The Plains Indians of the twentieth century

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While at the schools, the Native Americans were required to perform manual labor to contribute to the upkeep of the school, but were not allowed to be compensated for their work. Several Native American tribes were put on reservations together in locations that are not traveled by most Americans. The U.

While on these reservations, Native Americans were given rations , something that other Americans only experienced during times of extreme need such as war. Editorial cartoonists recognized the U. The government saw the Native Americans as a problem but did not know how to deal with them, even after trying several approaches. Donald L. Submissions Author Materials. Copyright Clearance Center. A glance at these numbers makes two conclusions quickly evident. One is that American Indian fertility equals or exceeds the fertility of either black or white women. In particular, these numbers suggest that young American Indian and black women have about the same fertility levels.

In , for example, American Indian women aged had 0. In , the number of children ever born to black and American Indian women was smaller than in —0. A second, related conclusion is that American Indians continue to have children and eventually to exceed the number of children ever born to black women. Black women appear to curtail their childbearing in their late 20s and early 30s, while American Indian women continue to have children.

In , the mean number of children ever born to American Indian women aged 1. This gap persists in the older cohort as well. At the same time, while the mean number of children ever born declined for all three groups of women from to , the decrease was greatest for American Indian women. Among American Indian women aged , the mean number of children ever born fell from 4. In the same period, the decrease was 37 and 32 percent for black and white women, respectively. Needless to say, this decrease among American Indian women may reflect changes in population composition due to changing racial identities as much as "real" changes in fertility behavior.

Racial differences in fertility are the result of a complex array of social, cultural, and even physiological factors that govern conception, the desirability of children, and normative beliefs about ideal family size. A plausible argument can be made that black and American Indian women have somewhat similar fertility patterns in part because they often share similar economic circumstances, whereas the remaining differences between them may be due in part to differences in cultural backgrounds. By the same token, American Indians do not have a monolithic culture.

Indeed, there is a great deal of heterogeneity among tribal cultures that in most cases cannot be considered because the necessary data are not available. However, there is a small amount of data by tribe in the census. These data allow comparison of children ever born to determine whether there are significant cultural differences across tribes with respect to childbearing and family size. The tribes shown in Table are the ten largest, listed in descending order. Perhaps the single most important conclusion that can be drawn from this table is that there are clear tribal differences in this measure of fertility behavior.

With respect to childbearing, these data suggest that Sioux women are the most likely to begin their families at a young age, while Lumbee women are least likely to do so: young Sioux women aged have an average of 0. One way to visualize this difference is to realize that among 10 young Sioux women, 6 or 7 would have 1 child each, and the others would be childless, whereas among 10 young Lumbee women 3 would have 1 child each, and the others would be childless.

Considering that many Sioux women begin their families at an early age, it should not be surprising that older Sioux women have relatively large numbers of children 3. However, Navajo women have even higher levels of lifetime fertility, with 3. Iroquois women have the lowest levels of lifetime fertility, nearly one-third lower than those of Navajo women, with 2. Residential differences in children ever born are important because they underscore the differences between reservation and nonreservation American Indians. Most reservations are located in nonmetropolitan areas, and though not all Indians living in such areas are reservation residents, this distinction still serves as a convenient proxy for reservation residence see Snipp, The data in Table show the mean number of children ever born to women living in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, over the decades from to Table shows the same declines in fertility over time that are visible in other tables, the result of both compositional changes and real declines.

Furthermore, this downward trend is evident in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas alike. It is somewhat more pronounced in metropolitan areas, but this may reflect more the influence of compositional changes over time than a real change in fertility, given that changes in racial self-identification have been greatest in urban areas.

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And as with other groups, the fertility of American Indian women is higher in nonmetropolitan than in metropolitan areas. There are various explanations for why fertility levels are typically higher in rural areas, and they are just as plausible for American Indian as for other women.

For example, traditional values that reinforce the desirability of large families are often more prevalent in rural areas. Perhaps more important, correlates of fertility such as education and labor force participation also tend to be lower in rural areas.


The largest and most comprehensive source of data about American Indian mortality is that available from the Indian Health Service, which obtains data for its reports from special tabulations produced by the National Center for Health Statistics. The most significant limitation of these data is that they are tabulated only for those areas served by the Indian Health Service. The coverage of these tabulations for included an estimated 1. It is important to note that the population served by the Indian Health Service is heavily concentrated on reservations in rural areas.

Some urban areas are included; nonetheless, the American Indian population represented by these data is more rural, has a lower standard of living, and has more health problems than the complete population enumerated by the census. Still, these data illustrate the mortality and health problems experienced by the majority of American Indians and accurately represent the mortality experience of the most economically disadvantaged segment of the American Indian population. Table shows data for American Indians and whites for several measures that reflect mortality patterns.

Life expectancy at birth is one such measure. Table shows that here the gap between American Indians and whites was greatest about 20 years ago; in earlier decades, it was even larger see Snipp, In the period of , the life expectancy of American Indians was Fifteen years later, this gap had narrowed considerably.

In , American Indians had a life expectancy at birth of Some of this relative improvement in life expectancy is probably due to compositional changes resulting from the changes in racial self-identification discussed earlier. However, based on data yet to be discussed, this increase can also be attributed to significant declines in infant mortality. Another useful measure of mortality is years of productive life lost YPLL —the difference between age 65 and age at death, summed over all deaths in a given year.

This measure especially captures the impact of mortality among younger adults. For American Indians in , years of productive life lost YPLL was over , about percent higher than for the white population. However, 15 years later, this number had decreased significantly to Despite these improvements in both populations, YPLL was still about 89 percent higher for American Indians than for whites. Age-adjusted mortality is a third way of describing mortality. This measure allows comparisons between populations with substantially different age distributions.

In particular, it takes into account the differences in mortality that may arise because of differences in age structure. Specifically, because of high rates of fertility and mortality, the American Indian population is relatively young, with a median age of In contrast, the non-Hispanic white population has lower fertility and mortality and a correspondingly older population, with a median age of Table shows that, age differences aside, the American Indian population still experiences substantially higher mortality than other Americans, notably the white population.

In , the age-adjusted mortality rate for American Indians was 53 percent higher Fifteen years later, the gap between whites High levels of socioeconomic distress are frequently accompanied by high levels of infant mortality.

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This is because poverty-stricken areas have limited access to medical care, prenatal and neonatal care is limited, and the nutrition of mothers is poor, among other problems. In this regard, American Indians are an anomaly. There is no question that American Indians are one of the poorest groups in American society. About 32 percent of American Indians in Indian Health Service areas have incomes below the official poverty threshold, compared with 13 percent for the total U.

Yet remarkably, American Indians have relatively low infant mortality rates. Figure shows trends from two sources of data. The longer lines, labeled '' VS ", are based on vital statistics reports. These reports are widely used and have the virtue of being available for lengthy periods in the past. However, there is some evidence that American Indian infant deaths are underreported Hahn, ; Hahn et al. In contrast, the special National Center for Health Statistics data file in which birth and death records are linked National Center for Health Statistics, significantly reduces reporting errors, but has the disadvantage of being available only for the period since Infant mortality rates from this special data file are shown in Figure as lines labeled " L ".

The infant mortality rates from vital statistics show a downward trend from to As suggested earlier, this trend can be traced back to , when the Indian Health Service was transferred to the Public Health Service Sorkin, Around , American Indian infant mortality was about Within 5 years, American Indian infant mortality had continued its decline and leveled off at about 11 deaths per 1, live births—very near the rate of 8.

Overall, American Indian infant mortality has declined steeply over the last four decades, and the Indian Health Service undoubtedly deserves a great deal of credit for the care it provides to expectant mothers and newborns. Without this care, it is very likely that American Indians would have much higher numbers of infant deaths and infant mortality rates more closely resembling those found among other impoverished groups. As shown in Figure , blacks in particular have substantially higher rates of infant mortality.

At the same time, as discussed below, there are good reasons to believe that these declines are not as great as they appear. Furthermore, it is important to underscore the regional variation in these rates, lest it be assumed that infant mortality is universally low for all groups of American Indians. Evidence indicating that American Indian infant deaths are underreported is clearest when one compares infant mortality rates from vital statistics with those from the linked special file.

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While the estimates for blacks and whites are fairly consistent across data sources, estimates of American Indian infant mortality from vital statistics are substantially lower than those from the linked file. For example, for , vital statistics show an infant mortality rate of In its own estimates, the Indian Health Service cautions that American Indian infant deaths are underreported for its Portland, Oregon, service area, covering the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho; for its Oklahoma service area, covering the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas; and for its California service area.

Notably, the Oklahoma and California service areas have the two lowest reported rates of infant mortality—5. When these three service areas are excluded, the American Indian infant mortality rate rises to about 12 per 1, live births. Furthermore, it is important to point out that infant mortality continues to be a serious problem in the northern plains. Some of the poorest reservations in the nation are located in this region, including Shannon County, South Dakota, the poorest county in the nation and the site of the Pine Ridge reservation.

In this region, infant mortality rates are in the range of 16 to 18 per 1, live births, well above the 8. The numbers in Table chronicle the main causes of death among American Indians in and show the corresponding rates for the white population. Note that these are not necessarily the leading causes of death among whites.

In addition, it should be no surprise that the major causes of death change as the population becomes older. For this reason, the figures in Table show the leading causes of death for young adults ages 15 to 24 , early adulthood ages 25 to 44 , and older adulthood ages 65 and older.

Examination of the death rates in Table makes it clear that the overwhelming majority of these deaths were preventable, at least in principle. In , younger American Indians aged had a death rate from all causes of per , persons— percent higher than the death rate among whites of the same age. The tragedy of this figure is that so many of these deaths need not have happened: 85 percent were the result of accidents, suicide, and homicide. Although suicides are percent higher for young American Indian adults than for young whites, and homicides kill nearly three times more American Indians than whites per capita, accidents, especially car accidents, are the true scourge of American Indians at this age.

Tribal leaders could reduce deaths among their young people by a third or more if they simply could successfully encourage safe driving and seatbelt use and discourage drunk driving—the major causes of auto fatalities. This would certainly not be easy, but would have enormous benefit in many Indian communities; for this age group, it would save more lives than finding a cure for cancer.

The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century
The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century
The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century
The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century
The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century
The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century
The Plains Indians of the twentieth century The Plains Indians of the twentieth century

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