08 Sep 2020

Native Americans And Their Struggles In Times Of Donald Trump

History Of Native Americans

Native Americans are the Pre-Columbian era people living within the United States. Popularly known as American Indian, aboriginal American or First Nation person, although the term often refers to only those group of people whose territories were in present-day Canada and the United States. There are around 500 recognised Native American tribes within the US, and they constitute over 5 million in population. Native American often prefer to be called by their tribal names like Lokota Sioux, Navajo, Oneida, or Nez Perce.

Nearly forty years ago, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed by the US Congress, to let the Native Americans practice their religious faith freely. The act also mentioned the protection for access to their sacred sites. This development took place after a 500-year-long history of conquest and the Native Americans were forced from their homelands due to coercive conversion to Christianity. Under these rights, the United States gave special rights to Native Americans with limited autonomy, which is not provided to any other groups within the country.

The Conflict

Native Americans have always believed that they never joined the United States voluntarily and that they should have a right to practice sovereignty within their territory. Native Americans feel that they got marginalised and impoverished by the United States by removing them from valuable lands. Legal conflicts involving water rights, forest management, mineral development, and flow management of major waterways have consistently brought state governments and the general public against tribal governments, with the federal government taking various sides depending upon the situation on particular disputes.

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Present Struggles Of Native Americans

Hate Language

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Donald Trump soon after taking charge of the government in 2016 has consistently used hateful and insulting language towards Native Americans. A recent tweet by Trump, following Elizabeth Warren’s live Instagram Q&A session, “If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian grab, it would have been a smash!” Trump received immediate criticism of using highly offensive remarks.

Slashing Bears Ears Site

Bears Ears Monument has been protected by the Native Americans for years, that resulted into naming it a national monument under the Obama Administration. Native American perceive the land as a sacred, living being. Trump has recently approved of reducing the protected Bears Ears monument and announced to open it for oil and gas bidding. This showcased the trump’s tendency to insult Native history and land.

Cutting Federal Programs

Donald Trump proposed the removal of federal assistance programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), which provides monthly benefits to buy food items. It would replace the SNAP program with a food box program that provides non -perishable food, not chosen by the people eating them. This proposal poses a threat to a health concern, as decreased access to nutritious food could lead to an increased rate of obesity and diabetes amongst the Native Americans dependent on SNAP.

Many other federal health initiatives and assistance programs have temporary halts due to the government shut down, affecting Native Americans disproportionately. Various Native American clinics have been closed due to lack of funding. Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, revealed that Navajo people were trapped in their home, due to heavy snowfall, where the roads were unplowed because federal maintenance had stopped.

Suppression Of Voters

Native Americans have been targeted systematically by the US government with voter suppression laws to discourage political participation. With the strict voter ID laws that asks to provide federal documentation with residential addresses which Native communities do not possess, they have been denied the right to vote as well.

Proposal Of Building A Border Wall

Trump has proposed for building a border wall which passes through the Tohono O’odham Nation, separating members of Native communities and disrupting their lifeways. Native Americans have staged a protest against this measure and demanding a decisive role on border talks.

Conclusion

Trump administration has recently created a new task force to look into discrimination against various religious groups, however, the exclusion of Bears Ears and various other places of religious significance from the discussions raises important questions with regards to the religious freedom in the United States and the legitimacy of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

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