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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 (15 tribes have unemployment rates of greater than 80%). 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 30% of all Native Americans currently live in poverty. Native Indian tribes are individual sovereign nations and have always been responsible for the needs of their people, regardless of tribal income. There are 566 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 Grand Canyon Trust offers a program to help the Native Americans living in the Colorado Plateau region. Volunteers will have the opportunity to "mitigate the effects of past environmental degradation on Tribal lands as well as connect with members of local communities where we conduct sustainable, community-driven, economic development work." 
  • 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 to $350 per person for one week (minimum), $50 to $100 for each additional week, plus a one-time $35 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 and Crow people need volunteers to help with construction, maintenance and repairs, community gardening, nurturing and educating the children, and supporting community education. Volunteers of all ages, including families, are welcome for this one-week experience.
  • 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 $899 program fee (one week) includes lodging, meals, recreational activities, cultural activities and travel insurance. 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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