The growth of the U.S. came at a tragic cost: our land was seized and our tribes were annihilated. Today, we need increased support.
Indian Country is comprised of 566 federally recognized tribes that span the continental United States and Alaska. American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have made every geographic area home, from far reaches of the Alaskan tundra, the eastern woodlands, deserts, the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the great plains and along the western coastal regions of America.
It is estimated that 78% of the total 5.2 million AI/ANs reside in metropolitan areas across the country. The 2012 American Community Survey estimates that there are 982,494 AI/AN elders ages 55 and older. Economic conditions vary from tribe to tribe. Each of the 566 tribes honors its own political structure, language, cultural beliefs and practices. Here are three of the biggest challenges facing AI/AN elders today:
The most pressing issue in AI/AN communities is a lack of adequate health care services and health coverage. A December 2013 report from the CDC reports the rate of AI/AN uninsured at 27%, almost double the rate of other groups.
Longer life spans have led to increasing costs for living expenses and health care. According to the American Community Survey, 29.1 percent of AI/ANs live in poverty; for the nation as a whole the rate is 15.9 percent.
AI/AN elders wish to live in their own communities, yet this requires increased resources and more options for long term care. More than 240 tribes have Title VI grant funded services that provide nutrition and community-based services, yet many tribes do not receive enough funding to fully implement their programs.
American history chronicles the westward expansion of the United States; the federal government’s growth and success came at a tragic cost, the annihilation of many tribes, their way of life and the seizure of tribal lands. The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities as provided by the U.S. Constitution, treaties, court decisions and federal statutes. Today the federal government acknowledges the sovereignty and independence of 566 tribal nations. The United States federal government concedes its longstanding responsibility to provide health care and other services in exchange for the lands seized long ago.
It is crucial for stakeholders, leaders and the aging network to understand that American Indian and Alaska Native elders are not homogeneous. To understand Indian Country is to appreciate its diversity and the wonderful opportunity it presents to understand the richness of America’s story and the vital part played by American Indians and Alaska Natives. There are also differences in terms of tribal infrastructure and resources. Some AI/ANs have gaming enterprises, corporations, mineral rights and land but many do not have these economic engines and continue to suffer high rates of poverty, generation after generation.
Our member organization the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) recognizes the advocacy apparatus of the Diverse Elders Coalition. NICOA believes that the DEC strengthens its advocacy abilities. NICOA’s mission is to improve the comprehensive health, social services and economic wellbeing of American Indian and Alaska Native elders. By joining together we strengthen all our voices and heighten our visibility.
For more information about AI/AN elders, visit the website of our member organization the National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) at nicoa.org.