Why are most of the aborigines dark skinned
The descendants of the Native American people today
Indigenous Peoples: The Long Road to a Better Life
The North American Indigenous peoples' struggle for compensation is as old as the colonization of the New Continent itself, and it is far from over. It is a matter of compensating for the land that the white settlers stole from them and of ensuring that their land is economically exploited to this day. But there are significant changes.
With moral appeals to the whites to allow the indigenous people to participate in the "American way of life", numerous tribes were able to improve their living conditions. Above all, a young, educated generation with degrees in law and economics is opposed to established America. And with the weapon that America itself has mastered best: with economic success.
There are more than 550 recognized tribes in the United States. Over 200 of them operate casinos and amusement parks, including their affiliated hotels and shopping centers, with great success - all business activities that white Americans originally prohibited them by law.
In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act - a federal law that allows indigenous people to operate casinos on their land. The tribes benefit from short vacations for whites who are addicted to gambling in attractive landscapes and close to major centers.
Economic success helps the tribes
Economically successful tribes such as the Morongo from Palm Springs have built up amusement empires with annual sales of several billion US dollars within a few years. But white resistance to it is growing. The former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also mobilized against the Indians: casinos yes, but only if enough taxes flow back to the white government.
Even more than tax exemption, un-American business practices are likely to be a thorn in the side of white politicians. Because to this day traditional patterns of action run through the businesses of many Indian tribes: the individual is less important than the community.
A career is not measured by annual sales, but by the deeds that an individual does for his tribe. It goes without saying that hospitals, health services, schools and the needy are financed from the income of the casinos.
For America's neo-liberal economy, in which such care and equality thinking is seen as the brake on all growth, tribe-affiliated Indian business seems like news from a strange world. These activities in no way mean an adjustment to the "American way of life".
Most Native Americans still see themselves primarily as members of their tribe. They feel like Cherokee, Hopi or Navajo and - if at all - long afterwards as Americans. Whether the situation of Native Americans can be sustainably improved with these economic resources is, however, controversial.
The tax exemption from the US state only exists for the tribes for sales that they generate on their land. This occasionally leads to misunderstandings: Outside the reservations, the indigenous inhabitants of the USA are just as obliged to pay taxes as everyone else.
Not all tribes operate casinos
Not even half of the tribes have a share in the success. The majority either live too remote geographically or they cannot reconcile casino operations with their traditions. Still other tribes are deeply divided on the question for or against the casino.
But even those tribes that benefit from gambling and tax exemptions see it as just a means to an end for a fairer future. They see the roulette and bingo millions as a tool with which to direct things positively for themselves in a world of money.
Government has to pay compensation
On several occasions, indigenous peoples have won the American state justice with their lawsuits and ensured that their tribes received high compensation payments. The main focus was on the use of tribal land by the United States, for example for oil production. The tribes are entitled to money for this use, which is paid into trust funds.
Several tribes accused the government of mismanagement and withholding funds. The American state had to pay compensation, some of which ran into billions. In 2010 the American government paid $ 2 billion to 80 tribes; In 2012, 41 tribes received a sum of $ 1 billion; In 2014 the Navajo won $ 554 million.
A pipeline through holy land
But even today the indigenous population is not protected against the exploitation of their land. In 2016, the energy company Energy Transfer Partners began building an oil pipeline with government approval that ran under the Missouri River and then through the holy land of the Sioux in North Dakota.
The tribe's protests against the construction of the pipeline on their land made headlines around the world, but did not stop the project. Most of the tribal land in the United States is owned by the state - not the indigenous people who were promised it. You just have to be compensated for the usage.
The protests of the Sioux against the "black snake" on the graves of their ancestors were partly answered with violence. The tribe complained - and they were right. In the summer of 2020, a federal judge ruled that operations had to be shut down and the pipeline emptied.
In Alaska, too, the indigenous people of the Gwich'in have to fight against the destruction of their habitat: In the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the development of oil and natural gas reserves is to be allowed.
Roadblocks against a virus
In 2020, the coronavirus hit the indigenous people of the United States particularly hard. The death rate was much higher than that of the white population. The causes were poor health of the Native Americans, cramped living conditions, and no clean water.
In New Mexico, for example, 60 percent of all corona fatalities were indigenous - with a population of only 8.8 percent. In South Dakota, the Sioux tried to protect themselves against the pandemic by locking themselves off. Their life expectancy is the lowest in the USA anyway, so the reasoning.
Roadblocks were designed to prevent infected people from traveling through the reserve in an uncontrolled manner. They ignored an instruction from the governor of South Dakota to remove the barricades: As a sovereign nation, the Sioux do not have to obey such instructions.
The self-proclaimed indigenous people of the USA
The proportion of the indigenous population in the USA is now around two percent - around 6.8 million people. The state of Alaska has the most indigenous people, followed by South Dakota, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
In 1924, when the indigenous people of the United States were granted voting and civil rights with the "Indian Citizenship Act", all tribes together had only 250,000 members. In the meantime, the indigenous population is growing steadily - but also for reasons that have nothing to do with a higher number of births.
Time and again, white Americans declare themselves indigenous. The motives for this are different: some are interested in a new meaning in life - for closeness to nature, for spiritual rituals; they value the equal treatment of men and women and belonging to a group.
Others are simply concerned with possible financial advantages: They try to get profits from the casino operations in the reservations, which the members of the respective tribe are entitled to. Access to health care and other services from individual tribes are also attractive.
It is easy to declare yourself a native inhabitant in the USA: Formally, for the "Bureau of Indian Affairs", an Indian is someone who is at least 50 percent of Indian descent from one of the officially recognized tribes. But almost every tribe defines its own criteria as to who belongs. The US Census Bureau counts everyone as Indian who professes to do so.
Situation and rights of the indigenous people
Apart from a few special rights, there are no economic reasons for wanting to belong to an indigenous people in the USA today: unemployment is much higher than that of the rest of the population, and poverty is even twice as high.
Medical care among the less affluent tribes is poor, and life expectancy is consistently several years below the US average. The struggle to preserve their habitat and the livelihoods in the reservations begins again and again.
There is still no compensation for stolen land, the US government only has to pay money for the use of the reservations inhabited by indigenous peoples. The tribes would be helped by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, an internationally binding agreement on the rights of indigenous peoples.
It would secure the rights to one's own land and resources, the rights to cultural identity and traditions, to decent working conditions and more. The convention has existed since 1989; the US has not ratified it.
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