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Rescue Native American Indian Heritage

by Michelle Sawyer
The Challenge

Native American Indian heritage is rich in tradition and culture unique to the legacy of our country. But many Native American tribal members living on Indian reservations are struggling with a different legacy. More than 300,000 Native Americans are either homeless or living in life-threatening conditions. American Indians are faced with a suicide rate double that of all other nonwhites, and higher levels of school dropouts, alcoholism and unemployment (45% average, with 82% on the Rosebud Reservation). Because many Native American reservations are located in isolated areas, much of the housing on Indian reservations lack electricity and running water.

With the reported success of Indian gaming, it might be hard to believe that nearly 50% of all American Indian families currently live below the poverty line. Native Indian tribes are individual sovereign nations and have always been responsible for the needs of their people, regardless of tribal income. There are 562 federally recognized Indian tribes, and only about half operate any type of gaming business. It is just a handful of the smaller Indian tribes, like the 50-member Cabazon, and non-Indian investors, that have become the wealthy "headline making" exceptions. (Other tribes, such as the 250,000-member Navajo Nation, are not involved in gaming.)

Native American Indians are a proud and capable people. They aren't looking for a handout, they are searching for ways to face the challenges of maintaining their native culture, while overcoming years of poverty.

By volunteering on an American Indian reservation, you'll not only share the customs, traditions and wisdom of Native history, but you will help to rescue our country's Native American Indian heritage as well. After all, the Lakota Indians believe "Mitakuye Oyasin," or "We are all related."

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  • The Rosebud Reservation is home to the Sicangu Lakota Nation, where 25,000 tribe members live in isolation and poverty. Volunteers help with home repair, construction, and work with seniors and youth on vital social projects. The weekly participation fee of $750 includes meals, lodging in the form of "indoor camping," and transportation to and from the work site. Travel expenses are not included, but all fees, including airfare, may be tax-deductible for U.S. taxpayers.
  • Red Feather Development Group seeks volunteers to help tribe members of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and the Hopi Reservation in Arizona build straw bale homes. Fees are $250 per person for one week (minimum), $50 for each additional week, plus a one-time $25 Red Feather membership fee. This covers food, lodging, and sanitation services. Volunteers are required to bring a short list of basic construction tools (tool belt, tape measure, etc.) Costs and expenses such as transportation to the reservation are tax-deductible.
  • The Blackfeet Nation needs volunteers to help with construction, maintenance and repairs on the reservation in Browning, Montana (near Glacier National Park.) The weekly participation fee of $750 includes meals, lodging, and worksite transportation. Travel and related expenses are not included, but may be tax-deductible for U.S. taxpayers.
  • The Navajo Nation needs educators. Volunteers will play an important role in tutoring and mentoring elementary school children at the Tuba City Boarding School. The $610 program fee includes lodging, meals, recreational activities, cultural activities and transportation to and from Flagstaff, Arizona airport. Costs may be tax-deductible.
  • More information on Native American Indians can be found at the Association on American Indian Affairs.
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