The Genocide that Never Ends: Bush to Veto Indian Health Services Bill

The headline on the New York Times Editorial on January 28 reads “Vetoing History’s Responsibility.”  The story unfortunately is not about history, but the entirely too current engagements in the 400 year old American Holocaust against American Indians. The latest strategic strike is a Presidential Veto of Indian Health Services Legislation.  Here’s the opening paragraph from the NYTimes editorial:

“President Bush’s threat to veto a bill intended to improve health care for the nation’s American Indians is both cruel and grossly unfair. Five years ago, the United States Commission on Civil Rights examined the government’s centuries-old treaty obligations for the welfare of Native Americans and found Washington spending 50 percent less per capita on their health care than is devoted to felons in prison and the poor on Medicaid.”

The NYTimes piece goes on to make note the fact that:

Studies have established that Native Americans suffer worse than average rates of depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The Senate bill would improve treatment for these problems, as well as address alcohol and substance abuse, and suicide among Indian youth. It would expand scholarship help so more American Indians could pursue careers in health care.

Actually according to Indian Health Service and the National Center for Health Statistics  “worse than average” is a gross understatement.  American Indians have:

  • Infant mortality rate 300% higher than the national average
  • Tuberculosis rates 500% higher than the national average
  • Diabetes 200% higher than the national average
  • Cervical Cancer 170% higher than the national average
  • Maternal death in childbirth 140% higher than the national average
  • Influenza and pneumonia 150% higher than the national average
  • Teenage suicide rates 150% higher than the national average
  • Overall suicide rates 60% higher than the national average

These rates have increased over the rates reported by the IHS in 1996.   Only diabetes has declined and that only slightly.  These are diseases that are highly preventable and treatable, unless you are a Native American held hostage to a centuries old policy of genocide. Native American health expenditures are half as much as that spent on prisoners and Medicaid patients and we are all too familiar with the intolerable health care provided to those groups.

Federal appropriations are the only source of health care funds available to Native Americans. Outside philanthropy is bureaucratically prohibited. Some years ago I worked with an organization that donates medical equipment and supplies to underserved populations. A retiring doctor wanted to donate cutting edge mammogram, catscan and MRI machines as well as some other equipment to serve Native Americans. A national corporation agreed to transport the equipment free of charge and a medical supply company agreed to set it up and service it. The appraised value of the equipment was over 3 million dollars. For months working with then Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, we waded through red tape and forms to get permission for the equipment.  In the end, the equipment was sent abroad because the Bureau of Indian Affairs would not approve the $575 necessary to build a pad for the MRI machine and $700 to upgrade a room for the catscan. When we raised the money to pay for these items, we were told that the individual clinics could not accept contributions and the BIA would need more than 9 months to process the contributions and could not guarantee expenditure of the funds on the purpose for which we were raising them.

In spite of the investigation and recommendation of the Civil Rights Commission the President will continue this long tradition. Native Americans have only the Indian Health Service. No amount of public concern or private philanthropy can even be offered to mitigate the health effects of the government’s centuries of racist policy. The American public likes to think that tactics like giving smallpox infested blankets to native people are “history.”  The centuries old oppression and systematic extermination of Native Americans continues and remains invisible to most Americans.    In Germany, Turkey, Sudan, we call that genocide.

For more information about reservation conditions and issues, interested readers can go visit the Tribal Resource Center, Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, and Russell Means.

~ Shari Valentine,
PhD  Candidate, Sociology
Texas A&M University

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