The housing and homeless crisis often focuses on the cookie-cutter neighborhoods that we most associate with the American dream – suburban neighborhoods where people’s homes were foreclosed on during the sub-prime lending/banking crisis of the 2000s. However, what this crisis rarely imparts is what is has done to Native American people, and as some chiefs have warned – how it could happen to the rest of us next.
While private lenders cashed in big with government bailouts, millions were left homeless since the debacle – and the problem hasn’t abated. Yet, among the communities throughout New York, California, Texas, Georgia, and Florida that have gotten lots of attention over their homelessness problems, one group of people – American Indiana, Native Hawaiian, and Alaskan tribal areas surrounding counties where 2.5 million of our land’s First People lived, have been affected.
Native Americans now occupy some of the most run-down and ramshackle residences – if they have a residence at all – in the country. Estimates are that over 50 percent of the Native American people our government stole land from, are now living without a home. The facts are disturbing and beyond ironic.
The 11,000 members of the Northern Arapaho in Wyoming, share just 230 reservation homes. A jaw-dropping 55% are considered homeless because they’re couch surfing. In the Navajo Nation, 18,000 homes or roughly 40% of total Navajo housing stock lack electricity or running water.
In Hawaii, many natives cannot afford even the simplest home while working two jobs, due to the astronomical real estate and housing prices, forcing many of them to live in poverty or to simply leave their homeland.
Mass evictions have left Native people without any place to go. While Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City are featured in press headlines consistently, the Native American homelessness crisis has been quietly ignored.
Over 85,000 Native Americans live with friends or family, or inhabit homes that are overcrowded or need repairs. Stories of seven people rotating sleeping shifts in a one-bedroom house are not uncommon.
Adding to the crisis, is the insane poverty rate for Native people. Their average income level is 30% of the government mandated “poverty rate,” meaning they make less than most other ethnic groups who receive HUD housing, and other federal benefits.
Though Native American people face some of the same challenges that everyone else does in our nation – a break in unemployment that lasts longer than they expect, medical bills, or a huge gap between earnings and the real cost of living, their plight is especially mind-numbing considering that they once lived and prospered on this land.
The Trail of Tears was ridden in the 1850s when Native families were thrown off land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians’ land, the federal government Native Americans to leave their homelands and walk thousands of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River – yet even now, they still have no abode. Even the Indian reservations are no longer “home” with rampant alcoholism, drug-abuse, poverty, and over-crowded housing conditions which go ignored by the masses.
It seems our desire to “civilize” the Indians, as President George Washington desired, has done little more than create homeless, and poverty-stricken vagrants with no place to call their own.
The problem smacks of the same colonialization issues that indigenous people face the world over. And like the writer of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins has said, “it isn’t just your land and resources their after. This time they’re coming after your democracy.”
After they take your home, and your land, and your resources. After they’ve taken your country. What do you have left? For many Native Americans, the answer is, “not much.”
Featured Image: PBS