Remember Kanye West‘s post-Katrina comment that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”?
Has any American president ever cared about Native American people? The Guardian has a really depressing story about life on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
If post-Katrina New Orleans brought the American people scenes that they could scarcely believe were actually happening in the US, and not a third world country, what would the American people make of facts like these?
More than 80% unemployment. A desperate shortage of housing – on average, more than 15 people live in each home and others get by in cars and trailers. More than one-third of homes lacking running water or electricity. An infant mortality rate at three times the US national average. And a dependency on alcohol and a diet so poor that half the population over the age of 40 is diabetic.
The Oglala Sioux’s per capita income is around $7,000 (£4,400) a year, less than one-sixth of the national average and on a par with Bulgaria. The residents of Wounded Knee, scene of the notorious 1890 massacre of Sioux women and children and of the 1973 standoff with the FBI, are typically living on less than half of that. Young people have almost no hope of work unless they sign up to fight in Afghanistan. The few with jobs are almost all employed by the tribal authorities or the federal government. It is not uncommon to hear people quietly speak of the guilt they feel for having a job. Those who don’t survive on pitifully small welfare cheques. It all adds up to a life expectancy on Pine Ridge of about only 50 years.
We’ll never know, will we? Because the American people are blissfully unaware of these facts. Because there’s no dramatic natural disaster to bring these facts to their attention. And because nobody in the mainstream media has any incentive to bring them to the attention of their readers or viewers. (Funny, though, how The Guardian somehow had the incentive to bring them to the attention of their readers.)
The title of the Guardian piece is “Obama’s Indian problem”. The sub-heading starts: “The US president has pledged to improve the lives of Native Americans. But he faces huge challenges…”
It may be a while before Obama actually gets around to delivering on those pledges. Meanwhile, this is how the federal government was treating Native Americans on the Pine Ridge reservation last year:
Last year, the federal government offered to fulfil part of its treaty obligations by selling the tribe old houses from an airforce base, no longer considered fit for service personnel, at a dollar each. The Pine Ridge authorities agreed but when the houses arrived they were charged $25,000 for the removal costs of each one – and then discovered the buildings were badly battered, with walls torn off and windows smashed in. The houses sit in a yard to this day, giving the impression of having been torn up by their roots.
Here’s a little pop quiz, for extra credit: In the preceding anecdote, who’s Charlie Brown and who’s Lucy-with-the-football?
“Last year” presumably means 2009. Which presumably means this happened in the time of Obama, not Bush. (I did a google search to get more information, with a view to eliminating the “presumably”s. But information exists where there is media/blog coverage. So, naturally, I couldn’t come up with anything.)
Maybe Obama has too many things on his plate right now to start delivering on his election pledge. (Although I would dearly love to have a nickel for every time someone celebrated with great joy the fact that we finally have a president again who can walk and chew gum at the same time.) Be that as it may, surely someone in the Obama administration could do something about the $1 houses that came with a shipping-and-handling charge of $25,000, and aren’t even habitable?