From Tuba City to Standing Rock, We’re Not Finished

by Dr. Lena Wong

I don’t drive on a real road to work – it’s a dirt one, that fills with potholes whenever it rains.  My address can’t be found on maps, so getting services to where I am takes a bit more effort.  Many of my patients don’t have running water or electricity and cannot get to the doctor, as transportation and gas money are not always readily available.  I went into medicine to do global health, to serve the underserved and where I currently work is in the United States.  I live in the Navajo Nation, in Tuba City, Arizona.

Growing up on the East Coast, we learned about Native Americans briefly, to cover the time of Columbus and the founding of the United States.  This was a time we recognize as holidays in the US but are gross injustices to the Native American people.  However, what we didn’t learn was how those injustices have continued for centuries.  From the long walks they were forced to undergo to boarding schools riddled with abuse to the current situation at Standing Rock.  The US government has taken from the tribes again and again with no repercussions and no administration that puts a stop to it.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is just the latest but by far not the only.  The past years included a toxic spill that turned the Animas River in Colorado orange, polluting Native waters, the attempt to sell the Apache Oak Flat to mining interests, the Utah Public Lands Initiative which takes ancestral land from the Ute tribe, the fight over Mauna Kea for Native Hawaiians and the list goes on.

This is in addition to the many chronic problems that are perpetuated by a history and continuation of structural racism and systemic injustice.  Native Americans have the highest rates of poverty with some reservations exceeding 40% of the residents.   The federal government manages the land and this has resulted in substandard housing and is one of the ways that it is perpetuating economic disparity.

In addition, misguided policies and poor management in other federal programs have resulted in the lower high school graduation rates of Native students, higher incidence of incarceration and improper protections for violence against Native females.  A significantly underfunded Indian Health Service results in healthcare disparities in chronic disease and mental health.

So as the Standing Rock Water Protectors continue their fight, even in light of a victory that halts construction on the pipeline, there is still work to be done and we stand with them.  However, we must also remember that we must continue to protest against the chronic injustices our Native American brothers and sisters face.

These tribes are our First Americans but yet the actions against them and burdens placed on them are decidedly un-American.  So we call on all citizens to firstly recognize the inequities, stay up to date about Native news and then to come together to rally against them and empower our Native communities.  Write to your Representatives and Senators about upcoming legislation or to increase support for the Indian Health Service, Bureau of Indian Education reform or justice for Native Lives.   Whether it’s your voice or groups that advocate on behalf of Native communities, a unified front is needed to enact meaningful and durable changes to these inequities.