According to NPR, the life expectancy of Native Americans in some states is 20 years shorter than the national average. There are a number of reasons why this is.
One reason is their health programs are constantly underfunded by Congress. And, about a quarter of Native Americans reported experiencing discrimination when going to a doctor or health clinic.
In the NPR poll, Native Americans who live in areas where they are in the majority reported experiencing prejudice at rates far higher than in areas where they constituted a minority.
In places where there are few American Indians, Moss says, “people don’t expect to see American Indians; they think they are from days gone by, and so you are misidentified. And that’s another form of discrimination.”
Congress has long failed to allocate enough money to meet Native American health needs. In 2016 it set the Indian Health Service budget at $4.8 billion. Spread across the US population of 3.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, that’s $1,297 per person. That compares to $6,973 per inmate in the federal prison system.
In Montana, the life expectancy for Native American women is 62, that’s 20 years less than for non-Native American women. The life expectancy for Native American men in Montana is 56.
Many get help from their tribe and the University of Buffalo’s Margaret Moss, says a lot of Native Americans just give up.
“That is the idea out there in Indian Country … , ‘I’m not even going to try, because it’s not going to happen.’ Or they hear so many stories of people who did try, and it didn’t happen,” Moss says.
The federal government promised to take care of Native Americans’ health when it signed the treaties in which tribes gave up almost all of their land.
“Unfortunately, they have not kept up their end of the bargain,” Moss says.