American Indian Policy and Its Historical Origins

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 15
Words: 4133
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: College


As the population of Native Americans continues to increase in the 21st century, the problems in the reservations become more challenging to solve. Over 562 federally accepted Native tribes face different issues that significantly contributed to the demographic region and traditional structure. This essay provides an extensive overview of the significant problems that American Indians face today. Native communities have a unique history whereby they interacted with various groups that tried assimilating them. Several of the issues facing Native Americans today have a historical origin, and this essay explains a few. Multiple strategies are established to solve problems in reservations and better the welfare of indigenous communities. However, some of the plans were unsuccessful and failed to achieve their goal. The failed schemes are analyzed, and the sources of their failure are explained briefly. Finally, modern solutions to improving the welfare of American Indians in reservations are provided in this essay.


Native Americans, also known as American Indians, were the indigenous group of people to occupy the United States of America and Canada. The American Indians are grouped according to their area of residence. A group inhabited Northern America, present-day Canada, and the United States; another group settled in middle America, currently known as Mexico; and the last group lived in South America. The population of Native Americans has dramatically grown to approximately 2.9 million since the settlement of the first Europeans (“Indian population in the US,” 2019). American Indians constitute five hundred and sixty-two federally accepted tribes. The Cherokee, the Sioux, the Navajo, and the Cheyenne are the famous tribes of the American Indians. The Indians contributed enormously to the development of America by cultivating and flourishing various plants that are useful in the world today. Despite their devotion to America’s growth, Native Americans face many problems today.

Major Problems in Native America Today

Virtually half the population of American Indians live in federal reservations, whereas the other half live in rural areas and large cities. The tribes have their ethnic laws, which they highly respect and are not subject to U.S. state laws. The Native Americans are proud of their values and cultures; therefore, most of the reservations are situated west of the Mississippi River, where they can live and preserve their traditions. However, conditions at the reservations are not favorable to the increasing population resulting in many problems.

Unemployment and Poverty

Approximately 27% of all Native Americans live in poverty due to joblessness, especially within the federal reservations. The households are overcrowded, and the only income they earn is social security and veterans or disability pay. A ratio of four to eight out of ten grown-ups in the reservations does not have employment, and those employed earn below poverty wages (Muhammad et al., 2019). Many families live from hand to mouth with the Sioux reservations in the North and South Dakota, constituting the USA’s poorest regions. Grandparents are frequently left with the duty of looking after and raising their grandchildren as the parents are forced to leave the reservations to seek employment (Tapia, 2019). The situation is sad as households and extended families bring together their insufficient resources to meet basic needs to survive.

Poor Quality Housing

The living conditions of Native Americans in the reservations are of poor quality and are often compared to those in the third-world states. Many American Indians live in overcrowded and poorly set-up houses due to the high poverty rate in the reservations. Overpopulation in the reservations has also contributed to poor housing conditions. Currently, over seven hundred thousand American Indians inhabit over a third of the federal reservations. The federal government is responsible for developing houses on reservations, and because of the underfunding witnessed, houses constructed are of poor quality (“Native American issues,” 2020). Furthermore, many households in the reservations live without amenities such as running water, electricity, and telephone. The absence of these utilities increases possible health risks in the reservations and rural areas where there is difficulty accessing health care services.

Insufficient Health Care

There is an improvement in the average life expectancy of Native Americans, yet it still drifts by almost five years from that of other Americans. Limited access to health care facilities and the poor health conditions in reservations and rural areas are significant contributors to the low life expectancy. Lack of awareness has led to high HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 in the reservations, with the viruses claiming many lives. Mental health cases are on the rise in reservations due to a lack of mental health services (“Native and indigenous communities,” 2021). Underfunding of the Indian Health institutes by the federal government results in one out of any three American Indians benefiting from the healthcare services provided by the scheme (Smith, n.d.). Furthermore, the Indian Health Service facilities are distant from Native Americans making accessibility grueling. The shortage of medical personnel is severe in remote reservation areas, and Native Americans continue dying from preventable illnesses.

Suppression of Native American Vote

Native Americans in rural areas and reservations are unable to exercise their democratic right to vote. The natives are unfit to register as voters as their applications for voting cards are always rejected because many reservations do not use traditional street addresses. If the native American overcomes the barrier of voter registration, still there awaits the burden of accessing polling places and the system of voting by mail (Lakhani, 2020). The unavailability of polling units in remote reservations makes it hard for the Indian settlers to participate in voting. Duck Valley reservation in Nevada and Goshute Reservation in Utah do not have polling units, and the closest polling units are miles away from the reservations. Suppressing the Native American vote undermines democracy, thereby denying the native community a voice in the democratic process (Ferguson-Bohnee, 2020). Exercising in voting should be without any hardship, and all Americans, including American Indians, need to participate.

Less Educated Native Americans

The graduation rates of American Indians are on a decline since 2008. Unfortunately, the percentage of the student population in the United States of America represented by Native Americans is less than one. Moreover, the Native American dropout rate is more than any other ethnic group in the U.S and twice the country’s average (Williams, 2016). Inadequate funding of schools by the federal government contributes to the increase in the dropout rate because of defective study equipment. Some American Indians do not like how they get treated in school, leading others to trauma from the excessive forms of abuse and having their academic needs not satisfied, making them drop out (Clarren, 2017). Barriers to American Indian’s educational success are the high levels of poverty that make education seem like a luxury need. The children opt to seek a source of income to help take care of the family.

Violence on Children and Women

Violence against native women has reached extraordinary levels, with four in every five American Indians having experienced physical and sexual abuse. Domestic violence is reported to be ten times higher in Native America, and the lack of adequate federal response to the situation is alarming. In the reservations, women are killed at a rate more than ten times the nation’s average (Simpson, n.d.). The violence has devastating effects on the survivors and their families. The children exposed to the brutality suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, making the majority of them engage in drug and substance abuse (Smith-Morris, 2020). A report from the justice department states that 80% of non-native Americans are the perpetrators of rape and physical abuse of indigenous women. These crimes are likely to occur in remote reservations and tribal lands in rural areas where short-term workers such as miners live.

Drug and Substance Abuse

Despite American Indians accounting for only a tiny portion of the United States of America’s population, a higher percentage of substance abuse is experienced by the natives compared to other racial groups (“Higher rate of substance use,” 2018). Poverty, historical trauma, and low levels of attained education are significant factors that contribute to the increase in addiction among indigenous Americans. Several health issues follow after the substance abuse, with the main problem being mental illness. Alcohol and marijuana use in the reservations is prominent among young native adults aged 18 to 25 (Kaliszewski, 2021). Death rates related to drug abuse and alcoholism in Native Americans are more common in men, and there is an increase in addiction among women. However, consumption of alcohol by American Indians is among the particular tribe, and not all, and the drinking habits depend on geographic areas as well.

Native Language on the Verge of Extinction

A growing number of native children speak English while the Native elders only use the Native American vocabulary. Gradually, the Native Language is becoming obsolete as more than a third of the American Indian languages have fewer than a hundred speakers (Sparks, n.d.). Changing environments contribute significantly to language loss and Western values, such as pressure for assimilation into superior cultures and conscious suppression policies directed at native groups (LaPier, 2018). The remaining native languages will be left unless there are measures set up to rescue them. Insufficient resources and inadequate funds hinder many educators from teaching Native American children their Native languages.

Historical Origin of the Problems

Native Americans have a unique history with many risk factors that resulted in extreme circumstances and measures trying to counter the risks. The inappropriate actions led to the origin of problems facing the American Indians currently. Some of the social, economic, and political difficulties experienced by the Indigenous Americans originated from their historical encounters with other groups. The traditions also contribute to significant problems, especially in health, that still affects the communities today. Tribal leaders were deceived into signing treaties with the federal government making them unable to own land and all the resources available on the grounds.

Poverty and Unemployment

Injustice and tragedy have spoiled the modern history of Native Americans, and frequent suffering within the Native communities is met with views that shock the moral sense. During widespread starvation in 1862, the American government refused to show integrity by honoring the treaty commitment to the Dakota Sioux Indians. The government failed to provide funds owed to the tribe making the tribal leaders unable to purchase food. A government representative sparked the legendary Dakota war when he commented that if the Indians were hungry, they should eat grass or dung. The confrontation between the tribe and the federal government was bloody, and many Natives were murdered (“Mass killings of Native Americans,” 2019). The tribe witnessed high poverty levels due to the war and hunger that made many not work. Furthermore, the bad blood between the natives and the federal government created the Indians to stop working in the plantations owned by the government, rendering many unemployed.

Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

The high consumption and prevalence of alcohol among Native Americans initially originated from the European colonists who made enormous amounts of booze accessible to Indians. Tribes started producing beers that were generally for ceremonial use only. Initially, the American Indians had week fermented beverages and beers, but later on, the distillation became strong, making the alcohol abusable. The European colonist instantaneously refined large amounts of wines and spirits available to the Native communities who introduced it as a trading medium. There were no legal guidelines that would regulate alcohol consumption, leading to addiction from the heavy drinking splurges (Dunbar-Ortiz & Gilio-Whitaker, 2017). Strong encouragement and lack of regulations contributed to the severe alcohol consumption tradition among Native Americans, passed from generation to generation. As a result, the current high prevalence of alcohol use among Native American communities can be observed.

Failure of Solutions to Address Problems

The federal government is tasked with managing Indian affairs for the well-being of all Native Americans. However, the government has failed to live up to this management, as seen in the high poverty levels in Native American reservations. Various other solutions championed to help solve the problems facing Indigenous Americans that failed to meet their objective have contributed to more problems and opened channels that will enable their improvement and make them meet the aim.

Federal Government Owning and Managing Indian lands

The government has legal rights of owning all assets and lands belonging to Indians, and it is required to control them for the benefit of the American Indians. This notion has led Native communities on the path to poverty. The Chief Justice, John Marshall, resembled the relationship between the government and Natives as a ward to his guardian. The chief justice established a federal trust doctrine that is still present to date. The trusteeship assigns the federal government as the custodian of Indian affairs (Taylor, 2019). The solution has not served the Native communities well because they do not come by and considerably own their lands on reservations. Therefore, they are unable to mortgage their assets for loans. Starting a business becomes difficult, and the community remains chained in poverty. Furthermore, reservations with valuable natural resources cannot generate revenue for the tribe inhabiting, which indicates that the solution has failed.

Broken Promises by Federal Government

The Native Americans and the federal government signed treaties embodied in the constitution. The tribes relinquished vast tracks of land to the government of the United States with a formal treaty that states protection Native communities will enjoy as they are recognized as sovereign political entities. In addition, the government would provide essential services and adequate resources to the tribes. However, the federal government has fallen short in meeting its commitment majorly through underfunding every extent of the trust relationship. Some dimensions of the treaty, such as the provision of health care services, witness budget cuts and neglect that is quite evident during the novel coronavirus outbreak. The reservations were hit hard with skyrocketing numbers of infections due to the poor-quality equipment and inadequate health personnel (Doshi et al., 2020). The unreasonable devastation COVID-19 is having on Native communities is a clear indication of the Federal Government’s systematic failure to meet the treaty and trust obligations.

Boarding School for Native American Children

Congress passed a law that involved assimilating Native Americans to the Western culture by establishing boarding schools to carry out this charge. The federal government and Christian missions were tasked with teaching the American Indians children. The subjects ranged from math to reading, which was a means of killing the Indian culture, but Congress referred to it as a way of saving man. The operation was often degrading and traumatic to the children as some were forcefully taken away from their families and homelands and taken to boarding schools miles away (Wong, 2019). In the 1970s, Congress banned the law when they realized it was causing more harm than good to the Native American communities, from psychological torture to physical damage caused by the police when forceful admission of the children to the boarding schools.

Reasonable Solutions to the Problems

Indigenous Americans are an adapting people, and with plausible solutions, they can blend in well. With the extensive research and evaluation of the problems and suffering that Native Americans have undergone, it is possible to develop solutions that will help the communities solve the problems. The answers will help preserve the Indian culture and traditions for generations to come. In turn, the welfare of native communities will improve, and the local economy will witness immense growth. Solving the problems in the reservations dramatically benefits both the indigenous people and all Americans.

Quality Health Care and Equity

The Federal Government dispenses healthcare services to the Native Americans. However, due to the underfunding the health care sector receives, American Indians cannot get quality health care. Inadequate personnel and equipment are the major contributors to the poor quality of health services in the reservations and remote rural areas where Native communities live. A possible remedy for this problem is encouraging the collaboration of private-sector health organizations with those of the government. The Arc Health company joined forces with Native American health institutions with a vision to serve indigenous communities in reservations and rural areas. Health services provided by the Arc Health company are done respecting the cultural humility of American Indians and their communities (Le, 2020). Encouraging other health companies to collaborate with the health institutions in the reservations will improve the situation and bring equality, making the Natives feel like Americans and not outcasts.

The solution to the Housing Problem

The United States government has a legal obligation of promoting Native American welfare, which it fulfills through a framework known as self-determination. In 1996, the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-determination Act granted the Indian communities the authority of choosing the housing program they want to be funded and the delivery methods of the programs. In addition, the Act requires the government to consult and negotiate with tribal leaders on rulemaking. The Helping Expenditure and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership Act gives Native communities control over land leasing (“Tackling the housing crisis,” 2020). The tribes are empowered to exercise their inherent sovereignty over tribal lands. Creating awareness of the existence of such Acts is essential to the Native Americans, and it will help them set up affordable housing projects in the tribal lands.

Improving Native American Education

Education is a critical tool that will assist Native communities to grow and develop. Increasing the number of American Indians that receive education and graduate will help them become better citizens, get well-paying jobs, and shape their communities more remarkably. Cultural activities are essential to the Native Americans, so schools should establish a curriculum that includes Native communities’ cultures. For the curriculum to be successful, the people teaching need to be knowledgeable about the cultures. The Sealaska Heritage Institute, based in Juneau, conducts orientation on local public-school teachers with the center of attention on Native American culture and Language. Furthermore, the institute carries on afterschool activities to teach the Native American students math and measurements via canoe building and traditional basket weaving (Moore & Williams, n.d.). Native American students feel comfortable in such institutions, and this motivates them to continue studying. Such educational programs need to be supported by funding and the provision of equipment necessary for learning.

Benefits from Tourism

The American Indian culture has attracted tourists from all over the world. A well-organized tourism structure brings prosperity to the host communities, stimulating the local economy. Employment opportunities start generating from a community that has its economy growing (Hilleary, 2019). Indian communities inhabiting North America are among the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Hundreds of tourists visit the area to watch tribal dances and buy hand-fashioned jewelry. However, the Cherokee tribe hardly benefits from the revenue generated in tourism as non-Indians manage the facilities. Most Native Americans have low-paid jobs as cooks and maids and can scarcely take care of their families. The resources need to be managed by American Indians to improve their welfare since their culture is the source of attraction. The federal government will improve infrastructure in the reservation because of the revenue generated, and the tax will be paid, thereby having a win-win state.

Overseeing Governments Projects in Reservations

The federal government has an obligation to assist the Native Americans. A private organization should be established and given the role of ensuring that government projects in the reservations are done to completion. The organization should also inspect the projects and ascertain that the government has done good quality work. Government programs such as food distribution and house improvement need immediate attention as they are crucial to the communities’ well-being. The programs are among other moral obligations that the U.S government signed with the Indian community. Past efforts for the government to meet these obligations have had problematic results. However, introducing an agency that oversees will make the government take the trust responsibilities seriously.

Establishing Programs to Help Preserve Indian Culture

Strengthening tribal culture and Language is at the core of the trust relationship the federal government has with tribal nations. The Obama administration had government programs that aimed at conserving the culture and heritage of American Indians. Various boarding schools that are federally funded were constructed, and the curriculum incorporated Native languages and cultures (Ferlazzo, 2019). Not only did this strategy preserve the culture, but also improved education engagement and outcomes. The schools employed teachers from the Native communities because they knew the Indian culture. Attending schools supporting Native Americans’ identity make indigenous American students free from bullying and offensive symbolism. Several agencies showed interest in promoting and protecting Native Languages and cultures after the American Indian language summit (Sparks, n.d.). The agencies play a significant role in providing critical input and resources toward implementing objectives to preserve Native American culture and languages.

Changing Federal Policy

Native Americans are unable to neither buy nor sell the reservation land. Due to federal policy on the ground, the Natives lack property rights to sell the lands they own. The current policies prevent Native communities from reaping numerous benefits as they cannot own land, restricting them from building equity. American Indians in the reservations need fundamental property rights to allow them to use the right to address serious problems they face. Several Native tribes in Canada are pushing for legislation to create a legal framework for Native community members to acquire capital through a specific property right. The reservations will be seen more like cities, thus attracting resources to the areas. Considering such a reform is a step towards making sure that Native communities move forward (Riley, 2016). Allowing Natives to own land would embrace tradition as it will be part of the indigenous culture.

Partnership with Native Americans Initiative

Organizations such as the National Relief Charities and Partnership With Native Americans have given hope to Native Americans in reservations as they champion improving the welfare of American Indians living in remote and impoverished reservations. The organizations do not focus on making any profit and partner with other agencies to provide long-term solutions to problems facing Native communities. The primary aim is to serve immediate needs to see a strong and self-sufficient Native American community. The PWNA organization funds several community development projects in reservations, and they involve community leaders. These projects hope to end the cycle of poverty and hopelessness among Native Americans (Oliff, 2021). Striving to help Native Americans gives them hope for a better future, contributing immensely to the country’s economy.

Improving Basic Infrastructure in Reservations

The critical factor in retaining and attracting business interest is in ensuring the sufficiency of infrastructure. Native American reservation needs basic infrastructure such as electricity to sustain themselves economically. American Indians living and working in reservations pay federal income taxes even though the reservations do not have revenue streams taxed since the land they live on is held by the trust and not owned by the residents. Thus, the federal government is unable to generate revenue from the tax to construct the basic infrastructure like roads, communication networks, schools, and electricity systems. However, some tribes have strategically set up plans to counter the barrier by diversifying their industries to ensure self-sufficiency. Fortunately, Native American in the Mississippi reservation has successfully reinvested over five hundred million dollars in the reservation’s economic development projects (Carlyle, 2016). More tribes engaging in diversifying their industries will generate revenue for the communities, which will provide the basic infrastructure, thus the ability to self-sustain themselves.

Visit a Native American Reservation

It is difficult to acknowledge the actual reality of modern Native Americans’ lives if a person has never visited a native reservation. Visiting Indian reservations and volunteering to participate in the activities there contribute to improving living conditions. Furthermore, talking about the troubles facing Native Americans helps provide solutions. Involving in manual labor, teaching, and medical work, or any training, however small it may seem, makes a positive difference to American Indians’ livelihood. Volunteer programs are established where donations and any form of support are acceptable (Paul, 2019). Native Americans residing off-reservation in cities often visit the reservation with supplies and offer moral support. Non-American Indians are encouraged to connect with volunteer programs and show support to the households in reservations and contribute something of value.


This essay clearly shows the barriers that Native Americans continue to face in today’s America. Socioeconomic, health, and education problems are what Native communities battle within the reservations and remote rural areas they inhabit, making the situation nothing short of a national setback. All of us, involving the federal government, have a crucial role in improving the welfare of Native Americans. Implementing the solutions stated in this essay will help bring together the necessary resources required to improve lives and give hope to future generations of Native Americans. A significant percentage of the nation’s economy will be boosted if the welfare of American Indians is taken into consideration.


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