Today’s blog is a letter I received from Lovena Lee, Chairperson of The Southwest Reservation Aid organization
Dear Mr. Schwartz:
You and I may have a different understanding of particular events in America’s history. You see, I’m a member of the Diné—or “The People”—what you may call the Navajo tribe of Native Americans.
I grew up in the Sweetwater area of the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, but my ancestors came to what is now the United States over a thousand years ago. At an early age, I learned our Navajo traditions, culture and history as told in stories passed from one generation to the next.
As a teenager, I left the reservation to attend boarding school and then college. There, not everyone shared my thoughts on how historical events—particularly those surrounding America’s western expansion—created the framework for the prejudice, poverty and despair Native Americans continue to endure today.
3-Minute American History Quiz
The “3-Minute American History Quiz” illustrates how policies made over 185 years ago still affect the everyday lives of Native Americans.
Question 1: Why did the United States government establish Indian reservations?
Answer: The government’s objective was to rid the country of its “Indian problem” and open land for white settlers.
Beginning in 1830 with the Indian Removal Act, the official policy of the United States was to forcibly remove Native Americans from their ancestral lands and relocate us to far-away regions “reserved” for Indians. For the Cherokee and other tribes, this is often remembered as the “Trail of Tears.” But it didn’t end there. During the Navajo Long Walk beginning in 1863, thousands of Navajo were also removed from their homelands.
Question 2: How did the government decide where to locate the reservations?
Answer: Typically, the government put reservations in areas it regarded as being unfit for white settlers—isolated and arid places unsuitable for agriculture and far from towns, transportation and the growing economy.
However, as the nation’s population expanded westward, the government took back most of these lands and forced Native Americans to relocate again—this time to even less-desirable lands. Today, the land reserved for Native Americans has shrunk to just 2.3 percent of the land originally promised.
Question 3: If I were to visit, what should I expect to see on an Indian reservation today?
Answer: You would see a proud people—strong in tradition and values—living in near third-world conditions. Poverty is extreme. Drive around the reservation and you’ll see many people living in run down houses and trailers, many of which are without electricity, telephone, running water or a sewage system.
Today, Native Americans are the poorest population in the entire Northern Hemisphere.
Question 4: How can these conditions exist in the richest and most powerful country in the world?
Answer: Between 35-85% of the Native Americans who live on the reservations are unemployed. To find work, many must most away from the reservation and leave their families behind. (Many children living on reservations are being raised by their grandparents.)
Even the most basic services—healthcare, stores and schools—are often an hour or more away and families are forced to choose between using the little money they have to buy gasoline for the car or food for the children.
Question 5: What is being done to resolve the problem?
Answer: Thankfully, the Southwest Reservation Aid (SWRA) program is helping us build strong, self-sufficient Native American communities. But we recognize that it is unrealistic to expect anyone to focus on building a stronger community—much less return to the reservation—unless they know there will be food for their family. Accordingly, SWRA’s most urgent goal is to get food to the people on the reservations who need it most.
To fulfill this need, the SWRA program is distributing staples such as beans, rice, flour, soup and canned goods to Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Apache and other reservations. Last year along, SWRA provided enough food for over 22,000 meals for Native American Elders, families and children.
Question 6: How can I help?
Answer: The most urgent need is for food. Today, one in four Native Americans who live on reservations don’t have enough to eat—or know where their next meal will come from. Feeding people is SWRA’s number one priority but we need your help to do it.
You can help with a tax-deductible contribution which will help us buy rice, vegetables, beans, cheese, oatmeal, potatoes and the other foods that people on the reservations need to survive.
Remarkably, SWRA can provide a full serving of food for only 11 cents! This means we can feed 910 Native Americans—who would otherwise not have anything to eat—for only $100. With just $150, we can feed 1,364 people.
Lovena B. Lee, Chairperson
You can support the Southwest Reservation Aid program by sending a check to: 1310 East Riverside Drive, Phoenix, Arizona 85034.
A Joyous and Happy Thanksgiving for all!