Civil Rights for Native Americans

By Izzie Cohn and Chloe Stoller

Do Native Americans have the same civil rights as other Americans?

While they have been granted basic civil rights, such as the right to vote and the freedom of speech, the Native Americans have not had their basic needs met. Although they are not being discriminated against quite as much as before, there is still discrimination towards them. Discrimination is defined as “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.(1) People use depictions of natives in movies or as mascots and don’t think anything of it, they think it’s funny or that it can be considered offensive, whereas some Native Americans think it’s extremely offensive to see people dressing up as “Indians” and dancing around. They may think we are making fun of their culture. Poverty in Native Americans as well as unintentional mocking of their culture begs the question, “Is there racial discrimination towards Native Americans, and if so, how can that be changed?”

The right to vote

On June 2nd, 1924, Congress awarded citizenship to all Native Americans as a way to make peace.(2) Gaining citizenship should have made it so that they had the same basic civil rights as other Americans, but this was not the case. While basic civil rights were granted, they were not granted in full. In the case of voting, some were given the right to vote right away, but most were not able to due to state laws. This basic right was not awarded to all natives until 1957.(2) Even though they have been officially granted the right to vote, some places don’t count their vote as relevant.

Lack of Funding

According to a 2003 study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Native Americans are given less funding, per capita, than the general population for federally administered services such as education, infrastructure, and law enforcement.(3) This lack of funding has led to poor education systems, bad housing, large unemployment rates, and severely understaffed law enforcement, all of which has resulted in extremely high levels of crime and poverty(3). In a way this can be compared to the separate but equal problem from the civil rights movement in the fact that while they are given these programs, they are in no way equal to ones in other parts of the country. Some examples are that textbooks are outdated whereas most public schools replace their books every couple of years, teachers aren’t held to the same standards as ones off the reservation, and the houses are of poor quality.

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Poverty of Native Americans on Reservations

Thirty-nine percent of Native Americans living on reservations today are living just slightly above or drastically lower than the poverty line. According to the 2010 United States Census, there are approximately 5.2 million Native Americans living in the United States. This is only 1.7% of the entire population of the United States population of approximately 309 million residents.(4) This fact shows that they are such a small part of the general population, that their given rights are very limited and not protected fully. This has caused a lack of representation in the more influencing government bodies. For example, in the Senate there are no seats designated to the leaders. CS

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Tribal Sovereignty

One of the rights that have been federally preserved for recognized tribes include the right to tribal sovereignty.(5) This unique right allows tribes to govern themselves, manage tribal property, define their own membership, and regulate tribal business and domestic relations. Although they aren’t in control of the tribes, the trust obligations the federal government must uphold include protecting tribal lands and resources, protecting tribal rights to self-government, and providing services necessary for tribal survival and advancement.(5)

Racism in Movies

In the movie, Peter Pan, there is a scene that depicts Peter Pan dancing with a tribe of Indians. To some this is considered racist towards Native American cultures due to their depictions of the “Indians” during the song “What Makes the Red Man Red?”. Some specific examples include an emphasis on broken English, the feathered headdresses, and the tribal dance. The emphasis on the Chief’s broken English suggests that he and his tribe are uneducated and uncivilized. This and the previous examples show that there is a smaller focus on and care for the racism against Native Americans. Nothing shows the lack of care about the racism and discrimination as Disney’s apology about their Silly Symphony, Cannibal Capers, which is a story about a dancing tribe which eventually got attacked by a lion. This short showed the tribes people as big handed and big lipped, straight black, and stereotypical music and dance. Disney eventually issued an apology about the racism depicted in Cannibal Capers. However, the movie Peter Pan has as much, if not more, than Cannibal Capers, but Disney never issued an apology for this scene because it was centered around Native Americans instead of African Americans. People seem to turn a blind eye to things that could be considered racist against Native Americans because they don't really hear about how it affects them, or they think it's all in good fun and won't be considered offensive.

Peter Pan - What Makes The Red Man Red (English)

Sites used

  1. Discrimination.” Merriam Webster. 10/18/2015

  2. "Congress Granted Citizenship to All Native Americans Born in the U.S." Americaslibrary. Accessed October 18, 2015.

  3. Rodgers, Tom. "Native American Poverty." Spotlight on Poverty. Accessed October 18, 2015.

  4. "2010 Census Data." Accessed October 18, 2015.

  5. "Native Americans." Accessed October 18, 2015.
  6. 4 Primary sources are the poverty pictures and video