Come to Denver

views updated

Come to Denver

The Chance of Your Lifetime


By: Anonymous

Date: 1953

Source: Photo by MPI/Getty Images.

About the Author: Getty Images is a provider of photographs, film footage, and digital content, including current and historical photographs and political cartoons. The photographer is unknown.


The arrival of European explorers and settlers in North America set the stage for numerous conflicts, none more significant than the clash fueled by the two cultures' differing views on property ownership. To the Europeans, real estate was an asset to be owned, bought, sold, and exploited for profit, while the Native Americans viewed land as a public asset. This fundamental difference in understanding led to numerous conflicts as explorers attempted to buy, and in some cases take, land from the natives, who failed to grasp the significance of the transactions they were being offered.

As the open ranges of North America were carved into farms, ranches, and estates, the indigenous people found themselves being gradually confined to small sections of their previous migratory ranges. In some cases they attacked settlers in an attempt to regain the use of their lands, while in others they pursued legal action against the government. Beginning in 1786, Indian tribes ceding land to the U.S. government kept or "reserved" a portion of the land for their own use. These "reservations" were intended to become the

Indians' new homes as they transitioned from a nomadic life to a fixed agricultural existence.

During the 1800's the federal government took greater liberties in confiscating Indian land and relocating the residents, sometimes by force. A report prepared in 1908 by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs listed 161 separate reservations in the United States, covering a total land area of 52 million acres. Life on these reservations was starkly different than Indian life before. With no experience as farmers many Indians found the new lifestyle frustrating and distasteful, and in time the reservations became centers of poverty and illiteracy. Numerous solutions were tried and numerous initiatives launched but despite federal financial support the reservations remained poverty-stricken and backward.

Through the decades numerous efforts were made to improve the lives of Native Americans, some urging them to remain on the reservations, others encouraging them to move. Some cities, recognizing the limited opportunity on the reservations and needing laborers to fuel their growing economies, began recruiting Indians to leave the reservations and relocate.



See primary source image.


Despite decades of effort, Indian reservations in the early twenty-first century remain among the poorest and least healthy regions in the United States. The 1990 census found almost two million Native Americans and native Alaskans living in the United States; of that total almost 400,000 live on reservations. Across the country Native Americans have the highest rates of unemployment, poverty, and health problems of any ethnic group. A study conducted from 1991 to 2000 found that Native American residents of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon were living an average of only 47 years, significantly less than the Oregon average of 74 years. While the leading cause of death for all Americans is heart disease, a study of 5,000 Native Americans in Oregon found that the leading cause of death was automobile accidents, seventy-two percent of which involved alcohol. Researchers continue probing the reasons for native Americans' lower life expectancies.

Shannon County, South Dakota, has the unpleasant distinction of being the poorest county in the nation. In 1997 the county, populated mostly by Native Americans, had an unemployment rate of 80 percent and a per capita income of less than $3,500. Many of the residents live in surplus army housing moved to the reservation in the 1960s. While many of the houses should be condemned, tribal leaders are reluctant to do so, because such a decision would leave the residents homeless. In some houses residents without electricity run extension cords from neighboring homes to provide winter heat.

American Indian reservations share many of the social and economic problems faced in most inner city areas, including high crime rates, poor health, and deteriorating infrastructure. While the United States provides ongoing financial assistance to Indian tribes, these programs lack strong political backing, and in recent years have experienced funding cuts. The large number of Native Americans on reservations makes most potential solutions extremely expensive, and decades of failure have created skepticism that the problems can be solved at all.

Despite numerous failures, efforts to improve Native Americans' lives continue. In 2005, the American Indian College Fund launched an unlikely ad campaign encouraging young Native Americans to remain on reservations and complete their education at tribal colleges. These institutions, offering tribal cultural education along with traditional academic subjects, provide an unexpected benefit: Statistics show that students who attend these colleges are several times more likely to graduate than those who leave the reservation to attend a university.



Dandekar, Vinayak Mahadev. The Indian Economy, 1947–92: Population, Poverty and Employment. New York: Sage, 1996.

Frantz, Klaus. Indian Reservations in the United States: Territory, Sovereignty, and Socioeconomic Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Tiller, Veronica E. Velarde, ed. Tiller's Guide to Indian Country: Economic Profiles of American Indian Reservations. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: BowArrow Publishing, 2006.


Rivera, Hector, and Roland Tharp. "A Native American Community's Involvement and Empowerment to Guide Their Children's Development in the School Setting." Journal of Community Psychology 34 (2006): 435-451.

Staba, David. "State to Forgo Cigarette Tax to Keep Peace with Indians." New York Times (March 21, 2006): B5.

Steakley, Lia. "Washington State Offers Mea Culpa for Hood Canal Delay." Engineering News Record 256 (June 12, 2006): 16.

Web sites

National Park Service. "Indian Reservations in the Continental United States." 〈〉 (accessed July 16, 2006).

U.S. Department of Justice. "Policing on Indian Reservations." July 2001 〈〉 (accessed July 16, 2006).