The experience of Native Americans is unique on the continent now named North America. Of the 300 Million people living here today, only 1%, or about 4 Million Native Americans, represent the first nations to own and occupy this land — centuries before European arrived in the 1400’s.

Native People Today

Tribes Reservations and Canadian Reserves

There are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States with over sixty percent living in the urban areas. In the upper mid-west or within a 700-mile radius of Minneapolis including Ontario and Manitoba Canada the approximate total native population is 632,595. Tribal communities made considerable economic progress where there are numerous examples of successful projects that improved the quality of life, however the unemployment, health, alcohol, drug addiction and poor housing conditions remain high on many reservations and Canadian Reserves.

Urban Life

According to the 2000 census 4.3 people reported to be American Indian / Alaska Native and mixed race; sixty-one percent did not live on reservations. Urban Indians experience higher health disparities than others, compared to the general population, urban Indians have:

  • Thirty-eight percent higher rates of accidental deaths
  • Fifty-four percent higher rates of diabetes

(Source) Harvard Project

Impact of Drugs & Alcohol Abuse

Early Death Rates and Health Problems

Native people of North America have the highest alcohol related mortality death rate among all people groups. In urban America Indians have 126 percent higher rates of liver disease and cirrhosis, a 178 percent higher rate of alcohol related deaths. The Opioid and heroin epidemic continues to  plague may Reservations, Canadian Reserves and urban communities throughout North America.
(Source) Urban Indian Health Institute.

Family Breakdown

Social Service workers have reported that Native People may deal with past victimization and uncertain futures by directing their anger at those closest to them. In addition, Native  leaders indicate that a large percentage of  families have instances of family violence in their history including child abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, and/or battering. Ibid p. 217
Child abuse is a serious problem in many Native communities, for example representing 7 percent of all cases in Minnesota.

This is a significant over representation in the overall population i.e., 33/1000 child abuse cases are Native American compared with white youth abuse cases making up 4.7/1000. Ibid. p. 218
Female Indian victims of abuse often lack sufficient protection, support and access to legal resources. In addition, getting help may involve getting another friend or relative in trouble with white authorities. Native women also fear finding racism, insensitivity and misunderstanding in shelters.Many also fear having their children removed from them, as was mandated by the government in the early 1900’s. Ibid.

Poverty and Unemployment – The Minnesota profile

  • About 29 percent of Native American children in Minnesota lived below the poverty line in 2000 compared to only six percent of white children.
  • The median household income of Native Americans was about $28,500, compared to about $47,000 for white households.
  • Almost 20 percent of Native American households in Minnesota received public assistance, compared to 3.4 percent for all of Minnesota households. (2000 Census)
  • While the gaming industry has helped to decrease unemployment among Native communities, still, a wide discrepancy exists. While the overall Minnesota unemployment was 4 percent in 2000, Native American unemployment averaged about 15 percent in 1999.
  • No other minority group has higher unemployment rates that Native Americans. This is due in large part to discrimination and the negative impacts of stereotyping. And as the nature of work changes requiring more skills, especially young Native Americans, lack the education or needed work experience. In 2000, 8.8 of Native Americans had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 24.7 percent for the general Minnesota population.

History of Native Americans

Three-Hundred Years Ago

“To the early Native people the simple accomplishments of survival demanded all of their strength. But they had certain indispensable resources, they knew how to hunt, they possessed tools and weapons, however crude, they could make fire and alone among the creatures of the earth, they could think and speak. They had a human sense of mortality, an irresistible craving for order, beauty, and appropriate behavior. They were intensely spiritual.” Scott Momaday (Kiowa Tribe) from America 1492

“This vast territory was composed of some of the finest and best land for the home and use of the Indian ever found in this country. The woods and prairies teemed with buffalo, moose, elk, bear and deer, with other game suitable to our enjoyment, while its lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds were alive with the very best kinds of fish, for our food.” Black Hawk, Sauk (SAC)

Impact of European Arrival

Over the first century and a half after Columbus’s voyages, the native population of Americas plummeted by an estimated 80% (from around 50 million in 1650, mostly by outbreaks of Old World diseases but also by several massacres and forced labor.

(The Demographic Catastrophe) in L’Histoire July-August 2007
Note: Unless otherwise noted, statistics listed are from the 2000 Census and relate to the State of Minnesota. Much of the information was obtained from Indians In Minnesota (5th Ed.), 2006—League of Women Voters of Minnesota (Kathy Davis Graves and Elizabeth Ebbott)