Matter of Opinion 2/1996
It's A Matter Of Opinion
by elmer m. savilla
Of Political Decay and Broken Promises
First, as we went to press the Congress and the Administration
reached yet another agreement to keep the government running. Both
sides have their sights set on the November elections and purely
political motives, too much so for the likes of me. Their actions
are, more than ever, tied to political party goals and they don't
care one whit about the health and welfare of the general public.
This new agreement will last only until March 15. Fine, but its
time for us, you and me, to put that same limit on their term of
office or at the very least, their salary. Their salary, for
instance, should be considered as earned ONLY while the entire
government is operating as it should. When the government, or any
part of it, stops operating--so should the salaries of the
president, senators, and representatives. They are getting paid
from our taxes to do a job which they have failed to do. Enough of
silly attempts of political blackmail and self-seeking. We
Americans have a constitutional right to expect the finest form of
government in the world. Do we agree? If so, flood the office of
the president and the congress with your angry letters!
The Great Health Hoax of the 1990s
The health and well-being of American Indians has always been a
concern to the policy-makers of this country. But in the early days
of the US, and perhaps even now, their concern was usually that
Indians were too healthy for their own good, living out on the
plains and deserts and mountains where they had thrived since time
immemorial. They were too happy dancin' and eatin' buffalo burgers,
thought Washington, D.C. and besides they're living where we want
to put railroads and other "stuff."
Yes, they were too healthy for their own good, thought the
likes of President Grant and General Sherman in 1865. Immediately
after the Civil War, white expansionists were hollerin' for more
land and the Indians were standing in their way. So activity was
set in motion which seriously threatened the good health of the
Indians through starvation or disease on reservations, or by
bullets off the reservation. General Sherman didn't much care which
method was used, and in fact he gave the Indians their choice.
"Either report to the reservations we have given you, or we will
hunt you down and kill you," he told them. Some choice.
The miracle of the 20th century has been the survival of Native
Americans through periods of disease, genocide, and intentional
During the time of the American Revolution (that's when they did
what they're now afraid we will do) there were approximately five
million Indians who survived the tortures of the Spanish, English,
French, and Dutch invasions. By the end of the 19th century there
were barely 500,000 Indians left to carry on their respective
Today, as we near the end of the 20th century, there are about
two million who can qualify as "enrolled" (official) tribal members
and probably another two million who claim to be Indian but cannot
prove it. But who is counting? The US is counting, that's who. They
want to know how many "official" Indians there are.
An amazing fact is that since only 1960, the Native American
population has more than tripled in number, according to the US
census takers. But that number is misleading because many who used
to claim to be White, Hispanic, or Black, now claim to be of Indian
In 1960, the count was only 523,600 Indians. By 1980 the number
had jumped phenomenally to over 1.4 million and by 1990 it had
increased to 1,959,234. In a ten year period, this was a 38 percent
jump. If during the next few years the percentage repeats, by the
year 2000 there will be over 2.7 million Native Americans.
Of that number over 1.5 million will be over the age of 21 and
therefore will be qualified voters. They will begin to be a
political force to be reckoned with and you can be sure the
Congress will take note of that fact. The impact will be more
effective on a statewide basis than nationally, at least for the
next twenty years. But then, lookout America!
These census figures for many states should encourage tribal
governments to hold fast to their sovereign ideas and to resist
encroachment by get-rich-quick schemes and fast-buck developers,
because in just a few short years their sheer weight of numbers
will ensure their place in state politics.
For instance, in Minnesota the Indian population increased 43
percent from 1980 to 1990. New York State had a 58 percent
increase; Oregon 41 percent; Oklahoma 49 percent; Nevada 48
percent; Colorado 54 percent; and Tennessee 97 percent. (Tennessee
has no Indian reservations so it is assumed they were all imports
from other states).
Some unlikely eastern states showed surprising jumps in Indian
population over the last ten years. New Jersey, never known for its
"Indian Country" counted 15,000 Indians, which was a 78 percent
increase from the past census. In Virginia, the Indian count grew
by 62 percent; Texas by 64 percent; and Missouri by 61 percent.
In contrast, New Mexico and Utah, in the center of Indian
Country, grew by only 26 percent. Those differences in counts from
the more urban states and those with sizable Indian country gives
credence to the theory that more and more, it is fashionable and
desirable to be an "Indian."
Some increase is due to the birthrate, of course, but
sociologists suspect that much of it is due to the
"self-identification" or urban dwellers without family roots or
social ties who now see this as an opportunity to "belong" to
something. The relaxed self-identification rule allowed by the US
Census Bureau could be a blessing in disguise.
Of the individual tribes, the Miccosukee and the Seminole of
Florida take top honors for proliferation during the past decade.
In 1980, Florida counted 19,257 American Indians living there. By
1990, the count had increased to 36,335. A whopping 89 percent
As we approach the next census, it seems nothing short of a
catastrophic health problem can stop this phenomenal growth of our
Native population. Sadly, such a catastrophe is not too hard to
imagine. An outbreak of illnesses on Indian reservations caused by
open uranium mines and tailings; plagues from illegal chemical and
waste dumps; a disastrous accident from stored nuclear fuel rods,
all are possible.
Within 200 years after the arrival of Columbus, almost 10
million natives were killed by diseases or by other means. In more
modern times, it wasn't until the 1960s that serious efforts were
begun to establish federal programs to improve the health of
American Indians. Up until 1955 the Indian Health Service had been
a part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was then transferred as
a separate agency to what is now the Dept. of Health and Human
Things went well, until in 1980 Pres. Reagan began making deep
cutbacks in health services for Native Americans.
Since the time of the last two census-takings, health services
available to Indian reservations have been gradually disappearing
and some of the old health problems are reappearing. For at least
the past eight years, many reservations have had no access to
emergency services or care for major illness. Most reservations are
completely without local access for kidney dialysis services. The
Indian country joke that "If you plan to have an accident, please
make an appointment for emergency service," is really not a joke at
all. For many reservation residents, it has been a reality. "No
appointment, no emergency service."
In 1982, when the real attack began on Indian health services,
Richard Schweiker, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human
Services received a letter from the US General Accounting Office
(GAO) which told him of an "opportunity" to avoid construction of
certain Indian Health Services hospitals.
Remember that up until this time health care for Indians had
improved tremendously from 1965. By 1980, IHS operated 49
hospitals, 102 health centers, and 300 smaller health stations. In
FY82, IHS and HHS had plans to replace or modernize seven hospitals-
most of which were over 50 years old-at a cost of $66 million. Nine
hospitals were to have structural deficiencies corrected, and
personnel quarters were to be built at four isolated rural
The GAO suggested that instead of continuing hospital and
clinics in Indian communities, that contracted care from non-Indian
hospitals "could be less costly." They anticipated opposition from
tribal governments but none came. GAO wrote, "We recognize that
discontinuing inpatient health care at these nine hospitals may
raise concerns or opposition from tribal officials"-and here they
used the result from only one tribe, the Pawnee, to justify their
action-"However the Pawnee tribe members recently began receiving
all of their hospital care under contract with community hospitals
and they seem to be satisfied with this arrangement."
Contract Care came into being in 1984 and Indian illnesses
reflected the lack of health care. In 1991, the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee held a hearing on the FY92 budget. The director
of the Indian Health Service told the senators, "The goal of the
IHS is to raise the status of health of Indian people to the
highest level possible." He went on to expound on his success in
management and service delivery.
Senator Inouye, chairing the hearing said, "Your statistics are
impressive, but as we speak, aren't Indians dying of tuberculosis
by over 400 percent of all other races in the US?" The director
answered lamely, "Yes."
Inouye persisted, "and for alcoholism by over 330 percent?"
Answer, "About 400 percent. Yes sir, that is correct."
Inouye, "And diabetes by about 150 percent?" Answer, "Perhaps a
little higher, yes sir."
The irony of this exchange is that during this same period the
IHS director had spoken glowingly of the fact that the death rate
for Indians was "essentially the same as for all US races."
There is a definite link, we think, between good health and
good government. In 1991, the Dept. of Education released a report
which pointed out that in 1965 twenty percent of children under 18
lived in poverty. By 1970 after five years of the Democrats Great
Society, the number had dropped to 15 percent. Then from 1980
through 1991, (the Reagan and Bush years) the percentage of
children living in poverty climbed to 20 percent and has remained
there to the present.
Another statistic related to good government, in 1964 the
poverty rate in this country was 19 percent. By 1970 the poverty
rate dropped to 12 percent. Again, from 1981 through the present
the rate has climbed. During the first week of 1996, industry
announced that approximately 50,000 jobs would be eliminated soon.
A real fact is that the Great Society's social programs which
Reagan and Bush had called "failures" and which the Congress wants
to eliminate are helping millions of Americans today.
Today, before the American Indian gets a chance to enjoy the
joy of being healthy, what little health care they now get is going
to be taken away from them. Is this America, or what?
It is obvious that to address the health needs of a race of
people who has suffered through 460 years of disease and low-life
expectancy, it would take years to identify and treat the most
serious of the many health problems brought to them partly by the
federal government's systematic and deliberate destruction of the
Indian's natural food supply, partly from imported diseases against
which Indian's had no natural defense, and from participation in
unhealthy imported vices.
All that is being asked is for the Congress to recognize the
need and its responsibility to American Indians, then to act on
that behalf. A-ho!