"I'm from the poorest county in the US of A.
Buffalo County in South Dakota, home of the Hunkpati Dakota band of Siouan Natives.
Well, for starters, it's freaking depressing. Illegal substances has a huge hold on the community now, and the suicide rate is high. High obesity, high infant mortality, high rate of drinking, high rate of illegal substance abuse, high rate of mental illness. The list goes on.
That's just scratching the surface. We don't even begin to talk about some of the injustices, about how the electric company still pulls meters during the winter before snow storms or how the local grocery store still sells rotten produce to us.
There's only one native owned business aside from the casino, so the outsiders that come in and start-up businesses jack up the prices because no one can afford to even drive anywhere else.
'Just get a job!'
Nearest town that actually has job opportunities outside of working at the casino is about a half hour away. So go to Chamberlain, work a minimum wage job and throw a significant amount of that paycheck towards gas. Then tell me how you expect to pay rent, take care of kids or buy an adequate amount of groceries. IN ORDER TO EVEN DO THAT YOU NEED A VEHICLE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Luckily, I made it out. But dang, no wonder natives see a higher rate of military servitude. - it's literally our ONLY way out."
"I grew up between the Salt River and Gila River reservations around Phoenix, Arizona. When I was a kid it was pretty fun having such a large area to just walk around with a toy weapon and no one cared where you were or how long you were gone for. We could dig in the ground and find broken pottery from other generations which is pretty crazy to think about now.
There were a lot of wasted people who would show up at our house at 2 am and my grandparents would help them out with food or a place to sleep. There was only one little gas station/store to get groceries along with a smoke shop.
I generally have good memories of being there.
We now have casinos which really helps the community provide for itself. Our tribe focuses on building the community and gives very little to individuals in per capita distributions. Other tribes give more money to their members, but it seems like that causes more illegal substance abuse and crime problems.
My tribe has the highest rate of diabetes in the world, or at least it did when I wrote my capstone research paper on it for nursing school. We spend a lot of money on hemodialysis.
There is a ton of death. We dig our own graves by hand. Compared to other funerals that I have gone to off the reservation, there is something very special about digging your loved one's grave. Being in the ground, inhaling the dirt where your family member will soon rest. It's powerful.
I live in the city now but I return frequently to visit family."
"Bad things are prevalent in every native community to varying degrees though. People have issues and they feel amplified on a reserve. When I was 12 years old me and my younger brother saw a cousin of ours kill a dog with a hammer once. I remember times when there were lots of cops there, on a manhunt for someone I was related to. About 20 years ago there was also a very highly publicized SWAT team shoot-out on the one I grew up on. I have cousins who've hanged themselves out of depression or have been killed drinking and driving. There are far more issues on a reserve than say 2 miles down the road in white suburbia. Part of this is the pain and suffering native people have suffered as recently as 40 years ago. Virtually all my native family your grandparent's age suffered in residential schools sixty years ago where they were physically and abused and violated. My great-grandmother used to have pins pushed into her tongue by nuns if they caught her or anyone else talking in their native language. It gets far worse than that, I don't need to explain it. My point is, those people are all still alive today, and they've passed all that grief and suffering down to their kids who are my relatives my parent's age, who've in turn, handed that down to the people my age and beyond. It's a cycle that doesn't stop. Where I live my last name gets me hassled by the cops when they pull me over, they hassle every native person here just like they hassle black people down in America.
I realized a long time ago, that black people in America and native people in all of North America share a lot of parallels, especially when it comes to how they're treated by the cops. It's just never been as much of an outrage with native people. You'll see everyone stepping over that native guy passed out on the sidewalk downtown, while they act concerned with say, black lives mattering or rights for transgender people."
"I'm not from a reserve and I don't live near one but I did work through a program at a reserve in South Dakota.
In 2017, Pine Ridge Reservation is still technically/officially named a Prisoner of War camp, it is number 334. I feel that this shows sort of the dynamic. How can someone feel like they can succeed or go far or leave their families when they live on land that's still considered a Prisoner of War Camp?
Another issue they were facing was people outside of the reserve weren't terribly accepting towards those on the reserve. So not only is it hard to survive outside the family and such that plus people looking down on you/not liking you because of your race and history doesn't make for a good combination.
This is a list of statistics that I can contest are true of the reservation I was:
• The unemployment rate is between 80 and 90%. There are many reasons for this, but a big one is that the infrastructure on the reservation is poor, if not nonexistent.
• Per capita income is about $4000 per year. Poverty level income for a household of one person is approximately $12,000 per year.
• Drinking abuse is estimated by some as high as 80%. 1 in 4 infants is born addicted, which can result in severe learning disabilities.
• The dropout rate for Native American kids in South Dakota is 70%.
• Life expectancy for males is 46-48 years, and for females 52 years. This is the lowest in the United States, and the second lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower life expectancy.
• The suicide rate in general is twice the national rate, and teen suicide on the reservation is 4 times the national rate.
• Infant mortality is 3 times the national rate.
• Diabetes is 8 times the national rate. It is estimated that 50% of the population over 40 has diabetes.
• Incidence of tuberculosis (TB) is also 8 times the national rate. There is a definite correlation between TB and toxic black mold, which infests up to 60% of the homes on the reservation. Black mold also causes cancer, lupus, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Chronic Fatigue Disorder, Fibromyalgia, and Epstein-Barr Syndrome.
• Incidence of cervical cancer in women is 5 times the national rate.
• Incidence of heart disease is twice the national average.
And even with all this, the people there were amazing, and the children were wonderful."
"I've lived on Standing Rock in North and South Dakota for almost my entire life (and I'm sure some of you are aware of it now because of our anti-pipeline movement) and these are just my experiences:
I lived with my grandmother and several cousins as a young child, and our house had no running water, electricity, or anything else like that. We had to drive sometimes up to 3 hours away to fill up water tanks, but we usually just used water from the river to wash/bathe/eat/drink/etc. We had a woodstove for cooking, and we used candles, gas lamps, and flashlights at night. When I became school-aged I would try to finish all of my homework at a community center before it got dark. There were hardly any stores and my grandmother was a residential school survivor and was always very reluctant and fearful of leaving the reservation, so we mainly supplied our own food by hunting/gathering/gardening.
The schooling was pretty average, but I was considered 'advanced' so I took several online courses in addition to my normal classes, and I attended a lot of summer programs too. Those summers were the first time I realized that some people looked down on how we lived, and how different it was for some of them. It was a little hard to accept and a lot of things that other kids said bothered me, but I guess I just got used to ignoring it. I was aware of a lot of the problems in my community, like drinking and illegal substance abuse, but I was also aware of how complex those issues are when you throw in a lot of the generational trauma people are dealing with. I saw it in my own family, with how traumatized my older relatives were by their residential school experiences, and how it trickled down and really affected younger people even though it wasn't actually their trauma. It can be really difficult to deal with, and I feel like a lot of people just brush it off or deny that it's an issue altogether.
I went away for university and then I came back and got another degree at our tribal college. I've pretty much dedicated myself to working in the revitalization of our language, and right now I work in a full immersion program for younger children.
Overall, I definitely don't blame people (especially kids) for wanting to leave, and I actually try to encourage young people to leave and have some life experiences away from here. It's so easy to get stuck in this vacuum and fall into some of the vicious cycles that exist around here. But honestly, I could never see myself permanently leaving. When I'm off-rez, I feel like I sometimes become 'The Native Girl' to everyone. In college, I felt like I became the spokesperson for every Native person ever to some people, and it was really hard to express myself as an individual around them and I often felt very uncomfortable hearing some of the things my peers had been taught about us. One guy told me that his dad warned him to never stop on a reservation and if anyone approached him to just run them over. I had a classmate who wanted to pick my brain all the time because she spent a week on a reservation for a service project once and it was just exhausting. There were a lot of misconceptions (I don't get free anything unless we count a few Pell Grants and a scholarship that covered two semesters of my second degree) and flat out lies they expected me to an expert spokesperson on. It definitely wasn't all bad, but those are just some things I really didn't particularly like.
At home on the rez, I feel like I'm seen as more of a complete person, with interests separate from my Lakota identity. We definitely have a lot of problems and a long way to go in some aspects, but I love being able to visit with elders and hear their stories, and being able to understand them when they speak our language. I love playing hand games with my friends, I love dancing during wacipi season, I love digging prairie turnips with my little cousins, I really just love my community as a whole."
"I grew up on and off the rez and I've always had mixed feelings. Yeah, there's a lot of drinking and illegal substance abuse, but ya know, me and my cousins were better off than most other families. I knew about the fights, stabbings, violating people's parents who OD'd. I never had to see those things but everyone knew about them.
We just kinda dealt with it using humor. Only recently when I left for school did me and my friends from other reservations have started to deal with it.
I think a huge part of the rez' jacked-upness is due to a lack of education. I feel bad sometimes cause I know I was a pretentious little prick. I thought I was smarter than people on my rez because I got to go to a predominantly white school. The rez school system is crap, when I went to school there they wanted to boost 6 year old me into the 5th grade. I wouldn't say the kids don't want to learn, they just think school is a waste of time because it doesn't teach them well, or teach anything they think is valuable. I will say it's much cooler when you get to learn where to dig roots, go fishing and hunting, and learn your language from your grandparents rather than hear about the mitochondria, but the resources just aren't available for the students to apply themselves off the rez.
I think depending on your family the experience can vary. My mom's family is pretty traditional so I see a lot more culture surviving and that's really cool. I had a lot of freedom as a kid befriending rez dogs and riding my bike down the creek. Having airsoft wars in the horse pasture, going rafting down the rivers, so as messed up as the rez is I had a great time. I love my home, despite all the problems.
And there's a lot of problems that can really mess you up if you're not careful. I didn't realize it wasn't normal to see your aunty get beat, walk in on your dad passed out with bottles, seeing your grandpa deal illegal stuff down the street, or have to go to 9 funerals in 1 month.
People are still healing and I don't think the problem can be solved through a single way. My mom always preaches about ceremony and college, and it works for some people, but others have had to deal with way more bull. I don't know what people need. I think about it a lot and it'd make me happy if people could get off the rez more, but from what I know people hate it.
Being off the rez sucks sometimes. People don't get your sense of humor. People treat you weird and you have to tell non-natives that we exist all the time. They either put you on some weird pedestal or tell you you're a loser."
"I currently live in a pretty isolated reserve way up in northern Canada. The living conditions are pretty awful. The trailers/houses are very run down and often just plain dirty. People get animals they can't afford and allow them to reproduce to a point where we probably have more dogs than people. The 'rez dogs' are the worst because they are violent and not cared for. We have no animal control so people don't care and let their animals run free. Many of the people here are either on illegal stuff, drinking, or had too many kids to afford to leave. Most of the people here have never graduated high school (most only make it to grade 10). Imagine all the stereotypes you hear about my race and you'll get a pretty good idea. Not all the reserves are ugly and run down. I've been to a few that are very nice and where the houses are actually suitable for living. The people have their issues, but they aren't bad people. We were all raised on this idea that what we label we wear (abusers, users, drinkers, etc) is all we can ever be. I thought it was normal to have children in your teen years because that's all I was exposed to. I like to think that there is hope for my home to restore the sense of community and clean this place up, but there's a reason all the people who were able to leave never came back. I tried to do what little I could by tutoring students for free while I tried to balance school and work but it wasn't really enough. I graduated high school this year, and I am leaving for university at a school a good 20-24 hour drive away from home and I'm not sure that I want to come back."
"I lived on the Fort Berthold reservation my entire life, growing up you never think you're poor because all your friends are too. The town I grew up in had a serious substance abuse problem, we would find needles in the street and woods along with empty bottles. We had one park and basketball court missing a hoop. A lot of our time was spent playing in the woods or following the older boys.
They used to make us fight because they'd say we have to because when we get older theres no avoiding a scrap on the rez. I've seen plenty of fights to know it was true. A lot of us grew up having family addicted to illegal substances and crime was a normal thing. The closest police station is 33 miles up north. I just wanna say my town was worse than other towns on our rez. We share it with two other tribes and ours is the smallest.
When we would go to these other towns the kids would try to punk us and fight because back then people would hate on my tribe and call us cowards. So we would fight and get respect. As I grew up I went through things that messed me up and made me different at an early age. By the time I was a teen I wasn't going to school and picked up smoking and drinking. I went to jail when I was 15. After I got out I didn't care if I went back and did plenty of times after that.
I'm the last of that generation of boys. Most of my cousins/uncles and friends are dead. This is my experience growing up here. Some people had it better and some had it worst.
Today it's different, more people and houses as well as a rec center and they're building a new school. The kids now are graduating and going to college. I can't help but think the teachers who've taught them tell stories about us and our school days as a way of helping kids wanna graduate and leave."
"I grew up on the Navajo Nation; the largest reserve in the U.S. All my family still reside in the area, but I got to leave for college. For the most part, you are isolated from everything civil. We did not have running water or electricity until I was about 10. My father and uncles had jobs 10 hours away and would make frequent weekend trips home, and the nearest town is probably a good hour drive. I did not realize how difficult our lives were until I moved away for college. As children, we had the vast open landscape as our playground. We hiked, camped, played tag, all without boundaries or worries that strangers were lurking. It was a close-knit community, and families were clustered across the reservation. For example, if you were to visit a family friend, then you could pretty much walk on over to visit their grandparents, siblings, etc. I would make frequent trips home during college, and suddenly there is a disconnect between you and your home. You leave home impressed with this overwhelming grief. Not only is drinking rampant on the reservation, but the quality of life is just unbelievable. Payday loans, fast food joints, and package drinks govern the Navajo people. These border towns are the only outlet we have for groceries and supplies, but the convenience of all these establishments leave us in an unhealthy state of mind. Like someone said, it's a vicious cycle and it becomes evident when a close friend or family is absorbed."
"Poverty and addiction are everywhere, but if you've been there from birth you don't notice it as being exceptionally bad until you get some heavy exposure to life outside of the rez. I'd lost around one uncle, aunt, or cousin to something related to drinking or substance abuse pretty much yearly for most of my life up until I was around 13, and that was not unusual at all, as most of my classmates (went to tribal school) experienced the same, with around half the class losing siblings or parents in the same way.
My reservation is about 30 minutes away from the nearest town large enough to actually have jobs, so most people either worked at the casino or lived off of welfare and percap (monthly payment tribal government gave to all tribal members, funded with casino profits, usually $150-$250). Even when working it's rare anyone living on the reservation ends up above the poverty line, and it's not uncommon for those who are employed to be supporting extended family who are not, and sometimes children of extended family who are not able or willing to care for the child, with many children being raised by aunts, uncles, or grandparents.
Culture is celebrated in school, and our indigenous language is taught in the same way many schools have students learn Spanish or French. Despite that the culture is dying, finding anyone with a strong understanding is difficult, and many elders refuse to share because they are old enough to remember government efforts at integration and it's consequences, and fear the children will be taken away should they begin speaking in our language or following our customs again. The language has less than 30 fluent speakers left alive, many of whom are elderly and either unable or unwilling to teach.
There are strong efforts to fix these problems, with the tribal government funding programs using casino profits to help with education, employment, culture, and education, but few take advantage of these, and many see it as pointless, believing it impossible for them to improve their lot in life and using is a way to avoid having to think on it. The community is strongly interconnected, with just about everyone either knowing you, or knowing of you as 'so and so's kid,' and it's not hard to find out your some level of cousin with about half of the people in your age group. Because of this anyone who shows potential is caught in a predicament, as those that have left before are often looked on negatively and thought to have 'abandoned' the family that stays behind, but staying inside the rez presents virtually no opportunities, and the toxic environment alone makes success extremely difficult even if that weren't the case. The plan from people working in the programs helping with education and culture is that young adults will go out, get college educations, be successful, and then come back and help those still on the reservation to improve themselves as well, but in practice the result is usually the person getting exposed enough to the outside world that they no longer want to return, or returning and fighting an uphill battle for a few years before either giving up or leaving."
"I am 22 and I am a Navajo who grew up on the Navajo nation my entire life. I consider myself very fortunate that my parents don't drink and that they attend the Native American church. Growing up my father was very rough on me and my older brother. You see, my father's side of the family drink all the time and some even do harder stuff. He lost 3 of his brothers to driving while drinking and his dad shot his mom multiple times then shot himself in the head in front of him when he was 6 so I understand why he is the way he is but there are still times I resent him. My mother's side of the family are all teachers and educators so my mom is very nurturing. Today I live alone in Phoenix Arizona and I am a full time student at the local community college and I am looking for a full time job now. It wasn't until I was around 19 that I started to appreciate the way I grew up but I constantly think about the lack of friends I have and the lack of memories of being with the ones I had and it's always difficult because they are just not many of them. The Navajo nation is simple in that you either grow up like how I did or you grew up wishing you grew up like how I did because mom and dad were constantly drinking and leaving on the weekends to go spend the weekends at a casino. There is really no middle ground with an understanding soft-spoken farther and mother who understand that children need to be children and aggression is not the way to teach but it's there and it's rare, I envy these parents."
"I moved to my tribal area to obtain my Master's degree and it's very different from the city I grew up in.
I work in a little shop in town, and the amount of people who come in messed is staggering.
There also seems to be a big divide between culture and religion. I live in the South, so there are a lot of churches here. The church Natives don't agree with the culture that was established before Columbus made contact, and the spiritual people don't believe in church. I've heard nasty comments from both sides.
However, it's one of the most loving communities you would ever know. I could be standing in line somewhere in and within five minutes a stranger will have a complete conversation with you, pray for you, and tell you to have a good day on top of all that. Back home, strangers really didn't talk to anyone they didn't know."
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