Indigenous People Share What It's Like To Grow Up On A Reservation In The States.
Thousands of year before European explorers, navigators, and colonizers (like Christopher Columbus and his ships), arrived in the Americas, an estimated number of 50 million people were already living there. They were the nomadic ancestors of modern indigenous people. Around 10 million lived in the area that would later become the United States.
Most people have at least a vague sense of the violent and colonial history of Indigenous people in the Us. However, how much do you actually know about Indigenosu people and their lives on reservations?
Here are their stories:
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
I live on the fort peck Assiniboine Souix reservation. All I can say is that there's more crime and domestic abuse here than I've seen any where else. There are a lot of people with drug abuse and alcohol problems. We rarely see help from the federal government. It's not the people's problem here, it's lack of funding from the government. It's a lost world were you grow up only knowing how to drink and do drugs only because you see your parents do it. Once in awhile you see people with good upbringing, and those are the ones that leave and get degrees for themselves. Other than that, most of them drop out of school, get pregnant at a young age, and then the process starts all over again. Generation after generation, a repeating process. I lived here, left, and moved away but it's home to me.
I'm from a reservation in WA state and am half Native American. It's not that bad here. The thing is, all tribes are different. There is a lot of heroin and meth abuse. Generally, the dealers are not the native people but a lot of the users are. My sisters are all addicts.
Other than everyone having a bunch of broken down cars, it's not much different than a small town.
I start work as an attorney for my tribe. As in house counsel, next week. The tribe has paid for everything for me. They fully funded my undergrad at a top, private university and they funded my law degree. They pay for my healthcare, they pay for each kid to have school clothes twice a year (300 twice a year). They have their own food bank and resource center. A gym with personal trainers. You get the gist.
I grew up on the rosebud reservation in South Dakota. It was fine I guess. After moving off the reservation I realized that everyone was poor but my family just happened to be slightly less poor since both my parents worked a lot to try and give us a good life.
It felt like a small town with a lot of culture that is very important. People flocked to pow wows, rodeos, sporting events and whatever was going on. If it wasn't that, then the older folks were drinking. I don't ever want to go back, there's just no opportunity there.
I grew up on a reservation in Minnesota. I left when I became an adult.
Basically has the same stuff as rural towns. No good paying work, lots of drug abuse, except the benefit of a Super Fund site next to the town (that's a huge chemical leak that no one can afford to clean up).
The good is there's a strong sense of family in the community. My fiance grew up there as well, but has a much bigger family. They are all there for each other and it's amazing what people can do in groups like that.
The "Rez culture" is something I didn't even realize until I left. I said slang words no one understood and had an accent. Both me and my fiance have lost those accents.
I have never had to pay for health care. Ever. Check ups, surgeries, meds, even emergency things (had to be life-flighted once, no bill). I understand while people were made about ACA, but it didn't effect my life.
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I grew up on the Navajo Reservation, in the southwest, New Mexico to be specific and spent a lot of time in Arizona as well. Some of the "natural" landscape can be truly amazing, but there is also all the isolation and typical issues that can be seen. Families that have to deal with drugs, alcohol, and crime. The size, distance, and location are all hard obstacles that add a lot of separation between services like jobs, healthcare, and even picking up day to day items. Cell service, internet access, and communication are all hit and miss in a lot of locations.
Alaska native Inupiaq here. Born and lived 8 years in Barrow, then 20 years in Fairbanks. Now living in Anchorage. We don't have reservations but we do have villages that are mainly Native.
The biggest difference is economic. We didn't have much money, weren't raised with money and as a result have poor spending habits coupled with half-assed schooling by newbie bush teachers. Financial stability is something that we struggle with no matter if your Inuit or Athabaskan or Yupik. This of course can lead to everything else mentioned in this thread, alcoholism, drugs, suicide, domestic violence, etc. you get the picture. It's getting better though, with each generation we're learning more.
Hopi tribe here.
My rez is in the Southwest and the sand gets everywhere. Even though I've moved to a big city I visit family Every time there is a dance. There's still a huge presence of kachina's which I take a lot of pride in.
Children being forced to boarding schools and forced to practice Christianity is still within living memory with my great uncles having been shipped to big cities.
There is a lot of poverty. Many people burn coal for heat in the winter and have to travel to the springs for clean water. But my So'oh (grandmother) tells me things are a lot better now than when she was young.
Even with the drugs and poverty everyone can still laughs at anything. And you barely walk through the door before being told to "sit down and eat.
The reservation my family is from is really, really poor. There is a heroin epidemic, I've lost people to it. Feral dogs are a problem. People get them and lose interest, or their dog has puppies and they take them to the dump site to be eaten by bears (awful I know). Alcoholism is such a common thing. The water is bad. It's rusty and smells like sewage. And if you can't drink the water, might as well drink pop. You can use your food stamps even. This doesn't help with the obesity problem, which doesn't help the diabetic issue or the heart attacks. And I mean sure, the casinos bring on money. Where that goes I have no idea. I love my people, I just don't know how to help them.
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I'm Navajo, and from the Navajo Nation. The people were wonderful, for the most part. Being part of two of the tightest clans on the Rez was pretty awesome. A lot of Navajo culture is basically just about enjoying life, and helping others do the same. That being said, the best part about being off the Rez is having all the clean water I can drink. Seriously. Sometimes I just stand at the sink and run the tap to marvel at the clean water coming out of it. In large parts of the Navajo Nation, you can't dig wells because of the uranium in the top layer of the water table. So some people just have to drive out really far to deliver or pickup water in big barrels from areas that aren't contaminated. It took 40+ years for the US government to do anything about it. And just recently, the EPA agreed to cover half the cost of cleaning 94 (about 20% of the total) abandoned uranium mines on the reservation. The water table is still fucked, but it's a start, if nothing else. And people wonder why we don't trust the government.
I grew up between the Salt River and Gila River reservations around Phoenix, Arizona. When I was a kid it was pretty fun having such a large area to just walk around with a bb gun and no one cared where you were or how long you were gone for. We could dig in the ground and find broken pottery from other generations which is pretty awesome to think about now.
There were a lot of drunks who would show up at our house at 2 am and my grandparents would help them out with food or a place to sleep. There was only one little gas station/store to get groceries along with a smoke shop.
I generally have good memories of being there.
We now have casinos which really helps the community provide for itself. Our tribe focuses on building the community and gives very little to individuals in percapita distributions. Other tribes give more money to their members, but it seems like that causes more drug and crime problems.
My tribe has the highest rate of diabetes in the world, or at least it did when I wrote my capstone research paper on it for nursing school. We spend a lot of money on hemodialysis.
There is a ton of death. We dig our own graves by hand. Compared to other funerals that I have gone to off the reservation, there is something very special about digging your loved one's grave. Being in the ground, inhaling the dirt where your family member will soon rest. It's powerful.
I live in the city now but I return frequently to visit family.
I grew up on the Navajo Nation; the largest reserve in the U.S. All my family still reside in the area, but I got to leave for college. For the most part, you are isolated from everything civil. We did not have running water or electricity until I was about 10. My father and uncles had jobs 10 hours away and would make frequent weekend trips home, and the nearest town is probably a good hour drive. I did not realize how difficult our lives were until I moved away for college.
As children, we had the vast open landscape as our playground. We hiked, camped, played tag, all without boundaries or worries that strangers were lurking. It was a close knit community, and families were clustered across the reservation. For example, if you were to visit a family friend, then you could pretty much walk on over to visit their grandparents, siblings, etc. I would make frequent trips home during college, and suddenly there is a disconnect between you and your home. You leave home impressed with this overwhelming grief. Not only is alcohol rampant on the reservation, but the quality of life is just unbelievable. Payday loans, fast food joints, and package liquor govern the Navajo people. These border towns are the only outlet we have for groceries and supplies, but the convenience of all these establishments leave us in an unhealthy state of mind. Like someone said, it's a vicious cycle and it becomes evident when a close friend or family is absorbed.
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I spent my younger years living in and often visit the northwest area of Navajo Nation (Shiprock). Unsure of the statistics but there's certainly high rates of unemployment, alcohol/drug abuse. However, plenty of people I know have gone to obtain a higher education so I have hope that our people will prosper.
It's a large reservation so experiences vary. I really don't know what else to add so if anyone would like any specific info, just ask.
I was born and grew up on the Bad river reservation on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. I lived in a house my mom's grandpa built in the 40s for the first couple years of my life, then my grandpa and family friends built a new house in the 80s, so that is my childhood home. My grandpa and uncle lived down the road in my childhood and they would harvest wild rice, and trap muskrat and beavers. The boat launch was under a mile from my house, and even closer to my grandpas land so I would go out with them a lot. He would sell the quilts, and wild rice at his smoke shop he had on the highway.
We had a casino built on the Rez when I was about 10, and that was a big deal. There was a trailer park in the Rez and that is where most of my friends lived, but it was on the other side of the river and you'd have to either drive or get wet to get there. I worked at my grandpas smoke shop until it closed in 1996. We participate in pow wow weekends, selling quilts and wild rice. Pow wows are a good time, family comes who don't live on the Rez, mainly scattered around Wisconsin/ Minnesota. I lived in Milwaukee for a couple years as I attended community college and lived with a friend from the Rez. We brought some friends we met in the city up north and they said it was not how they imagined it. It's pretty normal, we're just all really poor.
Lac Du Flambeau, Wisconsin.
I just turned 20 about two weeks ago.
Lots of drug abuse, teen moms with multiple children, high unemployment, generations of dysfunction, police corruption, government corruption. Often times it's easier to find opiates and amphetamines than it is weed.
Essentially your average poor small town.
We have our own public school, there's always a few white kids in every class so it can't be too bad. There's not much to do outside of outdoors type stuff and drugs. We have exclusive rights to hunt and gather year round so that's always something.
I went to a highschool that included 4(?) other schools from around the area, it was a pretty decent school, plenty of opportunities.
My mom is expecting her 5th child from a 3rd guy in September, she's 43 or something, all me and my siblings have asthma because she smokes while pregnant, and I expect her newest to have FAS. I'd say around 50% of my 40 person grade school class has or is expecting a child, take that however.
Anyone can come and go as they please, most people stay because the rez is a safe place. Pretty easy living with only minimal effort required. The actual rez area is beautiful and decently expansive, it's a pretty alright place if you keep to yourself.
Also I prefer to be called either Indian or American Indian, most natives I know (when talking to non-Indians) call themselves native or Indian, I don't mind native but I dislike Native American. I also don't care about mascot caricatures.
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I'm from a pretty well off res, we have a casino and hospitals and everything. The kids are mixed, some are smart and want to make something out of their lives, and some just don't give a shit and spend all their time smoking weed or drinking. If you try and actually want to work, there are have counselors and people who can help you out.
I just think some of my classmates are really dumb. We have it so much better than a lot of other people, but we still have idiots who just sit around smoking weed all day and doing nothing. Sometimes a group of students get together and we want to host something fun like have a prom or high school dance. And for the most parts the adults are really encouraging and helpful.
But a lot of other students are just so unmotivated that no matter what we plan, it just goes nowhere or turns out really lame. I really hate some of the kids here.
I feel like a third of us are just trying our best to be good decent people, trying to do fun community stuff. And then the rest are just blobs dragging us down. I hear from online friends and see on TV how other schools seem to have a sense of community and get to do fun stuff, and then there's just us.
And I know I have it a lot better than other tribes. We have money, we have infrastructure, everything is there. It's just the people.
Buffalo County in South Dakota, home of the Hunkpati Dakota band of Siouan Natives.
Well, for starters. It's depressing. Meth has a huge hold on the community now, and suicide rate is high. High obesity, high infant mortality, high rate of alcoholism, high rate of drug use, high rate of mental illness. The list goes on.
That's just scratching the surface. We don't even begin to talk about some of the injustices, about how the electric company still pulls meters during the winter before snow storms, or how the local grocery store still sells rotten produce to us.
There's only one native owned business aside from the casino, so the outsiders that come in and start up businesses jack up the prices because no one can afford to even drive anywhere else.
"Just get a job!"
Nearest town that actually has job opportunities outside of working at the casino is about a half hour away. So go to Chamberlain, work a minimum wage job and throw a significant amount of that paycheck towards gas. Then tell me how you expect to pay rent, take care of kids or buy an adequate amount of groceries. IN ORDER TO EVEN DO THAT YOU NEED A VEHICLE IN THE FIRST PLACE.
I grew up on a Reservation in Washington State, and mine is small and actually pretty nice compared to some. What it was like, was not much different than living in a small town. What IS different is that Reservations are rather like their own country, they do not follow State law unless they feel like it - and Federal Law is the only thing that must be followed and even that can sometimes not be true.
I guess it's kind of like living in a bubble. Generally low expectations from your fellow tribal members, and you get the same from people off-reservation. So when you do well, and I mean really well, often people on the reservation are not always sure how to treat you - usually with insults and sarcasm. BUT, tribes are full of familial solidarity if nothing else.
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I'm Ojibwe and am an enrolled member of, and currently residing on, Fond du Lac (Nagaajiwanaang) reservation in Northern MN. My mom and her family lived and grew up here. My dad is from Red Lake Nation (Miskwaagamiiwi-zaaga'igan), I spent quite a bit of time there when I was younger. Since most people have brought up issues such as drugs and alcohol, I'll try and talk about other things that go on.
Growing up on the rez can be pretty boring at times. My childhood was during the 80s and 90s, so we spent a lot of time outside. We played with our cousins and friends, made up games, told stories, helped our parents and aunties and uncles. Only adults who had steady jobs and people who won at bingo had cars. So us kids walked. A lot. In the fall we'd go ricing and hunting. Winter means more hunting and ice fishing and a lot of walking, but this time in the snow. Spring means it's time to get out of the house and go tap the trees for maple sap. Summer means fishing, but without the ice, and powwows. Powwows mean we get off our rez and travel to a different rez. But it's warm and there's music and dancing and other natives that might not be related to you.
Drugs and alcohol are large issues, but the older generations try to keep the younger people out of it through education and instilling traditional cultural values and skills such as ricing, hunting, fishing, beadwork, arts, dance, drums, etc. Teaching the language is so important. We learn it from our elders and teach it to the next generation so that it survives, like we have.
I grew up on 3 different reservations in Minnesota. Fond du lac, mille lacs, and Boise forte. I guess growing up I didn't really notice anything different. Basically I was living near lots of relatives. We have strong language revitalization in our schools, so Ojibwe Language and culture was a big part of our curriculum.
Now days, I work a social work type job in a medium sized City housing homeless families. Funny enough, because HUD defines homelessness as those living in shelters or on the streets, according to the federal government there would hardly be any homelessness on the reservations. That's because everyone living on the reservations always has a family member they can stay with, sometimes there will be like 3 families in a 1 or 2 bedroom house.
Historical trauma is a term you all should look up when referencing addiction and crime on reservations. How I would describe this... imagine generations of children being taken away from their home by the government, being beaten and abused. These generations of children were not being parented in a loving, nurturing way. Therefore, generations of children were not learning to be loved and parented in a good way, translating to them not learning how to be good parents. Some of our families are still struggling from this generational and historical trauma, some of us lucked out and got out of it. Now that the priest abuse scandals are more open... it was common place for pedo priests to be located to...you guessed it... native reservations.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.