The United States and Native Relations

My topic is, “How are Indigenous (Native Americans) people affected by environmental racism?”. Environmental racism is the disproportionate amount of consistent exposure to hazardous materials, waste and factories suffered by communities of color compared to white communities; causing severe health disparities and harm to life. I chose to focus on how Native people have been affected by environmental racism because, in my opinion, they have suffered through it the most, due to colonization and the taking of the land that Native Americans have called home. That being said, suffering through more harm to their homes and reservations just adds to the amount of racism there is against them. So, when approaching the question of Stasis, I chose to think about policy. The question that I chose to pose was, ‘How can the United States pay back (not necessarily with money) Native Americans for taking their homes?’ In this question as well, the word “homes” is used loosely. This is because not only was the entire United States of America once Native peoples home, but even now, reservation land that they call home is still being taken away. With this question, the two sides of my issue can come to light. On one side, there is the United States government who believes that they can pay back Native Americans by apologizing and offering lump sums of money. One the other side, there are Native Americans, who’s real want is for their land and ancestral territories back, and help reestablishing their communities; by lowering rates of poverty, obesity, and alcoholism. Both sides have extremely contrasting points of view, but there is still a way to bridge the gap between their perspective, by making it a question of “How can the U.S….” rather than should.

There is no doubt in the minds of many that Indigenous people have suffered at the hands of colonizers and have lost their ancestral homes. This understanding was seen 2009, when President Obama signed “The Apology to Native People of the United States”; which apologizes for “historic violence and injustices inflicted upon Native Americans by the federal government (Paradigm Wars, 2006)”. This was a very good step in the Unites State’s approach to regarding colonization, however, through Native perspectives, it is not enough. Simply apologizing, and not doing anything to fix the mistakes and harm suffered by Native Americans is not a sign of good faith, making the apology merely a cop out. It was even stated, by Congressmen Capriccioso in an interview with NPR that the bill “does not call for reparations. That’s one thing that the Senators were very cognizant that they weren’t putting in their reparation language, they weren’t putting in that this is going to help settle any long ongoing lawsuits. This is meant to be a meaningful good gesture towards Native Americans (Martin, 2009)”. This apology is a prime example of how the United States feels that they do not owe much to Native Americans, other than words on paper. However, words on paper does nothing to help with the rising rates of poverty in Native communities. According to the United States Census Bureau, “28.3% is the percentage of single-race American Indians and Alaska Natives who were in poverty in 2014, the highest rate of any race group. For the nation as a whole, the poverty rate was 15.5 percent (2015).” A signature on a paper for something that Native Americans have already known about will do nothing to fix the real issues we are facing, as aforementioned. In order to really help remedy the historic violence and injustice that Native people have suffered through, the United States needs to help establish programs to fix the rising poverty rates in Indigenous communities, giving them more aid and resources. There needs to be reparations done, something that the “Apology to Native People” tries not to allow. Just apologizing with no action will not help Native communities begin to recover from the racism they have and are suffering from. There needs to be action, there needs to be reparations.

In another incidence where this issue has come to light, is with the United States government and the Western Shoshone nation. Based in Nevada, the Shoshone people live near Yucca Mountain and it’s surrounding areas. Relatively barren and isolated, it would seem that the United States government would have no interest in it. However, this area is perfect for nuclear testing. Through violations and loopholes that were in the Treaty of Ruby Valley; the treaty that gave the Western Shoshone their home at this mountain, the U.S. government has conducted numerous amounts of nuclear testing by Yucca Mountain (Paradigm Wars, 2006). As well, the U.S. and it’s corporate interests are trying to fight for Yucca Mountain itself to be a nuclear waste site, because of it’s isolation (Paradigm Wars, 2006). In order to do this, the government has tried to give the Shoshone people a lump sum of money, a one time payment to do this to their homes. This has lead to “increased rates of cancer and other conditions documented” (Paradigm Wars, 2006). This ties in with my question of policy because the U.S. government it trying to fix the harm it is doing to Native people’s homes by paying them. However, the Western Shoshone have refused this amount of money, citing that no amount of money will fix the harm to the health and wellness of their people, along with the amount of damage it would cause to their sacred land. This is also a prime case of environmental racism that Native people suffer through, because their homes are the first to be chosen to host toxic waste, this case being the most toxic of them all, nuclear waste. By trying to create an harmful site on Native land, especially such a sacred space like Yucca Mountain, the United States continues to exemplify it’s disregard for Native people and their homes. Through nuclear testing, cancer rates have risen within American Indian communities, and has harmed the health and wellbeing of many. The disregard for Indigenous peoples health, homes, and overall life needs to stop. The United States needs to understand that they keep on repeating history, taking and taking from Native people, and they are running out of things to give. Nuclear testing on Native lands needs to stop, because money cannot not pay back loss of life. Instead, there needs to be a renewed focus on how to help the Shoshone Nation recover from what has already been done to them and provide them with aid to combat further harm.

Overall, Native people and the United States need to come to an agreement on how they are going to work together to not only solve injustice, but the repercussions from those injustices that Indigenous people have dealt with. There is no way that the United States will give back this land to Native people, and there is no way that Native people will take money as a placeholder. Instead, I think that the United States and it’s indigenous population need to come to together to figure out a way that both our history can be honored, and ways to end the poverty that Indigenous people are suffering through. There needs to be action behind the United States’s words of apology; because along with taking accountability, there must be a proposed solution, otherwise Native people will keep on suffering.


Bureau, U. C. (2015, November 02). Newsroom. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from

Mander, J., & Tauli-Corpuz, V. (2006). Paradigm wars: indigenous peoples resistance to economic globalization: a special report of the International Forum on Globalization, Committee on Indigenous Peoples. San Francisco, CA: International Forum on Globalization.

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