It is shocking when you discover that the USA Census for 1990 did not have any box to allow respondents to identify him or herself as an ‘Indian’, ‘indigenous person’ ‘Native American’, ‘Native Canadian’ or any of the other terms that can be used to describe people who can trace their ancestry to a time before European colonization of the ‘New World’. This is a shocking omission that reflects an on-going prejudice against Native Americans that until recently seemed acceptable by US government organizations.
The defect was addressed in the 2000 Census which gave the choice to respondents of identifying themselves as either ‘American Indian’ or ‘Alaskan Indian’. They then could specify which tribe or community they claimed association with.
According to the 2000 Census, California has the largest population of Native Americans (333,346), followed by Oklahoma (273,230) and then Arizona (255,879). The state with the least Indians was Delaware (2,731). Interestingly, the relatively small Rhode Island had more Indians according to the census (5,121).
Considering the total population of The United States of America is just over 300 million the numbers of people claiming indigenous ancestry is shockingly small; especially, when you consider that the Americas used to be composed entirely of Indian communities and tribes. This is clear indication like no other that the policies and extra-judicial actions of wave upon wave of immigrants to the USA have systematically taken apart Indian culture. It is a form of cultural genocide.
As the story goes the Pilgrim Fathers were welcomed by the first Indians they encountered. Without their assistance many of the original settlers would have died of disease and starvation. Rather than live in peaceful co-existence the settlers sought to claim land, set up independent government, make war and push the Indian people onto more and more barren land. The process was repeated from the north to the south and the east to the west. Indians were seen as an obstacle to the growing prosperity of the immigrants that came to the Americas. It is somewhat ironic that today many right wing Americans fear they are being inundated with a flood of illegal immigrants from Latin America. These people are themselves descended from unwanted immigrants. Such is the short memory that causes bigotry, hatred and greed.
Now the Indian tribes and the Alaskan tribes have realized that they will not get redress for their grievances by simply petitioning government representatives. They must organize themselves into effective action groups. Tribal lands must be identified and their legal possession fought for in the courts. The human rights of Indian people must be actively protected by other Indians. Their way of life, their culture and their language must be preserved by Indians.
In short we, the Indian peoples of America and Alaska cannot be passive. We must take the initiative out of the hands of academics, lobbyists and activists working on our behalf. We must learn the skills required to save our own identities, and not have some artificial facsimile of our culture handed down to us by people working in universities.
We do not accept the authority of those who do not have Indian ancestry to dictate to us. Our past is being stolen from us. We are being marginalized in a country that was once ours. The future is being stolen from us. We are being demonized and stereotyped by the mass media as alcoholics, drug users and feckless state benefit scroungers. We are portrayed in books as quaint people that wear feathers and furs. All this must be addressed.
Our goal is to provide information, legal, educational and financial resources to Indian peoples in America so that they can fight the battle against misinformation and against injustice. We seek to provide policy makers and the media with facts about the real conditions of contemporary Native Americans. We seek to tell the real story of Indian history.
The goal of www.airpi.org is to bring this peaceful (but active) resistance into the realm of online media. Despite repeated attempts to curb the freedoms of the internet it still remains the most powerful tool at our disposal for explaining our point of view, of disseminating our culture, and reaching out to Americans of all colors and creed all over this great continent.