Today some cities are celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in an attempt to counter the celebration of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas that led to years of disease, death, and the removal of native peoples from their homes. One thing to reflect on is how this turbulent past has had lasting health effects for Native Americans. According to the Indian Health Service (IHS), Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have a lower life expectancy than any other US racial group and they are more likely to die from heart disease, cirrhosis, and suicide.
Social science researchers point to a number of social and historical factors that help explain the high suicide rates for Native Americans, including racial discrimination, a long history of colonial exploitation, poor health outcomes, and poor communities. Many of these communities also lack access to quality reproductive healthcare, a disparity that researchers associate with high rates of c-sections among Native American women giving birth.
- Nicholas A Guittar. 2012. “On and Off the Reservation: A Discussion of the Social, Physical, and Mental Health Indicators of Suicide in the Native American Community.” Sociology Compass 6(3):236-243.
- Louise Marie Roth and Megan M. Henley. 2012. “Unequal Motherhood Racial-Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities in Cesarean Sections in the United States.” Social Problems 59(2):207-227.
Poor health outcomes are also closely related to environmental injustice. The remote areas of land originally chosen for Native American reservations tended to be lands that were least attractive to White Americans, but perfect for military testing. The US military used adjoining lands and sometimes seized reservation lands to test military equipment, leaving toxic and dangerous materials in close proximity to Native American land. Native Americans living in areas with high levels of pollution attribute various health problems in their communities to pollutants, but are often unable to validate their concerns through institutional channels.
- Gregory Hooks and Chad L. Smith. 2004. “The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice Areas and Native Americans.” American Sociological Review 69(4):558-575.
- Thomas E. Shriver and Gary R. Webb. 2009. “Rethinking the Scope of Environmental Injustice: Perceptions of Health Hazards in a Rural Native American Community Exposed to Carbon Black.” Rural Sociology 74(2):270-292.