Distinguishing by race is a sensitive and complex endeavor. Race has long been a foremost consideration in the history of our nation. Rural America is growing in racial diversity. Rural and small town areas have traditionally not been as racially or ethnically diverse as the nation overall. The 2010 Census reports that approximately 78 percent of the population in rural and small town-communities are white and non-Hispanic, compared to 64 percent of the population in the nation as a whole.Less than two percent of the population in rural and small town areas identifies as Native American. Native Americans may seems like the minority in rural areas, however, as a percentage within the race, more than half of all Native Americans live in rural areas or small town area. This concentration of rural living has led to many hardships. One of the more apparent hardships of rural life and poverty is education.
In 2013, 78.8% of single-race American Indians and Alaska Natives 25 and older, had at least a high school diploma, GED certificate or some type of credential in 2012. Only 13.5 percent obtained a bachelor's degree or beyond. Why is this? Historical poverty and social constructs aside, a rural quality of living is a large factor.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of American Indians live on reservations. American Indians living on rural removed reservations have limited access to education. Efforts are made by the government: there are federally funding options, grants, and some schools extend scholarships to Native American children, however, options for small rural tribes are still lacking. This is even truer when it comes to higher education, as there are only 33 accredited Tribal Colleges in the United States and the cost to attend, though low, is beyond what many at the poverty level can afford.
Higher education within the tribal communities is scarce. However, high education is not the only concern; it is in the early educational years where Native American students are most negatively impacted. Rural impoverished Native Americans are a minority within the minority. Xenophobia and sometimes blatant racism has created yet another hurdle that rural Native Americans have to overcome. This struggle has been evidenced in the classroom student-teacher interaction.
One such case that occurred earlier this year is that of the Northern Californian Bear River Band and the Wiyot tribe. The Wiyot’s reside is in rural Humboldt County and recently, there have been allegations that the Native American students of the district have been subject to harassment by faculty, staff and student based on their race. An investigation into the claim resulted in racial epithets and an allegation of physical abuse. California Indian Legal Services, the National Center for Youth Law, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed a complaint on the matter.
In July, President Obama acknowledged that there was a “crisis” in Native American education and announced that he planned to improve the Bureau of Indian Education via additional federal funding. Federal funding is the key in moving these rural impoverished tribes into a 'competitive' position, that would be comparable to that of other national student. If the children are the future of the tribes, their education is absolutely crucial and they need the support of our government. America needs to recognize that we are one unit, and that to marginalize one group hurts the nation as a whole.