Visiting PahaSka, Uncle Orville Salway, at his day job in Deadwood, South Dakota, in 1974. (Facebook / Amelia Christnot)
American Indians, Native Americans, Indigenous Americans, Aboriginal Americans, or First Nations are some of the evolving terms used to describe the people who made their home in the United States for tens of thousands of years before contact with European explorers like the Vikings.
To say life changed after the second wave of contact in the late 15th century is an understatement. Resettlement and forced removal reshaped Native cultures. They were altered again by the federal Assimilation Acts of the 19th century, including the establishment of Native American reservations.
Not all Natives live on reservations and life on a reservation for a Native is very different than off. There are both advantages, like community and cultural knowledge, and disadvantages, like geographic isolation and lack of jobs, to reservation life.
A Reddit user asked: "Native Americans/Indigenous Peoples of Reddit, what's it like to grow up on a Reservation in the USA?"
Here is some insight into Native American reservation life.
I'm Navajo, and from the Navajo Nation. The people were wonderful, for the most part. Being part of two of the tightest clans on the rez was pretty awesome. A lot of Navajo culture is basically just about enjoying life, and helping others do the same. That being said, the best part about being off the rez is having all the clean water I can drink. Seriously. Sometimes I just stand at the sink and run the tap to marvel at the clean water coming out of it. In large parts of the Navajo Nation, you can't dig wells because of the uranium in the top layer of the water table. So some people just have to drive out really far to deliver or pickup water in big barrels from areas that aren't contaminated. It took 40+ years for the US government to do anything about it. And just recently, the EPA agreed to cover half the cost of cleaning 94 (about 20% of the total) abandoned uranium mines on the reservation. The water table is still f'd, but it's a start, if nothing else. And people wonder why we don't trust the government.
When I was a kid I often visited my grandparents on the res in Montana. I was too young at the time to realize the crushing poverty and hopelessness. My grandpa was one of those self-sufficient mountain men who didn't ever complain so I didn't "know" they were super poor. He taught me survival skills and outback engineering. We ate venison and rabbit all the time which was a treat to me but a staple to them. Poverty and alcoholism/drug abuse was rampant but I was sort of blind to that (Uncle Bert is sort of crazy I guess).
They eventually moved to a small town and ended up dying in poverty. My dad joined the Army and that was his ticket out of there and into the lower middle class.
I loved it. My family was all within a 15-29 minute drive. I could run around in the woods and never felt like I was in danger. I could ride on the roads with my bike and felt safe. If I went to the store I was sure to see someone I knew. I was able to go to courts with my mother and watch our little courts do their stuff. I was able to call into out radio station and request a song and sometimes hear my voice on the radio. I was able to volunteer as a DJ and call out bingo numbers in my native language. I was able to become fluent in my native language. And that's something I could never do anywhere else. Growing up if I had a car issue someone I knew would stop and help me out. My grandfather was able to make a living off of the land. In the end we couldnt eat the food because of pollution from the manufacturing plants up river.
My family is here and that is the reason I love my reservation.