Once, their nation was proud and strong. Now, they are the poorest of America’s poor. Native Americans living on reservations are the most impoverished people in our nation. About 22% of our country’s 5.2 million Native Americans live on tribal lands (2010 U.S. Census). Living conditions on the reservations have been cited as “comparable to Third World,” (May 5 2004, Gallup Independent).

Many households are overcrowded and earn only social security, disability or veteran’s income. The scarcity of jobs and lack of economic opportunity mean that, depending on the reservation, four to eight out of ten adults on reservations are unemployed. Among American Indians who are employed, many are earning below poverty wages (2005 BIA American Indian Population & Labor Force Report).

There is a housing crisis in Indian country. Despite the Indian Housing Authority’s (IHAs) recent efforts, the need for adequateindian-res housing on reservations remains acute. One legislator deplored the fact that “there are 90,000 homeless or under-housed Indian families, and that 30% of Indian housing is overcrowded and less than 50% of it is connected to a public sewer.” (March 8, 2004, Indian Country Today).

Further increasing the concerns with reservation housing is the noticeable absence of utilities. While most Americans take running water, telephones, and electricity for granted, many reservation families live without these amenities. On a seriously stretched budget, utilities are viewed as luxuries compared to food and transportation. Overcrowding, substandard dwellings, and lack of utilities all increase the potential for health risk, especially in rural and remote areas where there is a lack of accessible healthcare.

The pressures to shift from a traditional way of life toward a Western lifestyle has dramatically impacted the health and welfare of the Native peoples and created a terrible epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, tuberculosis, and cancer. The statistics are alarming:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American Indians (2003, Center for Disease Control).
  • Due to the link between heart disease, diabetes, poverty, and quality of nutrition and health care, 36% of Natives with heart disease will die before age 65 compared to 15% of Caucasians (2001, HHS Office of Minority Health).
  • American Indians are 177% more likely to die from diabetes (2011, Indian Health Disparities).
  • 500% are more likely to die from tuberculosis (2011, Indian Health Disparities).
  • 82% are more likely to die from suicide (2011, Indian Health Disparities).
  • Cancer rates and disparities related to cancer treatment are higher than for other Americans (2005, Native People for Cancer Control).
  • Infant death rates are 60% higher than for Caucasians (2001, HHS Office of Minority Health).

In the fall of 2007, WAGC returned from a fact-finding trip to Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. While there, we toured the reservation and met with members of the community, and the directors of several local community and health organizations. There was an apparent lack of businesses, health care providers and recreational facilities on the reservation, which is 120 miles from the nearest city.

23Our Native American team visited Pine Ridge Reservation in June 2008 and held a week-long free vision screening and eyeglass distribution clinic. With eyeglasses and equipment provided by the Manheim Township Sunrise Lions Club, we were able to screen 471 residents and provided 315 free pairs of eyeglasses! And, just as important, we opened the door to a relationship with these people based on mutual trust and respect. To learn more about our experiences on Pine Ridge, please read our Special Native American Report 2008.

For the next four years (2009-2012) we returned to Pine Ridge concentrating our efforts in various schools on the reservation, screening hundreds of children who might never be able to afford eyeglasses if needed. As each child or adult completed their vision screening, we asked them to read back to us the Christian bookmark that we gifted them, encouraging them to explore a belief in Christ. You can read more about our efforts in our Special Native American Report 2010.

In conjunction with the medical supplies we transported to the Porcupine Medical clinic, books54 from the Appalachian Book Project were brought to the reservation. The children received their choice of a book to take home with them – for many, the first book they ever owned. In addition, hundreds of warm knitted or crocheted hats made by our wonderful volunteers were distributed.

In September 2015, we headed off on a new destination – the Cheyenne River Reservation, also located in South Dakota. This reservation is the fourth-largest Indian reservation in land area in the United States. Ziebach County is rated one of the poorest counties in the United States.

Cheyenne River trip 2015Once again, a team of volunteers held mobile vision clinics in several tribal schools. Every child examined also had their choice of an age appropriate book and a handmade scarf and hat.

It was great to see their many smiles and hear the laughter of the children. The reservation was different but the needs were just as great.

Many thanks to those who supported our fundraisers and prayed for us. We couldn’t do our work without your help!


Donation mailing address: We’re All God’s Children  243 Buttercup Drive,  New Providence, PA 17560