The Power of Place Day 4 - Native American Reservations

As we drove through New Mexico and Arizona, and even parts of California, we traveled across several Native American Reservations. I knew from the first moment that I would write about the experience, but it's taken me a bit of time to get my thoughts together.

Let me start by saying that I knew I would be affected by seeing the reservations in person. Long before we neared the first one, thoughts of what I'd learned in school had already filled my mind. The Trail of Tears. The Indian Removal Act. Boarding Schools to force "cultural assimilation". Manifest Destiny. I'd learned about all those things and more. I'd been appalled and angry about how the Native Americans had been treated. But in no way could I prepare myself for how I would feel when I saw the reservations for the first time.

From the interstate, the conditions on the reservations are modest at best, gut-wrenching at worst. The lean-tos and shacks and campers parked in the middle of vast fields speak of both the poverty and the determination of the people. Determination to maintain their culture... a culture which was assaulted... a culture which fought tooth and nail to survive. The people who live in homes such as the ones below are keeping alive a part of history that should never be forgotten... and nurturing a culture that is rich with tradition.

Then, around the next bend in the road would be a lavish and exorbitant casino. Such a contrast to the poverty evident just from driving by the homes on the reservations. So much so that I almost took a picture of a casino, but then decided I didn't want to make it that important. The casino, after all, isn't really a part of the culture. Supposedly, the casino developers give a percentage of their profits back to the tribe and the reservation, but if that money had made any sort of impact on the people living on the reservations, you could not tell by looking.

When I returned home, I contacted a friend of mine who has worked for several years on different reservations teaching literacy. She confirmed what I suspected... that on some reservations, the casinos had made some kind of positive impact on the tribe, and on many others... not so much. She also told me that many reservations do not have high schools. Students on those reservations who want to attend high school have to go to the nearest town, stay with relatives, or attend a boarding school (and, yes, she said those do, in fact, still exist.) Of course, for many students of high school age, these conditions make it impossible to attend high school, and so they drop out. 

She also described the hardships faced by many on the reservations. Not only poverty, but addiction, illiteracy, domestic abuse, etc. But she was quick to say that the cultures on the reservations are still beautiful... still rich... and in many places, still thriving. 

I won't say I felt pity when I saw the reservations. I'm sure that's not what the Native Americans would want us to feel.  I felt sadness. I felt humbled. I felt a kind of righteous indignation for the way their culture had been attacked. But more than that, I felt proud. And I felt a sense of gladness that even after all the tribes had experienced over the last several centuries, they still endeavor to keep their culture alive. 

And because of their endeavors, we should NEVER forget.

Happy reading and writing.


  1. I think it's a real shame they don't get more out of having the casino on their land. Their treatment at the hands of white people throughout history has been a real outrage.

    My great great grandfather's name was Josh Swiftfoot. He was a Cherokee Indian. His family was displaced during the Trail of Tears.

    I wish things like this didn't bother me so much.
    I can feel my blood pressure spiking.
    Teresa R.

  2. The history of the Native race is a history of a worldview fostering wisdom about the earth and relationships, one characterized by sustainability. But the white race has been blind to the greatness of the people it treads over and through with its need for
    acquisition. At one point, our government even legislated genocide in regard to natives. Shame on us.

  3. This topic always moved me to tears of anger and sadness that our history is blemished by our ancestors treatment of the people native to this country. It often leaves me feeling sick to my stomach. I empathize with your feelings on this Amy. I feel the same way.

  4. Amy, thanks for your post. There are deplorable conditions and situations in which many American Indian families live, and it does vary from reservation to reservation, tribe to tribe. I have many American Indian friends who are proud to be who they are, and live where they do. Yes, hardships are plentiful and yes, the cultures and languages are beautiful. They are a proud and resilient people. I have learned so much from my Indian sisters over my years of working on the reservations, and am very grateful for the relationships. They have changed who I am as a person.

  5. This is a thought provoking post, Amy. During my years in Arizona, I saw what you described and felt a deep sense of loss for the greatness of the nations. Where I live now, we have a thriving tribal nation whose leaders are very generous and financially supportive of our school district. It's quite a different picture, depending on where one lives. Thanks for this post.