Despite the strong efforts of tribal governments and advocates, difficult conditions persist in many tribal communities. Our federal government has not kept the promises made to our country’s first citizens; promises which should have guaranteed that their fundamental education, health care and housing needs would be met. Native youth now suffer the consequences of those broken promises.
While there are some Native American tribes that have been successful in developing economic opportunities for their citizens, the majority of Indian Country continues to suffer from high rates of poverty and unemployment. Numerous tribal communities have unemployment rates near 70% and more than 23% of all Native Americans live in poverty, of which 32% are under the age of 18. Some of the poorest counties within the United States are located on Indian reservations. Chronic underfunding in federal housing dollars has resulted in Native youth living in overcrowded dilapidated homes. Moreover, many of the schools on Indian reservations rely on the federal government for funding and are in critical condition. The result is that these communities also suffer high rates of alcohol and substance abuse, violent crime and significant health disparities compared to the rest of America.
These conditions have created significant obstacles for Native American youth to succeed. Native students have the highest high school dropout rates, and some of the lowest college enrollment rates, in the country. The high school graduation rate for Native students in many states is under 50 percent. The weight of these challenges can cause Native youth to develop a sense of hopelessness. Average suicide rates among Native American youth are 3.5 times the national average, with some tribal communities having rates up to 10 times the national average. Too many face long odds to success when confronted with these daunting challenges in their daily lives, and we must change that.
Although the needs in Indian Country may be great, many stories of Native American youth exist in overcoming challenges and obstacles. Everyday inspirational youth are working to create positive change for their peers, and for their tribal or urban Indian communities. The Center works to raise awareness of this success and promote hope in a number of ways, including through the Stories of Inspiration initiative and the Champions for Change program.
More information about Native youth, including facts and statistics, is available in our Native Youth 101 document.