by Cambria York
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Acts (CARES) package passed by the federal government allots $100 million for food distribution on American Indian reservations. Big corporations and banks, of course, will get hundreds of billions–and potentially trillions–of dollars.
The funds are being channeled through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. The FDPIR is an alternative to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as SNAP offices and approved stores are inaccessible to many reservations.
According to the FDPIR, 102 tribal organizations and three state agencies receive funding to administer funds in their respective localities, which in turn support roughly 276 tribes whose populations are food insecure. It goes without saying that all reservations suffer from food desertification due to the U.S. government’s extensive underdevelopment and poisoning of sovereign Indigenous lands, intended to deprive Indigenous nations of the conditions necessary to sustain their communities.
While the novel Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate based on nationality, the colonial policies of the U.S. government ensure that Indigenous nations suffer its effects disproportionately.
On March 31, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez held an online town hall where he issued the following criticism of the governmental response: “There’s frustration from leadership–not just here on Navajo–but all of Indian Country. We feel that the United States government once again has ignored or even left out the first residents, the first people, the first citizens of this country: Indigenous people.”
According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 574 federally-recognized Indigenous nations in the United States as of February 2020. However, many nations remain unrecognized either at the state and/or federal levels, despite having filed petitions for recognition decades ago. Other nations have had their recognition and reservation status removed, despite being contiguous communities in their own right.
The most recent example of this was the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts, which on March 27 was served an order from the Secretary of the Interior, by way of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that their reservation was to be disestablished and that their land be taken out of trust. This sets yet another precedent in the ongoing history of the U.S. genocidal policies, which empowers the federal government to endanger the continued existence of Indigenous nationhood by removing their homelands and established communities. This decision is one that could threaten any of the hundreds of nations recognized since the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.
There are roughly a dozen unrecognized nations and bands in the state of Indiana, most prominent of which is the Miami Nation of Indiana. Originally the Eastern Band of the Miami Nation, the Miami Nation of Indiana was federally recognized in 1854, but that recognition was rescinded in 1897. Although they receive support from their brethren in the Miami Nation of Oklahoma (formerly Western Band Miami), they and other nations who may be recognized only at the state level will not receive assistance during this unprecedented crisis.
While the importance of specialized food assistance for Indigenous nations cannot be overstated, the U.S. has never been interested in sustaining Indigenous nationhood, especially not when there is profit to be made.
The reality of living in Indian Country–food deserts, over-policing and state violence, insufficient access to healthcare, education, jobs, and infrastructural support–is one produced by U.S. policy. It the same reality in any disenfranchised Black, Brown, and immigrant neighborhoods today. The very logic of capitalism dictates that a majority of the population be kept in abject squalor, strung along by the mere hope of a better quality of life through “hard work.” It is the colonial blueprint of this country to prevent people of oppressed nations and marginalized communities from achieving full sovereign control over their own destinies.
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