The quiet revival of native America.
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May 19, 2005 — The Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota became infamous in March as site of the deadliest school shooting since the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999. The incident reinforced the perception that American Indians continue to face more than their share of social problems. Yet, while mainstream media coverage of Indian affairs might indicate otherwise, native America is in the midst of a dramatic resurgence.
No one knows this better than Charles Wilkinson, Professor of Law at the University of Colorado and author of the new book “Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations” (W.W. Norton). In the course of his legal and scholarly work, Wilkinson has visited more than a hundred reservations, giving him a broad-based perspective on the collective persistence and dedication that has allowed Indians to rebound from the threat of “termination.” Failure recently sat down with Wilkinson to discuss the revival, which he compares to the civil rights, environmental, and women’s rights movements.
In “Blood Struggle” you identify 1953 as the low point for American Indians. Why 1953?
In order to understand social and economic progress it is useful to set a baseline. In 1953, by any standard, Indians were the most dispossessed of any identifiable group in the country. Unemployment in Indian country was over fifty percent. By comparison, the highest unemployment during the Great Depression was twenty-five percent. But in Indian country there was that kind of economic depravation for a century or so. Infant mortality was high, adult life expectancy was low, and there were rudimentary health conditions on reservations.
In August of 1953 Congress announced the policy of “termination.” In part out of the fear of termination Indian people started to make their move.