COMMENTARY: For the love of money

by Aug 26, 2019OPINIONS





We are a prosperous nation. Whether you are referring to our tribal nation or the United States, we are blessed beyond measure.

I was struck by a recent advertisement featuring a person in a “third-world country” showing his feet. The picture captured the person’s shoes made from plastic bottles, bottles like those many toss out their car windows in America when they finish bottled waters. Contrast that to most Americans, who shod their feet based on a logo or if a celebrity sports them.

Surely, there are those in America that are impoverished, but here it is hard to determine who is genuinely in need because of those who use “being poor” as a profession. I frequently travel to Asheville on the weekends. Regularly, at certain street corners, I will see men and women standing at traffic-signal intersections holding signs that say, “need food,” “homeless and jobless,” and “homeless with child.” One thing I notice about their clothing is their shoes, which are usually new and name-brand.  You cannot decide on the need or condition of a person based on what they are wearing, especially in modern society with so many of the usual apparel and hygiene standards shifting to a more “laid back” concept. As a former marketer and public relations person, new shoes on a person who wears worn and dirty-looking clothing sends a mixed message that really doesn’t sell the message that a person has on their cardboard sign.

Here on the Qualla Boundary, we are blessed with several programs designed to keep our tribal members from being homeless and needy. We are also a very personal community. Where there are gaps in care from governmental services, the people of the community will step up and fill in those gaps. Friday food and money benefits are a regular occurrence year-round. We certainly have our issues with some members who have become illicit drug dependent to the point of becoming impoverished because of applying all their resources to their habits, but even in that case, programs have been established to address the issue.

On the other hand, much of Indian Country experiences extreme poverty year-in and year-out. According to the 2010 U.S. Census (numbers from the 2000 Census and a 1996 Trasper report were also used), the Navajo Nation had a poverty rate of 46.5 percent for families and an individual poverty rate of 42.9 percent. The Census measured extreme poverty as an annual household income of $11,000 or less or less than $3000 per person. At the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the rate was 52.8 percent for families; Fort Peck Reservation was 58.5 percent family poverty and 35.3 percent per person; and at San Carlos Indian Reservation, 52.6 percent for families and 50.8 percent individual. Contrast those figures with a national average poverty rate in 2010 of 9.2 percent for families and 12.4 percent for individuals.

In these tribal nations, Navajo Nation has an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent with 55.8 percent out of the workforce (this statistic includes those who have given up on finding a job and no longer actively seek work); Pine Ridge 16.9 percent unemployed with 48.8 percent out of the labor force; Fort Peck Indian Reservation 10.9 percent unemployment and 37.9 percent out of workforce; and San Carlos Reservation 16.4 percent jobless with 53.7 percent out of the workforce. Additionally, at the Navajo Nation Reservation, only 25.3 percent had at least a high school education; Pine Ridge at 26.6 percent; Fort Peck Reservation 32.8 percent; and San Carlos Indians were at 32.1 percent. Again, contrast those numbers with the average number of tribal members across all Native American tribes who had at least a high school education which was 76.4 percent and America as a whole was 80.4 percent.

We, as a Tribe, occasionally get requests from tribes who are in these low-income, poverty-stricken tribal nations. As a matter of personal and tribal pride, I know how difficult it is for a person to ask for help from another person or entity. I have been there and done that. Tribal Nations and peoples are proud of who they are and their storied histories. Other tribal nations are just like we are and suffered the same cultural and historical insults that we have endured. Our native blood is only separated by geography. Indeed, there, but for the grace of God, go we. When we hear the cry of those brothers in blood, we can be sure that they would not ask unless they found themselves with limited or no options. They are not coming to us with new shoes on their feet.

Imagine the Tribe being unable to provide health care for all, higher education for all, having significant, critical reductions in elder care, and many other services that we have come to expect from our Tribe being significantly reduced or eliminated. Imagine our leadership going before another tribe’s Council or Chief Executives and pleading for assistance to provide critical care for us? It would break our hearts as a Tribe.

We need to, personally and as a community, recognize that we have a history of being caring and generous. Yes, people have taken advantage of us in the past, but we didn’t let that change who we are as a people. It shouldn’t, nor should prospering monetarily make us love money. Money is a tool. It is a tool to make like better. And, in line with our traditions, we should use that tool to make life better for as many people as we possibly can.