Labor fights to recognize Native American rights

The AFL-CIO is fighting to add a new constituency group for Native Americans to its roster. Backing and supporting the effort are the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and a group called Council Fire, Kevin Cummings noted, in a presentation to the National LCAA Conference in August.

Cummings, a representative for IAM, commented that, despite being the first people to live on the land that is now America, Native Americans have essentially gotten the short end of the stick in terms of rights, recognition, health, and more.

Council Fire is a group that seeks to solve this problem by including the First Nations of the Americas into the labor movement. As of now, labor has recognized constituency groups that tackle important issues for women, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and the LGBT community. However, to date there is no significant voice representing Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

On September 24th in Seattle, the International Labor Communications Association made its voice heard in support of Native American recognition, together with various state labor federations.

Cummings' presentation in August expounded upon how the lack of representation is affecting Native Americans; statistics show that:

38 percent of Native American women are victims of domestic violence (one in three of which are raped).

Native mothers are five times more likely to have a baby that suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Moreover, Native American infants are three times more likely to die from Sudden Infant Syndrome. And Natives of any age are three times as likely to die of tuberculosis - and twice as likely to die of diabetes.

Youth suicides are three times the national average among this ethnic group. Meanwhile, Native American young women are two and a half times more likely to be pregnant before the age of 18, compared with others.

Nearly 50 percent of Native American students don't finish high school, and schools on Indian reservations are funded at less than half as much as public schools. Thirdly, less than 17 percent of Natives that graduate will go on to enroll in college.

Natives barely earn more than half as much as the average American at their places of work, and 27 percent of Native American families now live below the poverty level.

To drive the point home more sharply, it should be understood that the very original inhabitants of the land that is now America are those who suffer some of the highest poverty rates, unemployment levels, and diseases of any ethnic group in the country.

In keeping with organized labor's desired goal of "solidarity with the indigenous people of the Americas," the short-term hope is to raise awareness for the situation. The prevailing feeling of the labor movement is that a serious issue such as this should not be ignored.

Cummings also acknowledged that some Native Americans have become well off, due to owning and operating casinos. But Cummings pointed out that this was a rare exception, as, out of the country's 557 Indian tribes, only a quarter own casinos. Furthermore, only 48 casino-owning tribes earn more than $10 million a year from them.

When problems associated with gambling are considered, the presentation continued, casinos cannot be accepted as the universal answer or ‘light at the end of the tunnel' for Native Americans, who are owed for centuries of oppression and unrecognized rights.

In pursuit of equality and rights for all, "if any group of people are left behind," Cummings said, "then we all lose."

"It is a shame in these United States," Cummings remarked, "that the people who were first on American soil, are last in the American dream."


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  • Maybe a future article could discuss union membership and organizing in First Nations/Native American lands. For example, in Navajoland, UMWA represents coal miners (but has lost members since one big mine recently closed). Yet health care workers and teachers are unorganized, even though public-sector employment is important in Navajoland, as in most of "Indian country." And what ABOUT organizing those casino workers? That would pit workers against their own governments -- a sticky question.

    Posted by klara kelley, 10/07/2011 9:57pm (4 years ago)

  • Thank you so much for your kindness and energy in sharing the message. We all share these lands, and nobody should be excluded or ignored - especially those who were here first.

    Posted by kevin cummings, 10/07/2011 3:59pm (4 years ago)

  • On behalf of a retired , life long Union worker, I applaud your sense of compassion, straight forwardness and truth.

    We, as the first people of this land, as humble as we have always been, only ask for what is right. We only ask for a HAND UP, not a hand out. Our people thank you, again, for speaking the truth. Aho.

    Posted by Sonny Skyhawk, 10/07/2011 3:57pm (4 years ago)

  • Very happy to see the work being done for Native Americans!

    Posted by Cindy from MD, 10/07/2011 8:41am (4 years ago)

  • I agree with the above and I have always believed that
    Native Americans have not been given the American Dream as Martin Luther King expressed in his speech I have a dream. I applaud you for your efforts.

    In Solidarity

    Geraldine V. Taylor
    1900 East 30 Street, #102
    Cleveland, Ohio 44114-4601

    Posted by Geraldine V. Taylor, 10/06/2011 8:14pm (4 years ago)

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