Political and Economic Status of Native Americans

Native Americans are the indigenous communities that live in North America. They are also referred to as American Indians. Native Americans were colonized by the Europeans from the 15th century, thereby influencing their culture. Historical evidence reveals that the current low political and economic status of Native Americans developed as a result of being colonized and alienated by Europeans for many years (Wilkins 34). According to the 2000 census, the population of Native Americans was estimated to be 4.1 million.  Thus, they represented 1.5% of the total population (Wilkins 15). The number of Native Americans has, however, increased since 2000. The beliefs, attitudes, and customs of Native Americans are rooted in their culture. This paper seeks to analyze the political and economic status of Native Americans.


The Native Americans developed and practiced a democratic political (governance) system prior to the arrival of European colonials in America (Marger 78). However, the political status of Native Americans, Later, changed radically due to the policies introduced by the Europeans. The current low political status of Native Americans can be traced to Columbus’ declaration that Native Americans were unskilled in using firearms, and thus, they could be easily controlled. Consequently, all of “the Europeans’ thoughts, actions, treaties, and legislation were driven by the need to subordinate Native Americans” (Wilkins 67). The beginning of the end of Native American’s political legacy was marked by the establishment of St. Augustine colony by the Spaniards in 1565.

Before the arrival of the colonials, Native Americans were ruled by a chief who was elected through a democratic process (Wilkins 71). They also established a council of elders which helped the elected chief to rule. The chief’s tenure in office was based on his performance. Women were allowed to vote and could also be elected as a chief. Some of these political practices were modified by the Europeans while others were eliminated when some groups of Native Americans were annihilated. However, after the enforcement of “the Indian Removal Act of 1830” (Raynoldson 90), the remaining Native Americans revitalized their political systems. Such political systems are still being practiced in America.

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 enabled Europeans to gain control over a better part of Native American’s farm lands (Raynoldson 93). Consequently, Native Americans were not allowed to participate in any political process. However, Native Americans were later allowed to participate in political processes after the passage of the Snyder Act which granted them United Sates of America citizenship in 1924 (Brendan 83). The Snyder Act, particularly, gave the Native Americans the right to vote. Despite being allowed to participate in mainstream politics, the political status of Native Americans has remained low at the national level.

Today, Native Americans exercise their political rights through tribal governments. The tribal governments are considered as domestic dependent nations. Over 500 tribal governments have since been recognized by the government of the United State of America (Wilkins 201). Through these governments, Native Americans rule themselves with the aid of their own constitutions. The tribal governments have been at the forefront in uplifting the political status of Native Americans. This involves exercising the power that they have been denied over time by acts established by the federal government. The congress which is responsible for the affairs of the Native Americans has often attempted to limit the scale of tribal power. The congress uses legislation to control the power of the tribal governments which represent Native Americans. The Supreme Court also uses the doctrine of discovery to limit the sovereignty of tribal governments (Wilkins 207). The doctrine of discovery denies Native Americans the right to freely alienate their land, and to exercise civil jurisdiction through the tribal governments.  


The low economic status of Native Americans can be traced back to the colonial period. There was high level of poverty, insufficient resources, and unemployment in the reservations in which the Native Americans lived after being displaced by the Europeans (Weir 65). Most Native Americans have since moved to urban areas with the aim of finding better economic opportunities; as their economic conditions worsened from 1950s onwards.     

The traditional economy of Native Americans was destroyed when they lost their land to Europeans. Besides, the Native Americans found it difficult to adjust to the economic system that was introduced by the Europeans. Native Americans also lost key resources such as minerals when they lost their land to the Europeans (Voxi 40-92). Economic exploitation of the Native Americans contributed to the rapid raise in industrialization in Europe while, Native Americans became poorer, especially, in 1950s. Majority of Native Americans became poor after the implementation of Dawes Act which enabled Europeans to acquire over ninety million acres of farm land which belonged to Native Americans.

Regrettably, the Native Americans are yet to emancipate themselves from the abject poverty that they began experiencing after losing their land. The poverty level among Native Americans can be illustrated by the fact that over 43% of their children who are below five years live in poverty (Voxi 40-92). The persistent poverty among Native Americans is attributed to unemployment and low wages. After the 1950s, most Native Americans worked in the “secondary labor market which is characterized by instability, low wages, and little or no upward mobility” (Voxi 40-92). Today, Native Americans still find it difficult to access well paying jobs, especially, managerial positions. Male Native Americans tend to hold blue-collar, as well as, service-sector jobs. Female Native Americans on the other hand tend to hold clerical and sales jobs. These trends have been occasioned by historical injustices in America. For instance, Native Americans were not able to acquire better education due to their high poverty levels, and this limited their chances of getting better jobs. In some cases, the Native Americans are discriminated during job recruitment even if they are qualified. Native Americans also have lower per capita income as compared to European Americans.

Today, a few successful Native Americans run casinos while majority of them struggle since they reside in reservations which are isolated from the country’s main economic centers. Apart from running casinos, other tribes are involved in gamming. Recent statistics indicate that only “one percent of Native Americans own and operate a business” (Richards 74-94). Native Americans also have the highest level of suicide rates among teenagers (18.5 per 100,000) in United States. About 54 percent of Native Americans drop-out of high school per year (Richards 74-94). Compared to the 1950s, Native Americans have considerably improved their economic status. This improvement is attributed to the federal government’s decision to allow Native Americans to manage their development programs on their own. The federal government also continues to provide funds to support education, and development projects in tribal governments.


Native Americans are the indigenous communities that live in North America. Native Americans were colonized by the Europeans in the 15th century (Marger 87). The current political and economic plight of Native Americans is, mainly, attributed to their exploitation by their former colonial masters. Native Americans became poor after losing their land to the Europeans during the colonial period (Voxi 40-92). Besides, they have not been able to reduce their poverty due to limited resources. Consequently, they remain the poorest ethnic group in the United States. They also have low political power due to the limited sovereignty of their tribal governments.

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