Native Americans, or “American Indians,” settled in North America long before any Europeans arrived. Yet they have now lived as foreigners and forgotten members of their own land for more than 200 years. In the 1800s, they were corralled onto “reservations” where they had few opportunities for growing food, hunting animals, or obtaining work. Only in this decade has the Native‐American population grown to more than 2 million. Most live on reservations or in rural areas primarily located in the Western states. In recent decades, though, there has been an influx of Native Americans into urban areas.
American Indians are the poorest ethnic group in America. The vast majority live in substandard housing, and about 30 percent live in utter poverty, meaning they are very prone to malnutrition and diseases. The average Native American attends school less than 10 years, and the drop‐out rate is double the national average. The rate of Indian unemployment is as high as 80 percent in some parts of the country. Further complicating these matters is the fact that the rate of alcoholism for Native Americans is more than five times that of other Americans.
Native Americans remain a tightly knit and culturally minded people. Neither urban nor rural Indians have necessarily lost their original tribal identities. For instance, the Navajo—who have the most populated and largest reservation in this country—have held fast to their cultural patterns, even though many Navajo have worked in industrial cities.
Inspired in part by the civil rights movement, Native Americans have become politically active in recent years. The American Indian Movement (AIM) is one example of how Indians from various tribes have organized to preserve their authentic culture, prevent further violations of their territorial rights, and pursue other legal matters. Although some goals have been attained, the small number of Native Americans in the United States limits their lobbying power and legal pull.