Tim Giago, in his 2007 blog article The “Poorest County in America” gives a good description of those reservations that prosper due to the presence of Casinos vs. those who either choose not to use Casinos as an income source, or who would see no advantage in building them. While Giago cites data from the 1980 U.S. census, he states that 27 years later, when writing his article, “the Pine Ridge Reservation is still among the top ten poorest counties in America, and why three of the top ten poorest counties are located in South Dakota…What does that say about our elected Congressional delegation”? With that last question hanging in the air, I found myself wondering how much (if any) of President Obama’s much touted “stimulus package” was targeted to the Oglala Lakota Sioux and to impoverished Native American people?
A quick Google search found the March 13, 2009 USA Today article, Tribes look to $3B share of stimulus funds. Keep in mind, that as of a little over two months ago when the news story was published, the Pine Ridge Reservation wasn’t “rolling in dough” because of stimulus money. There is still a severe housing and job shortage among Native Americans on reservations in general, with an estimated 200,000 new homes needed. On Pine Ridge, 2 out of 3, or 63% of the population is unemployed. Compare that to the April 2009 national unemployment rate of 8.9%. Also nationally, unemployment among Native Americans is at a staggering 85%. I mentioned a housing shortage, but according to the Indian Housing Authority, one-third of the existing residences “are severely substandard, without water, electricity, adequate insulation, and sewage systems”.
You may be saying to yourselves, that all the tribes need to do is wait for the stimulus money to kick in, and they’ll be fine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Jacqueline Johnson Pata of the National Congress of American Indians, says that even the seemingly huge amount of funds dedicated to the tribes will barely scratch the surface of the enormous needs they face. 3 Billion dollars is a great deal of money, but it is to be shared by all of the nation’s 562 federally recognized tribes. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation reported in July of 2008 that “Indians are worse off economically than any other minority. In 2007, American Indians’ median household income - the middle figure, with half the amounts above and half below - was $35,000, 31% less than the $50,700 median for all Americans, according to the Census Bureau. One in four Indians, 25%, live below the poverty line, compared with 13% of all Americans”.
“Indians are worse off economically than any other minority” in the United States. We hear a great deal in the news about how difficult it is for people in these economic times. Certainly many of you reading this article have suffered because of the economy. It is regularly reported how various minority groups in the U.S. have a much harder time surviving and acquiring basic services than the average (non-minority) American. As a Messianic believer who has a focus on the Land of Israel, I also read many reports of how the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are suffering terrifically because of the “oppression” of the Jewish “occupiers”.
All that considered, we Americans have an “invisible” population of poor living within our very borders that we fail to acknowledge or even consider. When was the last time you read a news story or saw a T.V. report about the poorest people in the United States (besides those that I’ve drawn to your attention in this blog)?