Whether individually or collectively, being ready, willing and able to atone for past transgressions and make amends is no easy task, but a necessary step if radical change is to materialize. One of the main areas where the United States must make amends to address past transgressions is our relationship with Native Americans.
This continent was home to Native Americans for thousands of years prior to European explorers arriving onshore to “discover” it. The indigenous peoples of North America were here first, living on this land, toiling the soil and imparting wisdom from one generation to the next long before any white interlopers came on the scene. Our best population estimates indicate that in 1492, there were as many as 18 million indigenous people living in the region now known as the United States. In contrast, as a consequence of disease and war, by 1890 there were only approximately 250,000 Native people left. 18 million, reduced to 250,000 people. This is utterly devastating and represents the worst that humanity has to offer. Native Americans suffered a physical as well as cultural genocide, with the painful effects still felt to this day.
The U.S. government has formed numerous treaties with Native tribes over the years, yet they have been perpetually broken. These broken promises have led to poverty and inequity among the more than five million Native Americans living in the U.S. today. Native American reservations are hampered by higher poverty rates, along with inadequate health care services, low employment, substandard housing, below-national-average education levels and insufficient economic infrastructure. And after the 2018 midterms in North Dakota, we can add attempts at voter suppression to this unfortunate list.
Our generation must now step up to try to atone and make amends for the cumulative offenses of U.S. policy. We need to work on overturning past wrongs and finding remedies for the issues caused by these previous misdeeds.
After all, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, “The federal government should provide adequate funding for the essentials of life, not as a gift or as charity, but as the fulfillment of commitments made at the founding and throughout the expansion of this nation.”