“The white man says, there is freedom and justice for all. We have had ‘freedom and justice,’ and that is why we have been almost exterminated.”
-The 1927 Grand Council of American Indians
November is Native American Indian Heritage Month, and the Friday after Thanksgiving is Native American Indian Heritage Day. In this time for giving thanks, many of us celebrate with family, food, and football. Let us not forget, though, that for many others, this season is a time of reflection and mourning.
Although the United States is often considered the world’s most prominent advocate for freedom and liberty, its establishment was built on the denial of basic human rights to Native Americans that included brutal killings, the spread of conquerors’ diseases, racist government policies, broken treaties, theft, removal from native lands, uninhabitable reservations with poor land for farming, and child kidnapping, as well as assimilation in boarding schools, lack of education, poor health care, and banning of Native American languages, cultures, and religions.
The annihilation of the Native American population during the Indian Wars was so devastating that it was “far & away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world,” according to David Stannard in American Holocaust, published in 1992 by Oxford University Press.
Estimates show that the North American Indian population plummeted from an estimated 12 million people in 1500 to barely 237,000 in 1900, according to Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide, by Gunter Lewy, published on History News Network. Other estimates set the total of the number of Native American killed by genocide, diseases, famine, and other factors range between 10 and 30 million people, according to Russell Thornton in American Indian Holocaust and Survivial: A Population History Since 1492, published by University of Oklahoma Press.
This long history of oppression and marginalization continues today. “Indigenous peoples in the United States constitute vibrant communities that have contributed greatly to the life of this country; yet they face significant challenges that are related to widespread historical wrongs, including broken treaties and acts of oppression, and misguided government policies, that today manifest themselves in various indicators of disadvantage and impediments to the exercise of their individual and collective rights,” stated James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, states. For example, of the more than 5.2 million Native Americans living in federally recognized tribal areas in the United States, 28.4% live in poverty, nearly double the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Facts for Features: American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month 2011.
The Advocates is pleased to announce its newest toolkit on the rights of indigenous peoples in the United States, an important resource for learning more about the human rights issues indigenous people face in this country every day. The kit will help you:
Learn about indigenous rights in the United States and about how well the U.S. doing in fulfilling those rights;
Take Action to advocate on indigenous peoples rights.
The Rights Indigenous Peoples Toolkit is available at www.discoverhumanrights.org/human_rights_toolkits.html.
By: Emily Farell, program associate of the Human Rights Education program at The Advocates for Human Rights.