As the United States begins its third century, few moral responsibilities challenge the American people with such poignancy as the responsibility we have to the Native American. One million American Indians live as a "fourth world" nation in our midst. They are stifled in expressing their cultural, ethnic, and political identities. According to the government's own statistics, fully one-third of the medical needs and one-half of the dental needs of American Indians are untreated because of the lack of facilities and doctors. Compared to the national average, American Indians suffer from eight times the rate of tuberculosis; an infant mortality rate 20 percent greater; a life expectancy seven years less; and a suicide rate three times greater. Twenty-five percent of all Indian children are separated from their families. An overwhelming majority of such children are placed with non-Indian families. According to the Government Accounting Office, thousands of Indian women were sterilized in the past few years, frequently without proper consent. All of these problems with American Indians must be seen within the disgraceful context of an American history strewn with broken promises and unhonored treaties.
As Jews, with our own history as victims of discrimination, we should be particularly sensitive to the plight of the American Indians. Even today we share with Indians the tensions between assimilation and the desire to maintain cultural and ethnic identities. We call upon the United States government to guarantee:
- Sufficient funding to bring the medical care of Indians up to the standards of the majority of persons in the United States;
- Opportunities and training for jobs for all Indians who can work; and
- Access to adequate food to provide a nutritional diet for Indian families.
We urge that initiatives be taken to keep Indian children with their families or to provide placement of Indian children in Indian homes when such action is required. The latter includes the funding of supportive services for families, including family development centers, trial licensing of Indian foster and adoptive homes, professional counseling services, and the education and training of natives in skills needed for work in child welfare and family assistance programs.
We urge our congregations to:
- Develop study programs about Indians;
- Monitor stereotyping in books kept in schools and community libraries, in the media, and in the elementary and secondary school curricula; and
- Support appropriate pending legislation to enhance the welfare of American Indians.
We further urge similar appropriate studies in Canada and other non-United States congregations with regard to their respective native populations.