If we told you about a place where almost 40 percent of the people live without electricity, over 90 percent live below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate exceeds 80 percent, you might picture a rural village in a developing country. Tragically, these statistics refer to many Native American communities within the United States. Over one million people reside on Indian reservations in this country, which are often referred to as the “Third World” of America. Why?
Native Americans experience unemployment and poverty rates at disproportionate levels. The resulting stress contributes to communities being torn apart by alcoholism and drug abuse. With such poor quality of life, for the nearly one million Native Americans living on reservations today, life expectancy is very low. The primary factors contributing these shorter lifespans are a direct result of disproportionate poverty faced by Native Americans. These factors include inadequate nutrition and education, as well as dangerous indoor air quality resulting from the burning of wood and coal inside homes for cooking and heating.
For homes in tribal communities which have access to electricity, many are equipped with highly inefficient electric heat systems, and have inadequate insulation. Electricity rates are often so high, that people cannot afford to keep the heat on. In some states, utilities aren’t prohibited from turning off electricity to homes housing elders, the sick, or the young, so people must resort to burning things to keep warm. Wood is often scarce, so they burn anything they can find – furniture, trash, tires. When they run out of things to burn, people die of exposure to cold. This happens every single winter, right here in America.