For anyone who is paying attention or is you know, sane, the impending cloud of Trump“care” weighs heavy. We’re all about to be wading waist deep in Paul Ryan’s wet dream, and if you think that it won’t affect you if you’ve got insurance with your employer, think again. But what you may not know is how miserably this is about to affect Indian Country.
What always blows my mind about being Native is how ready folks are to assume that being Native means you’re fucking rolling in those gov’t dollars. Or casino dollars, or whatever bullshit ignorant thing people think about Indians whose only exposure to our world is either through movies like Pocahontas, or that grandma was probably a Cherokee princess cause of her braids.
Here’s what a member of federally recognized tribes gets: Indian Health Service (IHS), and a few little things like the legal right to use eagle feathers (sparingly) and peyote due to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. And if you think that that would be RAD, dude, to do those things because of grandma, remember that if your grandma really was Native, she didn’t even have the right to practice her religion in her own country until 1978 . And if you still think that it would rad to practice a native religion that allows you the legal right to own an eagle feather, OK, fine: if you’re willing to commit to four years of dedication to Sundance, eventually resulting in a ceremony where you don’t eat and barely drink for four days while hooks are affixed to your chest, eventually pulled out on the final day by you pulling back and having them come out of your chest and flap back toward the pole that’s at the center, cool – the government might disagree with me, but, I’d say you can have your feather.
But then again, I do that a lot because there’s so much ignorance surrounding Native people.
Our lives aren’t cool, they aren’t things to pick up in a mall. Or to experience the easy way, even though so many kind, wonderful Native people have opened their arms to those seeking our spirituality because we’re good like that. And as much as I am loathe to add to the poverty porn angle when it comes to life on reservations, or to add to the idea that all Natives live on reservations, when it comes to life on those reservations, inadequate as it’s been, we need our shitty IHS to live because poverty on reservations is a something else . And when I say shitty, I mean it. And when I say to live, I mean it. There was a point in time when the government sanctioned numerous methods of involuntary infertility for women on reservations. Many, many native women were subject to hysterectomies or to having their tubes tied by doctors working the clinics and hospitals on different reservations or areas of urban Indian concentration because that was an easy solution to “the Indian problem.” Think that’s OK? Well, then get nice and comfy with the idea that you, my friend, are cool with Nazi-style thinking. We’re not used to applying the word genocide to Native America, and if we are, we like to move it back hundreds of years. But that project has continued in various ways over the years.
Fast forward to pre-Obama days, and what you mainly had on reservations and in major cities with higher concentrations of native people like Denver or Minneapolis was underfunded hospitals or clinics with staff that either realllly didn’t want to be there, shouldn’t be there or anywhere else, or folks on their way to something better (i.e. inexperienced). So suffice it to say, Natives didn’t get the best health care. But when Obamacare came through, this had a little-publicized effect on IHS. It bolstered it, often through programs that were a kind of extension of Medicaid. This was a big deal. Why? Because a lot of natives face decisions like spend the little money they have on life-saving dialysis for themselves when they are the primary source of income for their families – or food for their families. Still totally want to get that feather?
So though I know Obama had a lot of faults, he did do a lot for Indian Country, this being one of those things. Our mortality rates are higher than anyone’s in this country, and nobody cares, because as usual, America, you’ve made it all about you, and what you’re going to lose when this nightmare finally goes through. Think I’m being a jerk? If you’re not native, ask yourself if you’ve ever heard of this – or of IHS in general.
And with the Orange One in charge? Dudes, we’re fucked. We’re all pretty fucked, but what little ground Indian Country was garnering under the newly bolstered IHS services/Medicaid via ACA is gone gone gone. Right now, Mitch McConnell and his cronies are polishing their “you die, we get all the money version” of health care, and when that goes through, no one will notice how those mortality rates for Native people go right back to solve the “Indian Problem” status.
And this is not just aimed at non-natives. Natives, if you voted for El Cheeto, you need to think about…well, a LOT of things. Here’s a link to a video that will tell you all you need to know about how this rolls .
Natives want education. We want jobs. We want to practice the religions our ancestors have been practicing for so long: we only have stories left to tell us of their origins. But most of all we want to live. We have the right to live.
Erika T. Wurth’s published works include a novel, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and two collections of poetry, Indian Trains and A Thousand Horses Out to Sea. Her collection of short stories, Buckskin Cocaine is forthcoming. She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, such as Boulevard, Drunken Boat, South Dakota Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle. She is represented by Peter Steinberg. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.