These are the words Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Vice-chairman and President Mitchell Cypress wrote in his 2007 autobiography “Having Diabetes & Acting in an Honorable Way.” The book chronicles his journey overcoming obstacles he faced throughout his life, many originating from childhood. As a result of positive changes in his lifestyle, he was able to improve his overall health and has become one of the most respected leaders in the history of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Deep-seeded issues can fester and sprout into long-term ones if they are not resolved, leading to mental and physical complications. It has been explained to me that it is common for some Natives to not address their feelings or talk about past experiences that may have been traumatic. Outside of recreational usage, alcoholism and substance abuse would be used to suppress those issues, but once the effects wore off, the problems still existed and remain unsolved.
Over the past few years, several people I have known passed away, the majority of which were no older than the age of 40. I recently attended a funeral where there was a young boy who despite youth, understood, clearly heartbroken, the reality that his parent was no longer alive. After witnessing that emotional exchange, it made me think of how my five-year-old son would feel if I were gone.
Since many reservations are not immediately close to major urban areas, it is difficult for Natives to have access to a sufficient standard of education and health care. Native Americans have some of the highest rates for poverty, unemployment, diabetes and obesity.
According to the 2015 article “13 Issues Facing Native People Beyond Mascots and Casinos” published on the Huffington Post, suicide is the second major cause of death among Native youth between ages 15 and 24, and Native American women have higher rates of rapes and sexual assaults than any other race.
These systemic conditions and many other issues undoubtedly originate from the mistreatment, laws and policies negatively placed on Native Americans throughout U.S. history. The cycle continues which perpetuates these unresolved issues. In order for true change to take place, more people have to know what really takes place in Indian Country amongst the majority of Natives. Campaigns such as Nike’s N7 Collection– a clothing and shoe collection that supports organizations that provide recreational programming to Native American and Aboriginal communities throughout the U.S. – education seminars and lectures on the socioeconomic problems within Indian Country aid in these efforts. Any opportunity to bring them to the forefront of society could help be what actually begins to break it to help emphasize to Natives as well as everyone that Natives are still here and their voices and lives are important too.
Aaron Tommie has worked for the Tribe since 2015. He is a participant in the Tribe’s Advanced Career Development program. He is currently working in the Executive Operations Office.