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Poverty Grows as Wealthy Accumulate

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  • Poverty Grows as Wealthy Accumulate

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    Poverty Grows as Wealthy Accumulate

    (javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: August 11, 2005 by: _Editors Report_
    ( / Indian Country Today
    Greed is a sin of obsession and with great consequence, both for the
    sinner and the victims of the sin - at least, it used to be. Now it seems the
    rich are getting very much richer while the poor are becoming very much poorer.

    Greed used to be frowned upon in American Indian societies, many of which
    had established formal and informal protocols for maintaining social harmony.
    The potlatch ceremonies of the Northwest are an excellent example of the honor
    accrued, culturally, to both the providers and recipients of wealth. Indian
    country used to stand proud upon its ''giving traditions'' that witnessed the
    sharing of food, shelter and medicine, not only with our own but also with
    arrivals from Europe.

    Those within our communities who have converted to Christianity also
    recognize within their adopted religious system that greed used to be one of the
    seven deadly sins of Biblical lore - related to gluttony and even to thievery,
    as in the commandment, ''Thou shalt not steal.'' But now being filthy rich and
    burning through your cash, in itself (a la Paris Hilton), makes you a

    Poverty keeps rising, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of
    Americans now living in poverty is 35.9 million, up 1.3 million from last year.
    Forty-five million are without health insurance. The figure in both areas
    goes up every year. Five million more lost health insurance in the past five

    Not since the 1930s has the gap between rich and poor been bigger. Between
    1979 and 1992, for instance, the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans raked in
    an amazing 98 percent of all household income. Eighty percent shared the
    remaining 2 percent. Top executive salaries are now 411 times higher than the
    average worker's salary. In 1980, it was 42 times bigger. In terms of total
    wealth, the top 20 percent controls 83 percent of the wealth while the other 80
    percent make do with 17 percent. This trend is widespread and replicated - in
    some instances even more starkly - on the global scale.

    The change in the American economy is now obvious. The working sectors that
    supported manufacturing are left hanging out to dry, as ''American''
    companies scramble to employ cheaply and without much environmental concern in
    countries from Mexico to China. The point is: now that they are no longer needed,
    American working people - meaning, ultimately, most Americans - seem
    expendable. Anxiety grows among many families about the state of an economy that
    expands while shrinking middle-class workers' jobs and pay scales. Income levels
    stayed flat nationwide. This is one of the issues that actually matters to
    the American people.

    Will this ultimately become the prevailing reality among Indian peoples in
    North America? The answer may be yes. While not exactly along the same class
    lines (we have poor tribes and rich tribes), the trend is clearly leaning that
    way. While some tribes pay out huge per capita payments year after year
    (which is their right), the majority of Indian families (and tribes) remain mired
    in severe poverty.

    The median income over the past three years for single-race Native
    households was $33,024, a drop of 1.6 percent. Nationally, income levels fell 0.6
    percent to a median of $43,527. While two dozen or more tribes are presently
    running hugely successful gaming and resort enterprises, rising misery and
    stagnant economic waters still plague most Indian reservations and communities.

    Recent census data tell us that an average of 23 percent of single-race
    Native families live in poverty. The Indian rate is almost twice the national
    average of 12 percent. Nearly 28 percent of single-race American Indians and
    Alaska Natives are presently without health insurance. The rate is almost twice
    the national average of 15.1 percent. The statistics contained in the report
    ''Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States:
    2003,'' among others, reflect the dismal picture.

    The argument we have made here for several years is for ambitious investment
    and philanthropy for the suffering rungs of Indian country among the tribes
    who have made such great strides in their own tribal economies. It is not
    that many don't already give generously to many causes; a lot of tribes do
    support serious projects. There is also a bit of hope around the growing base of
    Indian-owned businesses surfacing at the periphery of the large gaming
    industry, but all of this has had a slow and sporadic start. It is also true that
    most tribal communities have had no benefit at all from the gaming explosion -
    hampered mostly by remote geographic locations that possess little market
    potential. What is needed is a vigorous plan of action for Indian country as a
    whole. Wealthy tribes need to commission serious studies about how much and
    what needs to be done among the many remaining impoverished Indian

    Grassroots as well as tribal government and tribal corporate efforts are
    needed to help support redevelopment efforts throughout Indian country. American
    Indians must work together to invigorate and reinvest in productive Indian
    leadership in every walk of life, from educators to entrepreneurs, to give a
    decent opportunity to every able Indian person in the land.

    Here are just a few suggestions for the tribes:

    1. Assert and, in some cases, regain philosophical and financial control
    over your mission statement and gaming industries - seeking to maximize a
    program of diversification and investment in Native businesses and communities. If
    you're not growing your profits to build a sustainable future for your
    community and increased opportunities for Indian country as a whole, just what are
    you doing it all for?

    2. Show restraint in your per capita distributions. Take care of your own
    families first, again, as is your right; but set some reasonable limits. Begin
    to flow additional surpluses through development and philanthropic entities
    that help to lift other Native communities out of poverty.

    3. Resist inter-tribal xenophobia. Keep your tribal head out of its shell
    while seeking out new and prosperous alliances and partnerships with other
    tribes. Focus not on that which divides us, but on common themes and common needs
    working toward shared successes.

    4. Consider passing tribal government resolutions committing 1 percent of
    the gross tribal product to inter-tribal development. One need only look at the
    failure of the world's industrialized nations in the area of international
    development and the lingering global crises and conflicts to realize we
    ourselves can build a brighter future based upon American Indian values.

    If American society generally is being restructured because of economic
    disparity, Indian country is singularly disunited around overarching purposes.
    The bases for unity are very much there; but the leadership needs much more
    prodding in that direction by all our people. There is a need to re-clarify
    priorities toward a more encompassing approach.

    Only by strengthening the bonds of shared lineage, tribal cultures,
    histories and common political objectives will American Indians and Alaska Natives
    hold on to their lands and values in our increasingly stratified world.
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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