Georgetown students care about the world. Students here tackle international problems with great tact, persistence, passion and imaginative, analytical thinking. Georgetown STAND lobbies for increased action in Darfur, Amnesty International tables for Indonesian political prisoners and the Student Commission for Unity raises money for Haiti through a silent auction of student art. This past week, iWeek celebrated the many unique cultures and countries of Georgetown while the Academic Working Group of the Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness held a second open forum.

Noticeably lacking among student groups, courses and even the initiative’s plans, however, is any mention of this country’s first inhabitants; the peoples whose land Georgetown is settled upon. Some might argue that with less than 1 percent of the undergraduate student population, it is understandable that there is no student group promoting Native American culture, but the social ills that plague tribes across the country demand some sort of campus awareness and advocacy group, at the very least.

Throughout American society, in media, politics, literature and beyond, the Native American plight has been largely ignored. Textbooks fail to accurately portray their history, publishing companies fail to truthfully tell their story, and we as a nation fail to comprehend and tackle their problems.

According to a 2004 report from the Department of Justice, Native Americans experience violence at a rate more than twice that of the national rate. Other sources claim that among Native Americans, the murder rate is three times higher, the number of violent crimes against women is three-and-a-half times greater and the incarceration rate is 38 percent higher than the national average.

Statistics of drug abuse and mortality are just as staggering. In 2007, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that Native Americans were more likely than any other racial group to have an alcohol or illicit drug use disorder.

Perhaps most sadly, the suicide rate among Native Americans is 50 percent higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Problems don’t only plague Native Americans from the inside out; rights to land, tribal ancestry and culture, and cultural expression and religion are constantly challenged and threatened from outsiders like the U.S. government, the prison system and multinational corporations vying for the mineral resources beneath their reservations.

Take, for example, the Western Shoshone people. In 1863, the United States signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley, recognizing their rights to the land but granting Americans the right to passage. Since then, the government has seized 90 percent of that land – after gold was discovered in the region.

In 1946, the United States legitimized its robbery when the Indian Claims Commission ruled, “The Indian title to the . Western Shoshone land was extinguished by the gradual encroachment of settlers and others and by the acquisition, disposition or taking of said lands by the [United States] for its own use and benefit or that of its citizens.”

In other words, the Western Shoshone lost their rights to the land because the United States took it. In 1985, this ruling was upheld in the Supreme Court case United States v. Dann, which granted $26 million to the tribe in compensation for the territory.

But like Native Americans across the country, the Western Shoshone don’t want the money; to them, the land has so much more value, both as a source of spirituality and an ancestral home. It is not for sale.

The government does not care. Since 1973, they have been trying to push Western Shoshones like Mary and Carrie Dann off their land. For the Danns, what began with tickets for trespassing on land the government claimed as theirs has evolved into the seizure and sale of their livestock.

As Carrie told The New York Times, “If you think the Indian wars are over, then think again.”

The stalemate in this particular case has been so fierce that independent documentary filmmakers and the United Nations have become involved. “American Outrage,” a film by George and Beth Gage released in 2007, has publicized the Danns’ story as the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ordered the United States to “freeze,”desist” and “stop” actions or threats of action against the Western Shoshone people. In response, the government dismissed another lawsuit filed by the tribe.

Unfortunately, this case is just one of many. Still more unfortunately, so few people know about it and others like it, even on a campus as politically active and rich in social justice as ours. I commend groups like STAND and Amnesty International for the great work they do abroad, but what about the issues in our own backyard? Before we can even begin to face the problems of the world, we need to face those of our own past, of our own citizenry and of our own ignorance.

Conor Finnegan is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at On The Road appears every other Friday.

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