Historyof Native Americans in this country shows that they have come a long way to bewhere they are today. Being the indigenous people of this nation, it is onlybut fair that issues concerning their wellbeing be attended to with urgency.Nowadays most Native Americans could be found residing in various reservationcommunities which are regions which were carved out by the U.S government forthe settlement of the different Native American tribes in accordance with thenumerous treaties the tribal leaders made with the government. Furthermore, thesereservations which serve as home for the different native tribes are governedby their tribal governments but overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs whichis an arm of the U.
S government. This could be confusing as to how somereservations could be going through a lot of social justice issues given thatthey have not one but two governing bodies responsible for the wellbeing of itsmembers. An example of one of these reservations which need immediate attentionwith regards to the wellbeing of its inhabitants is the Pine Ridge reservationof South Dakota. Poverty is the major social injustice issue on thisreservation because it has directly caused mental health problems to most ofthe population but giving the difficulty of having autonomous control of their landto create jobs, the community can only focus on mental health counseling and f educationto help mitigate this issue.Povertyis breeding in almost all of the socioeconomics aspects in Pine Ridgereservation. Unemployment rate is as high as 90% due to no job creating bodiessuch as industries, factories or big companies which only tallies with astatistic of 97% of the population on this reservation to be living below thefederal poverty line (Scher).
Also, poverty can be observed in the deplorablehousing conditions on this reservation, with 60% being mold infested, 33%lacking proper water, electric and sewage systems; in addition, there is ageneral lack of houses for its population which has lead to a situation ofovercrowding with an average of 17 people living in one house hold (Scher). Furthermore,with the spiking rates of unemployment and harsh living condition on thisreservation, the health condition of the inhabitants can only be negativelyimpacted. The two health care facilities under federal sponsorship areunderstaffed, and lack beds, diabetes has affected 47% of this population, therate of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia are wayhigher than the statistic for the nation and premature deaths on pine ridgereservation are also higher when compared to the statistic of the nation atlarge (“Pine ridge Indian Reservation- Health and Wellness”).
The endemicnature of poverty on the pine ridge reservation and the strain it’s beenputting on the inhabitants has brought about an increase in mental healthproblems. Alcoholism is one mental health issue which has become amajor concern on Pine Ridge Reservation. It is the primary cause of most majorarrest in this community, 85% of families are directly affected and thepercentage of babies born with fetal alcoholic syndrome surpasses the nationalstatistic by 300 percent (Wirthman). Although many reasons such as depression,recreation and genetic predisposition can explain why people tend to abusealcohol, poverty umbrella’s all of these possible causes when it comes to PineRidge reservation. It’s true that the Oglala Sioux people, the natives of Pine Ridge reservation have had a history ofbeing oppressed by the government, like losing their sacred lands, beingrestricted to practicing their religion, constantly battling with cultureextinction issues, all of which could potentially lead to psychologicalproblems there by translated to alcohol dependency. But living in absolutepoverty where there is no hope in ever having a good job, providing adequatelyfor your family, not seeing a brighter future for the youth nor the communityat large can lead to a state of hopelessness. When people are helpless andhopeless they are predisposed to engage in negative or maladaptive behaviors ofwhich alcoholism is one. Recently, the decision to revoke the liquor licensesof four stores at Whiteclay a town at the outskirt of Pine Ridge reservation,by the liquor Commission of Nebraska was viewed as a victory by the elders ofthis reservation to their ongoing fight against alcoholism by stopping the saleof alcohol within or beside the reservation (Martin).
But stopping the salealcohol as a step to fight alcoholism without trying to improve on the povertysituation in this community could result to a relapse in alcoholism or initiateanother type of mental health issue since the negative environmental stimuluswhich is poverty is still present. Suicideis another mental health issue plaguing Pine Ridge reservation that can beattributed to the impacts of poverty. The rate of suicide on this reservationis twice that of the nation at large while that of teenagers is four timeshigher than the nation’s statistic (Containit.
com).Dr Dan Nelson, a child psychiatrist comments on Washington post news about thepossible causes of youth suicide in response to a statistic which was releasedby the center for disease control about an increase in rate youth suicide in2015 from 2007 in the nation, with respect to three hundred children withsuicidal behaviors which he had been working with, stated that 25% of these children with mental health problemscame from homes with parents sufferingfrom addiction and 60 % of children who had been abused had addicted parents (Murgia).Furthermore to reiterate on sexual abuse, a teacher and author at pine ridge reservationreported that there were more girls who stated had had sex without their will,a remark which was based on studies which were carried out on Pine Ridge’slargest largest high school about reproductive health (Heidelberger).
Applyingthese remarks to the situation in Pine Ridge reservation where poverty has leadto children living in overcrowded houses which may be habiting two or threefamilies, a situation which exposes them to any form of abuse. Also most oftheir parents may be battling with some form of addiction usually alcoholism,which implies that these children may be neglected by their parents and thereforedevelop an emotional disconnection with them and the world. All of these issuescaused by poverty could lead to trauma in children there by initiating suicidalthoughts which can eventually end up in suicide.
Many ongoing interventions mostly carried out by nonprofit organization, on the pine ridge reservation target specific and eminentissues, such as proving wood to the natives during winter, creating morehomeless shelters due to poor housing conditions or counseling people dealingwith alcoholism is helpful but will not bring forth a positive long lastingeffect if the major cause poverty is not eradicated. Focusing on creating jobs canhelp the people earn wages, take care of their families hence improve on theliving situation in this community. But this seems farfetched given that mostthe majority of their lands are held in commune and affected by tribal landviews and culture which discourages outside investors since commercial laws ofthe state do not match with that of the reservation hence viewed as a riskyzone to invest (Kristof). Also, battling mental health issues with the creationof mental health centers and promoting education on the reservation, will havea positive effect in this community.
Mental health counseling can help createof stable families, where there are no addiction issues, children are neitherneglected nor abused hence reducing teenage suicide rate, together with studentdropout rate from schools. Finally, a sense of positivity and hope could begenerated in Pine ridge community if addiction and suicide problems are dealtwith and more children are graduating from high schools, an atmosphere which favorsgrowth opportunities. .