Do people not care about Native Americans?

Cynthia-Lou Coleman, professor of communication at Portland State University and an Osage tribal member.

Cynthia-Lou Coleman, professor of communication at Portland State University and an Osage tribal member. She says the lack of data on Native Americans is partially because “people don’t care about Native concerns.”

Cynthia-Lou Coleman verbalized something that I hadn’t allowed myself to consider seriously until now: People don’t care about Native Americans and their concerns.

Coleman, a professor and researcher at Portland State University and a member of the Osage tribe, said she came to that realization in the 1980s when she couldn’t find data on Native American voting.

“The conclusion I came to was that it’s because nobody cares,” Coleman said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “Nobody was doing studies on it because nobody who had the authority to write about it cared enough about it. So I had to give it up and I ended up doing work on environmental journalism instead.”

I have faced that same problem repeatedly when researching data regarding Indian Country. And although I believe there are many people who care about Native issues, I understand what Coleman means about decision-makers not caring enough to include Native people in socioeconomic research and other studies that have the power to help bring about change.

Coleman, who studies science communication and specializes in issues that impact Native Americans, said she understands why national polls don’t include statistics for groups like Native people. Their population size is a small percentage of the total U.S. population.

The U.S. Census Bureau states there are 5.2 million American Indian and Alaska Natives, either alone or in combination with one or more races, living in the U.S. Of this number, 2.9 million identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone.

So if the total number of people surveyed is a couple of thousand or fewer, Coleman said, the number of Native American responses would likely be about 1 percent – not enough to glean accurate findings. In order to get a representative sample, the entire survey sample would have to be extremely large, and researchers consider it too costly in terms of time and monetary expense.

The reliability problem with Native American data in national surveys was discussed in my previous blog post, which quoted Dr. Robert Griffin, professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University. Both Griffin and Coleman say that a more effective way to gauge opinions of Native Americans is not through national polling, but through surveying Native people as a single group.

Granted, these types of surveys would not allow for data comparisons with other demographic groups, but direct polling would be an instrument for solid data collection on Native Americans.

The next question is: Who is going to pursue important data on tribes? I’m talking about the kind of data that has the ability to show who Native people are, on and off the reservation, and what life is like for them. I’m talking about the kind of information that can sway public policy. And who will push for it?

Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Coleman said the apathy toward Native issues that she saw decades ago persists. She called Native people “forgotten” and, in some cases, “invisible.” She said there are agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that do a good job of tracking important data on Native communities, but their numbers are few.

Her sobering view, though hard to hear, needs to be shared – especially for those of us who want Native voices to be heard in mainstream America.

What are your thoughts? Please take time to comment below.

Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.

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22 thoughts on “Do people not care about Native Americans?

    • Some tribes have money and they are still not included on studies. I would say that when tribes have the potential to sway a crucial election, the powers-that-be might care. Thanks for your comment.

  1. Hope you continue to bring these issues to the forefront. The best way for American Indians to have their issues heard is to continue to pound our fists on the table of public concern: we want to be counted, we’re not mascots, and we’re still here. Thank you, Karen.

    • Cynthia: Thanks so much for sharing your views, and for encouraging me on my quest for more data on Native Americans.
      You mention the mascot issue, which is something I have written about before. I’m glad to see that there has been more news coverage of it lately.

  2. I agree with Ms. Coleman. It’s a hard reality to face, but so long as we let our tribal nations be defined by the domain of 1/4 blood quantum, we will be the proverbial (and, in some nations, actual) “vanishing breed.” We–inter tribally– need to have conversations about universalizing blood quantum or get creative on how we accept tribal members and pound these new definitions into the heads of the feds…or threaten them with what the Feds seem to fear most– paying reparations for the atrocities committed to our ancestors.

    • Thanks for your comment, Barbara. Tribes, as sovereign nations, should have the final say on who their members are.

  3. One way to do away with the blood quantum trap is to simply to do away with it. We could also make if federal policy to put all “white” people on the “white rolls” and tell them that when they breed themselves out to a blood quantum lower than 25% then they will cease to be “white” people. That should take all of twenty years…

    • Tom, somehow my initial reply didn’t get posted. Pardon me. Anyway, I hear your frustration on the blood quantum issue. I also feel for the people who have more than 1/4 degree Indian blood from two or more tribes, but don’t have enough blood from one tribe to become an enrolled member. It’s not fair.

  4. Hello Karen, great blog. I would like to see if you could possibly reword this so that we could use it as a guest column. I believe you are a great writer and your message is important and clear. It’s a message our readers should hear or read. Hearing these kinds of messages from a person who is from another place in Indian Country or in the U.S. brings a fresh perspective. Although you are writing from another place, the message is universal for Native people every where. Thanks.

  5. People do care in Ak.As a matter of fact,they care enough to target our concerns in their campaigns.As to whether they keep there promises is a different matter.Very inaccurate statement and a perfect example of scholars that spend more time behind a desk,than with people they supposedly study.

  6. I’m heartened to hear people in your community care about indigenous voices and opinions but that is simply not the case in national politics. Indigenous people are sorely under-represented, particularly when our views have little economic currency.

  7. I agree. I am an independent scholar and I work federal grants around disability.
    I work nationally and internationally and I constantly talking to colleagues who are well-funded in government and at universities to include native people (who have the highest rates of disability in all colonial western nations- US, AU, CA, NZ, etc.). They don’t. Too difficult. So infuriating. It really does feel sometimes like non-native people just smile politely and wait to escape the conversation. They don’t care but are too educated to not realize the history of native people, so they know they can’t just roll their eyes.

  8. Hi there sister,
    It’s been my experience that Native issues aren’t discussed in general society’s discussion unless I bring it up. they are more interested in complaining about work, family or weather or talking about what happened with latest sports game or celebrity’s behavior. it’s been a disappointment to me because of my wonderful experiences with your family. I wish everyone could have had my experiences. Perhaps they would have different eyes, ears and mind-set.

  9. I can’t speak for every Nation, but in my opinion Native people are a humble and docile group that some Non Native people mistake for not caring, and then we are treated as such. I was very fortunate to have been raised by a Native grandmother that “made” all her grandchildren leave their comfort zone and often, hence raising children to become adults that are able to speak concisely and appropriately for the others that can’t or won’t. I do have to add that most of our children now are leading in ways that this subject will be of something in the past.

    • Hazel, thanks. I think part of the reason that Native people haven’t spoken up in some cases is because they’ve accepted the fact that we’ve been left out. For years, I have just accepted that we’re not included in important studies and discussions that can have a big impact on our people. I’ve reached a point where I need to question that. I hope more Native people are fed up enough to do the same.

  10. Thanks, Martha. Very nice to hear from you.
    I understand what you’re saying. It’s sort of like: Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes I have come across people who didn’t know that American Indian tribes still exist. Makes me wonder how they could think that; maybe schools are not teaching anything about Native Americans other than in the context of U.S. history — nothing about contemporary Native issues.

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