American issues.

He will visit Washington DC, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Oklahoma and South Dakota, and will conclude his trip with a press conference on 4 May. He will present his findings to the next session of the UN human rights council.

Anaya’s past record shows a deep sympathy with Native Americans’ plight. In one development dispute, he told the council that the desecration of sacred sites was an urgent human rights issue.

The Tucson Sentinel reported in 2011 that he had testified to Congress on the need for the US to pass legislation that abides by the declaration.

Also in 2011, he wrote to the Canadian government requesting information about the poor living conditions of aboriginal groups in the country.

Here is an article a while later:

US should return stolen land to Indian tribes, says United Nations

UN’s correspondent on indigenous peoples urges government to act to combat ‘racial discrimination’ felt by Native Americans

 in Washington,, Friday 4 May 2012 23.46 BST

United Nations investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has called on the US government to return some of the land stolen from Indian tribes as a step toward combatting continuing and systemic racial discrimination.

Pine Ridge again

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said no member of the US Congress would meet him as he investigated the part played by the government in the considerable difficulties faced by Indian tribes.

Anaya said that in nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, indigenous communities in Alaska and Hawaii, and Native Americans now living in cities, he encountered people who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies and “numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination”.

“It’s a racial discrimination that they feel is both systemic and also specific instances of ongoing discrimination that is felt at the individual level,” he said.

Anaya said racism extended from the broad relationship between federal or state governments and tribes down to local issues such as education.

“For example, with the treatment of children in schools both by their peers and by teachers as well as the educational system itself; the way native Americans and indigenous peoples are reflected in the school curriculum and teaching,” he said.

“And discrimination in the sense of the invisibility of Native Americans in the country overall that often is reflected in the popular media. The idea that is often projected through the mainstream media and among public figures that indigenous peoples are either gone or as a group are insignificant or that they’re out to get benefits in terms of handouts, or their communities and cultures are reduced to casinos, which are just flatly wrong.”

Close to a million people live on the US’s 310 Native American reservations. Some tribes have done well from a boom in casinos on reservations but most have not.

Anaya visited an Oglala Sioux reservation where the per capita income is around $7,000 a year, less than one-sixth of the national average, and life expectancy is about 50 years.

The two Sioux reservations in South Dakota – Rosebud and Pine Ridge – have some of the country’s poorest living conditions, including mass unemployment and the highest suicide rate in the western hemisphere with an epidemic of teenagers killing themselves.

“You can see they’re in a somewhat precarious situation in terms of their basic existence and the stability of their communities given that precarious land tenure situation. It’s not like they have large fisheries as a resource base to sustain them. In basic economic terms it’s a very difficult situation. You have upwards of 70% unemployment on the reservation and all kinds of social ills accompanying that. Very tough conditions,” he said.

Anaya said Rosebud is an example where returning land taken by the US government could improve a tribe’s fortunes as well as contribute to a “process of reconciliation”.

“At Rosebud, that’s a situation where indigenous people have seen over time encroachment on to their land and they’ve lost vast territories and there have been clear instances of broken treaty promises. It’s undisputed that the Black Hills was guaranteed them by treaty and that treaty was just outright violated by the United States in the 1900s. That has been recognised by the United States supreme court,” he said.

Anaya said he would reserve detailed recommendations on a plan for land restoration until he presents his final report to the UN human rights council in September.

From site of fellow blogger Steve Julian, member of Sagkeeng First Nation, Manitoba, Canada:  Not the US, but hey, who the hell invented the US-Canada Border? . . . Westerners like me who have no business being in Turtle Island (North America) in the 1st place . . . 

“I’m talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not devisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation,” he said.

But any such proposal is likely to meet stiff resistance in Congress similar to that which has previously greeted calls for the US government to pay reparations for slavery to African-American communities.

Anaya said he had received “exemplary cooperation” from the Obama administration but he declined to speculate on why no members of Congress would meet him.

“I typically meet with members of the national legislature on my country visits and I don’t know the reason,” he said. 

Last month, the US justice and interior departments announced a $1 billion settlement over nearly 56 million acres of Indian land held in trust by Washington but exploited by commercial interests for timber, farming, mining and other uses with little benefit to the tribes.

The attorney general, Eric Holder, said the settlement “fairly and honourably resolves historical grievances over the accounting and management of tribal trust funds, trust lands and other non-monetary trust resources that, for far too long, have been a source of conflict between Indian tribes and the United States.”

But Anaya said that was only a step in the right direction.

“These are important steps but we’re talking about mismanagement by the government of assets that were left to indigenous peoples,” he said. “This money for the insults on top of the injury. It’s not money for the initial problem itself, which is the taking of vast territories. This is very important and I think the administration should be commended for moving forward to settle these claims but there are these deeper issues that need to be addressed.”
John Gast, American Progress, 1872.
Chromolithograph published by George A, Crofutt.
Source: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

See this painting?  Here’s where the oppression had its genesis: in the Racist attitudes of Westerners invading a land that doesn’t belong to them.  

Here are a couple Wikipedia descriptions of the painting:

1. This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book. The different stages of economic activity of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation.

2. This painting shows “Manifest Destiny” (the religious belief that the United States should expand from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in the name of God). In 1872 artist John Gast painted a popular scene of people moving west that captured the view of Americans at the time. Called “Spirit of the Frontier” and widely distributed as an engraving portrayed settlers moving west, guided and protected by a goddess-like figure of Columbia and aided by technology (railways, telegraphs), driving Native Americans and bison into obscurity. It is also important to note that angel is bringing the “light” as witnessed on the eastern side of the painting as she travels towards the “darkened” west.

Another blogger stated re: this painting:


Remember my thesis from other posts?: 

The Europeans turned their Crusades toward the Americans, replacing the Muslim “Others” with the First Nations “Others”.  Same shit, different target group.  The aim?  Conquest.  And it continues to this day?  MANIFEST DESTINY continues in Iraq, Palestine, and other Middle East places, and it continues in North, Central & South America.  

Well, here is an article highlighting this premise:

Manifest Destiny

“American Progress”

Thesis: Manifest Destiny from the view of the Native Americans

Purpose:  To interpret the feelings that Native Americans could have when they were pushed off by white settlers based on the painting of John Gast “American Progress”

Audience: People interested into this historically important point.

Honza Keprta, October 23. 2006

U.S. History

“American Progress” by John Gast symbolizes one of the most important pieces of American history and may be one of the most important world events ever. People started to move west. They started to discover the west coast of the American continent under the belief that the God told them to do so. However there is also one part of the world community which wasn’t happy at all, Native Americans. The question I would try to answer is: “What might the American Indians being pushed off the edge of the painting “American Progress” have thought about the new settlers and their civilization?”

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny is a phrase that expressed the belief that the United States had a mission to expand, spreading its form of democracy and freedom. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only good, but that it was obvious (“manifest”) and inevitable (“destiny”). Manifest Destiny was an explanation or justification for that expansion and westward movement, or, in some interpretations, an ideology or doctrine which helped to promote the process. People should move westwards and spread Christianity. 

American Progress

John Gast, American Progress, 1872.
Chromolithograph published by George A, Crofutt.
Source: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

This painting (circa 1872) called American Progress is an allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she travels and carrying a school book. The different economic activities of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation. The American Indians and wild animals flee.

 “American Progress” is a propagandistic work. It shows the Native Americans weak and escaping.  It motivated people to move westward, helped them to make that decision. If you look at the picture you have to see the Native Americans pushed off in the corner. It could encourage the white people to think that they are doing the right thing. Native Americans will just go away and let the settlers to over take the new land. The purpose of seeing them weak is just another example of motivation.

Settlers started colonizing their home. How should The Native Americans feel about them? How would you feel when somebody would start to take your property? Difference was they were not the owners of the land. It was just mental ownership. But were the settlers the owners? For most of the Native Americans it was the first and negative contact with other people. Settlers came and started to take land which the Native Americans were used to using. We should definitely not be proud of this painting. It shows the Native Americans as the bad people, dark and pushed in the corner, but in fact it was the white people who were bad. Dark and pushed in the corner. Everything what was coming from the East was bright and evolutionary. It came with new technologies which were more powerful but also more destructive and for Indians also unexplainable. Native Americans were not educated a lot. Their contacts with the white settlers could be for many of them confusing. They didn’t expect to meet with such people.  

It could also seem to us like a holy war. We suspect that the Native Americans had a lot of various gods which they worshiped. [BLOGGER’S NOTE: Did you know that most Native Americans are Mono-theist?  Many believe in “The Creator” and are not ashamed to mention this in daily conversation.  But their version of the Creator is not necessarily the God of War & Conquest worshipped by North American Evangelicals and other Christians.] They have some duties toward them and got some protection from them. Suddenly different people came with belief in their God telling them to do so. This is quite an issue. Could killing thousands of animals and persecution of the Native Americans possibly have been done under God’s commandment? Where does this idea come from?  Isn’t this similar to something that we have now in the modern world.

Yes, I’m speaking about Jihad. There are Islamic extremists who fought under beliefs and under protection of their God. Are we happy about it? I think I don’t have to answer this question.

Let’s apply our feelings against Holy War or terrorism, if you want, on the Native Americans. They had to leave their homes just because there was someone else who wanted to use their “land”. What are the things which divided Indians from settlers? It is the same thing which divides the Islamic world from the rest of the world today.

Work Cited

“Manifest Destiny.” Nov. 1, 2006. Online. Oct. 31, 2006. Available: <;

 “American Progress.” Nov. 1, 2006. Online. Oct. 31, 2006. Available: <;

Gast, John. “American Progress.” 1872.

And lastly, check out this article from

Learn about Native Americans

In 1907, Susan La Fleshe Picotte, the first Native American woman doctor, wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Her letter described the health conditions and needs of her tribe, the Omahas. She began her letter with, “If you knew the conditions…

Imagine how it would sadden Dr. Picotte to know that, in over 100 years, things have not changed.  

Approximately 1.5 million Native Americans and Alaskan Natives live on designated reservations in the United States today. All but a few of these reservations are plagued with poverty, unemployment, homelessness, lack of medical care, and insufficient educational resources.   Many experience historical trauma, discrimination and feelings of hopelessness.  

There is pervasive hunger.  Some children’s only meals are those served while in school.

There is a shortage of housing and remotely located communities have grossly substandard health care. In fact, the Indian Health Care system is funded less than the Federal Prison System’s health care. On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, there is shortage of 4,500 homes.

The Native American People and their culture have a lot to offerTheir spirituality, wisdom, sense of humor, importance of family and their awesome artistic talent are only  part of what they have to offer us.  Their culture is very healing and is needed by all cultures. See what gifts you are missing – gifts you can receive from these our First Americans.

Let’s partner with American First Nations to remove the barriers WE put there, and let them get rid of their own bondage and rise up to their rightful ownership of the land, and leadership of the nation.  It may be a long process, but we all have to start somewhere.  Who was the one who said, “THE JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES STARTS WITH ONE STEP”?



About sleepless in turtle island

Hi, I´m Dimitri. I have lived in Turtle Island for awhile now, so my cultural understanding is slowly improving. Also, I can see things in this place that boggle my mind. Thus this blog...
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