Yes! The American Indian people and their wisdom are still here and still with us. The Native population is growing. Tribal languages are being preserved. Traditions and cultures are intact. Hope is alive and well for over 560 tribes!
But I’ll bet some of you are thinking: “Who would ask such a question?” Well, people do ask. Just recently I came across three stories where someone mentioned being asked “do Indians still exist” or mentioned a reason why someone would not know. And of course, when people do ask, what do they mean? Do they mean “all Indians” as though there was one big group? Do they mean do Indians still exist or exist in the old way? Do they mean the real people or the stereotypical images they saw in the movies or on the postcards?
Sadly, I can see how people would start to wonder… whatever did happen to the population of Indians that used to inhabit this country? There used to be over 100 million American Indians; today there are about 2 million… And where did they go, people ask.
Throughout the United States, there are over 560 recognized tribes and each occupies reservation lands designated by the treaties. Many more tribes still exist that remain unrecognized by the U.S. government, even though they existed before the Spaniards or Europeans ever set foot on these lands. But a question we hear that goes beyond geography is, How come I never see the Indians if they are still here?
- Historically and today, coverage of American Indians and Native issues by the mainstream media has been low.
- Reservation lands are geographically so remote and isolated as to be “off the map” on many web sites, and they are certainly “on the road less travelled” by most Americans.
- Native Americans on remote reservations have had limited Internet access and limited Native newspapers through which to educate the American public and to voice their own concerns.
- Many American schools have traditionally taught and continue to teach history from the non-Native viewpoint and this history often stops at the forming of the treaties and the reservations.
- Legislation is drafted and voted into law without any mention of impact on the tribes or knowledge on the part of the tribes, even when they are directly affected by the law.
The good news is that Indian country is now gaining access to technologies that will help boost visibility and bust isolation. Examples are personal computers and the worldwide web, grants that support Native American radio stations and newspapers, dynamic content publishers like Indian Country Today Media Network, and organized support for writing such as the Native American Journalist’s Association. Through our work at NRC, we see Native people becoming more vocal and bringing more concerns to light, settling more long-standing regulatory and legislative complaints, and celebrating the successes and victories of the tribes and their people.
If you’re not seeing this news, please check out the online papers listed in our Blogroll (right column of this blog). And if you or someone you know has ever wondered “whatever happened to the Indian people” after the treaties and the reservations, we encourage you to learn more. In our press room, we have a list of Resources, including films, books, and tribal sites that contain rich information about American Indian history and modern-day life of the various tribes. We urge you to check out these resources and to get more informed about these resilient, remarkable people.