Most Indian reservations are not healthy places to live. People do not live long enough and there is considerable use of drugs and alcohol. Too many Native men, women and children experience domestic and sexual abuse and neglect, and lead unhealthy lifestyles. One cannot say, by contemporary standards or by traditional Indian standards, that many reservations are ideal places to uphold a community that fosters positive well being for children, adults and elders.
Although there is an abundance of family connection, the predominance of unhealthy social, cultural and criminal activities is a sign of cultural and social distress. The way we live now does not resemble the ideals of respect, spirituality, economic self-sufficiency and political freedom that our ancestors enjoyed in traditional communities.
There are many reasons for why we have gotten to this point. Many point to colonialism, loss of land, and related multigenerational cultural and social traumas that resulted. One of the tragic stories one hears is the personal, almost existential, transformation that occurred during the transition from healthy tribal communities to reservation communities of dependency, external control and loss of spiritual connectedness. Often, the stories tell about how healthy people with good minds experienced quick and cataclysmic loss of their world, and then were forced to turn to a future where “thereafter their hearts were bad.” Reservations seem sometimes like communities of peoples surviving with bad hearts.
Today, many people are battling the conditions on reservations in addition to struggling to preserve or recover sovereignty, culture and language while also focusing on economic development. These are all steps in the right direction. It is a substantial responsibility for all Indian communities. However, while economic development is necessary for developing future healthy Indian communities, by itself it does not solve the cultural needs of the community.
While economic development is necessary for developing future healthy Indian communities, by itself it does not solve the cultural needs of the community.
Many highly successful gaming communities continue to have members who are engaged in abusive use of drugs, and some have attracted outside gang activities. Many gaming communities continue to show signs of social and cultural distress. The sovereignty and Indian legal movements have clarified Indian rights and government powers. Indian communities have become increasingly based on legal issues. This is important, especially in the very legalistic culture of the U.S. government, but by itself will not solve the problems of restoring healthy Indian communities.
We need leadership and individuals who actively strive to recover healthy tribal communities where personal and community well-being are restored. We need to rediscover the philosophies of our ancestors, who believed the world was a place of balance between positive and negative forces, and taught us how to live in that world.
Along with economic and political development, we need to recover and restore our good hearts. When we become the good heart people again, we will have succeeded.