By Kiara Torres
At the beginning of 2016, the North Dakota Access Pipeline sparked nationwide protest and news coverage. Indigenous groups rarely achieve such mainstream media coverage. While this was one step closer to addressing an important issue for a people of color, the American people still continuously forget the problems indigenous people face today.
The pipeline originally sparked controversy after there were numerous environmental consequences for the Meskwaki and Sioux tribal nations on whose land the pipeline exists such as contamination to their water supply, and the obstruction of sacred burial grounds.
As people living on colonized land, regardless of our ethnicity, we should advocate for and demand that our government provides adequate resources for indigenous people. Our government should be accountable for its treaties and should stick to them. Non-indigenous people should fight to maintain this level of justice for indigenous people. Ultimately, non-indigenous people need to listen to and understand the voices of these indigenous communities in order to become a better ally and allow them to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle and for their prosperity.
In the United States, there are 326 Native American reservations that cover 56.2 million acres according to The Bureau of Indian Affairs. What is not often spoken about are the problems of those who live on reservations. According to Native American Aid, 38% to 63% of indigenous residents on reservations live below the poverty line, and 40% live in inadequate housing. Alcoholism and drug abuse are also very prevalent on reservations.
Many Native groups are seeking to fight this systematic injustice. For example, the Navajo Nation which occupies Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, has little to no access to clean water. Some residents drive as much as two hours just to obtain drinking water. The Navajo Nation has established the Navajo Water Project, which aims to build new wells, routes, home water systems, and ownership of water to their reservations.
Similarly, the indigenous people of Hawaii have faced devastating circumstances since the annexation of their land in 1893 from U.S. military forces. Lately, the indigenous people of the islands have had problems regarding their land rights. Most are in regards to Kuleana land that are parcels granted to Native Hawaiian tenant farmers between 1850 and 1855, according to USA Today.
Under the “Ua koe ke kuleana o na kanaka,” which is a document that states the legal rights of land trusts of native Hawaiians, the Kuleana land is inherited by descendants of the initial buyer. One example of Kuleana land causing controversy involves Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, who filed a lawsuit in order to build his 700 acre beachfront home on the island of Kauai that happened to be on Kuleana lan. He ultimately dropped the suit due to public backlash.
Another problem native Hawaiians face is the possibility of their homeland being wiped out due to rising ocean levels caused by global warming, according to School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. Many native Hawaiians have relocated to the mainland in order to avoid the flooding and dangers which the islands now face. While there are many discussions about climate change, rarely do you hear about their effects on indigenous peoples.
Discussing indigenous problems should occur more often and not just when it is convenient or beneficial for popular news organizations. The American government needs to be held more accountable for the problems these communities face. The only way for that to happen is for all Americans to fight for justice. Without a change, indigenous people potentially risk losing the little land they have left and the erasure of their culture.