In Nevada, our nineteen federally recognized tribes are located throughout our state, with a concentration in the North. 1.6% of Nevada’s population identified as Native American in the 2010 census, as compared with 1.2% of the country overall. The Native Nevada community experienced a great loss with the October 29th death of 38 year old Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Chairman Wayne Burke, who was only the first Native American to serve on the Nevada Tourism Commission and a veteran Marine who took steps to improve the educational conditions of the children in his tribe.
In 2011, Governor Sandoval joined three other states in proclaiming an “American Indian Day,” but efforts to recognize a day in honor of our country’s first inhabitants were afoot as early as 1915. In 1990, George H.W. Bush declared November “Native American Heritage Month,” and many communities utilize the month of November as an opportunity to educate the public about the contributions and conditions of Native Americans.
Across the United States, Native Americans living both on and off reservations continue to have the highest rates of poverty, drug use, and unemployment, and the lowest educational attainment rates of any minority group in the country. Basic discrimination issues surrounding the “Indian mascot” theme still arise, such as No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” video, which was released this past Friday and quickly pulled from circulation. Struggles with voting rights and practicing religious beliefs in public institutions like schools, whether wearing a medicine bag or remaining seated for the pledge of allegiance, also pervade Native daily lives.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution excludes states from “Indian affairs” by permitting only Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes . . . .” This Article, combined with the fourteenth amendment’s particular exclusion of “Indians not taxed,” denied Native Americans the right to vote until Congress declared their U.S. citizenship in 1924. Long after 1924, states continued to suppress, deny, and creatively redistrict in order to dilute the voting rights of Native communities.
During November’s Native American Heritage Month, consider the links between the history of internal displacement and denial of civil liberties to our Native communities, and the resulting legacy of inequality and suffering. What structures, social and political, have kept this oppression in place, and what steps can be taken to rectify our mistakes? Attend a gathering of your local tribes and perhaps you will discover our native heritage.