For the past few years, activists have taken to social media and occasionally the streets to protest our nation’s practice of celebrating Columbus Day as a government and bank holiday. As they see it, Columbus and his crew contributed to Europe’s exploitation of the North American continent’s natural resources while fostering the mass slaughter and degradation of the Native American people.
The activists have turned the table on the holiday and instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, honoring the culture and people whose heritage was here before the white man.
While a Native American holiday is truly a must-have – they are remarkable people with a fantastic culture -- the activists come across as blatantly disingenuous. Quite frankly, by living in the past and riding a popular politically-correct movement, they offer little consideration for the plight of modern Native American.
That’s typical with modern political involvement, more appropriately known as “slacktivism”. People use the internet as a sounding board but rarely invest actual time or physical, mental and financial effort beyond the cause du jour. It’s cool to be a part of the in-crowd in that moment, but after that, it becomes an afterthought.
And, the Indigenous people have become the ultimate afterthought.
After that one day of celebration and alleged respect, the masses go back to allowing them to suffer in silence. They become forgotten -- the minority of minorities.
While society and our public policy systems wring hands over the socioeconomic obstacles faced by blacks and Hispanics, almost no consideration is given to the similar plight faced by Native Americans.
Even here in Western New York, that’s an issue. We obsess (and rightly so) over the profound poverty in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, but in a region where we have eleven reservations there is no substantial or sustainable coverage in local papers, radio or TV that addresses, let alone identifies, the similar conditions faced by Natives.
How bad is their situation? Consider these damning statistics that look at Indigenous populations across the country:
Their high school dropout rate is a staggering 11 percent. For African-Americans that number is 8 percent, for whites just 3.
Their attainment of higher education is also depressed. 17 percent of Native Americans over the age of 25 hold a college degree, while 19 percent of blacks do. A third of Caucasians have a degree.
The poverty rate for Indigenous people is 26 percent, beaten only by that of blacks (28 percent). 11 percent of White Americans are considered poor.
There’s no easy or quick fix. We need schools to put an added focus on these kids. We need to help Native populations develop more community development institutions. We need to hold up high-performing communities as examples to learn from. Above all, we need to end the discrimination and stereotypes placed on Indigenous People and welcome them into our labor markets and into our larger community.
It will take investments of time, money and innovative policy, which they aren’t getting enough of now, despite a third of Native Americans living on reservations. That is where they face a no-win situation similar to those of people living in our inner cities where most of New York’s and the federal government’s anti-poverty resources and economic development activities are invested.
Realize that nary a penny of the Buffalo Billion has been spent on advancing their population. Our Governor chooses instead to use state resources to do battle with the Senecas over casino funds while at the same time launching private and public casinos to compete with their best source of mass income, employment and social advancement. He is pitting the general NY population against those who live on sovereign Native land when we should all be working together for the development of all people.
The only economic official in the state who has made a concerted effort to help the Native Americans is Steve Hyde in Genesee County whose STAMP project will bring well-paying manufacturing jobs to the border of the Tonawanda Reservation.
More public officials should follow Hyde’s lead, think outside of the box and act grandly.
As a matter of fact, those social media activists we mentioned earlier must do the same…get away from the computers and go into the real world. Stop protesting Columbus Day; do something real, measurable, and impactful.
We need everyone to help Native Americans succeed. If we don’t, we are only contributing to the carnage that Columbus allegedly wrought 525 years ago.
From the 06 October 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers