Native American youth are one of the most at-risk populations in the United States. Why are their life experiences so different than other youth in America? Centuries of failed U.S. policies and structural racism have led to intolerable inequities in health, well-being, and other life conditions that negatively impact the likelihood of young Native Americans achieving their full potential.
The statistics are staggering. Nearly 28 percent of the Native American population lives in poverty, and the unemployment rate across Indian Country nationally is nearly 15 percent. About 29.2 percent of Native people lack health insurance and rely solely on underfunded services through the Indian Health Service, a federal agency whose mission it is to carry out the federal government’s trust responsibility to provide health care services to Native Americans. Rates of diabetes in the Native American population are 177 percent higher than the U.S. population, while alcoholism mortality rates for Native Americans are an alarming 514 percent higher.
The effects of these combined burdens weigh heavily on the youngest First Americans. Native American children have the highest rate of suicide of any population group in the United States. Graduation rates for Native Americans trail other Americans. Only about 51 percent of Native high school students graduate, compared to the national average of 75 percent.
With education and economic opportunities less accessible for Native youth, violence and crime have become prevalent. Violence – including intentional injuries, homicides, and suicide – accounts for 75 percent of deaths for Native American youth age 12 to 20. Native youth are also arrested at a rate three times the national average.
Although the needs in Indian Country may be great, many stories of Native American youth exist in overcoming challenges and obstacles. Tribal and community leaders are working valiantly to overcome obstacles and improve the lives of Native youth. With over 40 percent of Native people under the age of 24, there is a critical need to improve the lives of Native youth – for their futures as well as the future of Indian Country.