by Chrysa Perakis
According to the 2010 US Census, there are approximately 5.2 million Native Americans living in the United States and 567 federally recognized tribes. From losing ancestral lands through colonization to the current complicated relationship with the United States government, Native Americans have experienced a history of silencing and trauma that has lead to continued present-day suffering. Despite these hardships, Native Americans have persevered and contributed an immeasurable amount to United States history. Their legacy of culture has withstood colonial rule, their innovations have changed the course of United States history, and their traditions have been kept alive with each new generation.
First, it is imperative to note just how much this historical trauma has continued to affect Native American communities today. Often only associated with casinos, these communities face a myriad of issues at a disproportionate rate that the public is not aware of. Many live under the poverty line; according to a Pew Research survey from 2014, 1 in 4 Native Americans were living in poverty. Healthcare is constantly compromised- resulting in an average lifespan that can dip as low as 20 years below the national average. The U.S. government is not properly funding the Indian Health Service, resulting in poor implementation of health services, highly preventable deaths, and understaffed hospitals. They also suffer from high rates of alcoholism and Native American youth suffer from high rates of suicide.
However, in the face of colonial rule and this continued present-day marginalization, Native Americans have persisted and their culture and innovations have continued to thrive. From contributions to science and medicine to engineering techniques and agricultural technologies, Native Americans have been innovating for thousands of years. In terms of military service, Native Americans serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in this country. Native American culture is rich with visual arts, such as ceramics and paintings, and music and dance-based traditions. Tribes have established unique tribal governments and created political networks of tribal sovereignty and effective leadership. Throughout history, Native American communities have continued to create and maintain a strong sense of cultural identity evident in their impactful contributions.
The Red Nation Celebration Institute is a cultural arts nonprofit organization focused on empowering and promoting Native American storytellers across all artistic media platforms. They also have focused initiatives for women and youth. They promote education and awareness through the celebration of Native American content creators and artists. Their work is critical in celebrating the Native American peoples’ movement and the Bedrosian Center is proud to be in partnership with the Red Nation Celebration Institute. The Center’s partnership is dedicated to the amplification of stories of Native Americans by bringing attention to their lives and work, as well as highlighting the important policy issues present in Native American communities. Through this partnership, the Bedrosian Center will be hosting several events at the 2019 Red Nation International Film Festival, including a screenwriting event and a reading of “Who We Are,” a play addressing the identity crisis often faced by Native American youth: the pull between tradition, generational trauma, individuality, and assimilation.
I encourage you to attend one or all of these upcoming events- there is a lot to learn and celebrate. Before I sign off, I leave you with this quote by USC Professor David Treuer, who grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota, “Why should people read about native things at all. The answer is that by doing so you can see everything that this country is, condensed and highlighted. Indian communities and their history are not exceptions to the American story, but condensations and distillations of all of it” (2018). Check out his new book, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, a New York Times bestseller that discusses Native American life from a contemporary perspective and how Native American culture has thrived and stood resilient in the face of continued atrocities. This is evident in Native American communities across the United States whose thriving cultural heritage continues to serve as a strong foundation passed down from generation to generation.
See you there!