Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Reality of the World

My husband and I have both been looking doggedly for work. One of the connections he made is with a friend of my mother's, a local podiatrist who volunteers once a month for a Native American tribe sixty miles north of here. When this podiatrist learned of my husband's Native American ancestry, he was intrigued and asked him to join him for a volunteer day with the tribe.

My husband isn't usually the one who volunteers time in our family. Usually that's me. You name the cause and I've probably given something to it. Since having children, volunteering time has become more important--and more valuable--to me. I've taken my kids along for several experiences, and as I've mentioned before on this blog, I've planned and implemented a variety of fundraising and service learning projects for the preschoolers I've taught. I'm a firm believer in giving back to the world. My husband is as well, but his giving back more often comes in the form of money rather than time. So I was a little surprised, but much delighted, when he told me the other day he would be accompanying this podiatrist to the reservation today.

The guys planned their trip yesterday. My husband is a former respiratory therapist and offered to bring his equipment in case anyone needed assistance. The podiatrist was bringing his equipment to help as well. They left early this morning with the plan of staying for the day and coming back this evening.

My husband is a member of one of the five civilized tribes. Both of his tribes are well-established and receive state and federal funding. Although Native Americans often live in poverty and are one of the most repressed minority groups in our country, my husband's tribes are funded enough to be able to offer various programs to their members. These programs sometimes include assistance with housing, education, healthcare, and social services.

Imagine his shock when he arrived this morning at the reservation. This particular tribe consists of only sixty or seventy members. They are not federally recognized, which means they receive no federal or state funding. The average income is six to nine thousand dollars per year. There are no additional services to access.

Even my husband, who is well-educated and more aware of the struggles of Native Americans than most of us, was deeply moved.

Having accepted a job yesterday that pays far less than what I was making previously, I had been focused on money and worrying about making ends meet. There's nothing quite like knowing there are still groups of people in your own country who are making less than ten thousand dollars per year to help you gain perspective.

I could go on and on about the political, social, and economic implications of repression of large groups of people, but I won't. All I will say is that this experience has served as a reminder for us to be grateful for what we have, and to continue to work for social justice, a value that is critical in our family. The idea that America is the land of opportunity won't be true until the opportunities are equal for everyone.

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