This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Washington Witness: Don’t Native Americans count?

In advocacy, statistics are often used to convey messages. We use them when speaking about levels of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, obesity, violence and many other issues facing the 320 million people living in the U.S.

Cherelle M. Dessus

In these statistics, we often fail to include Native Americans.

Although Native Americans are the original inhabitants of what we now call the United States, they make up only 1 percent of the national population.

Besides simply counting the population, Native Americans are left out of many other studies.

Is this because they make up such a small portion of the U.S. population? Are the statistics too bad to report? Do we not place value on the lives of Native Americans?

Perhaps the answer involves all of these.

The U.S. claims to take pride in the foundations of democracy, liberty and justice. Statistics that challenge these values may take away from the dignity this nation claims to have. In statistics, outliers can alter percentages dramatically.

Because Native Americans make up only 1 percent of the nation, we disregard statistics related to them because they are far worse than the statistics of others.

When it comes to health, incarceration, violence and education, the statistics for Native Americans are much worse.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, Native Americans have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, suicide and vehicle crashes.

The Sentencing Project noted Native American youth are 300 percent more likely to be incarcerated than white juveniles. Native Americans are two and a half times more likely to experience violence in their lifetimes compared to the national average and almost 85 percent of Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetimes.

Native Americans earn college and professional degrees at lower rates than the rest of the U.S. population.

It is important that we report these statistics so that we can respond to them. They reflect long-standing issues that Native Americans have faced in the U.S.

Native peoples who survived the genocide of American colonialism had their land and traditions stripped from them.

Boarding schools led to a weakening of values, beliefs and culture previously guided by ancestors and teachings in indigenous communities.

For centuries, the U.S. has not interacted with Native Americans in a way that shows value and respect. The policy of Native American removal for the benefit of the U.S. government, as well as broken promises in terms of services provided, have contributed to the high rates of violent crime and poor health among Native American populations.

As a nation, we must acknowledge and respond to these concerns.

Phil. 2:4 challenges us to look to the interests of others, ignoring selfish ambitions.

We must treat the trauma and injustice forced on indigenous people just as we would respond to the other 99 percent of people living on Native American land.

To learn more about the negative impact of the Doctrine of Discovery on indigenous people, visit

Cherelle M. Dessus is a legislative assistant and communications coordinator in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.

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