NATIVE AMERICANS IN 2000

Another social movement spawned by the 1960s that continued to flourish was the American Indian Movement. The Indian population reached 4 million in the 2000 Census—a sign not only of population growth but also of a renewed sense of pride that led many Indians for the first time to identify themselves as such to census enumerators. Meanwhile, with the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund, established in 1971, some tribes embarked on a campaign for restitution for past injustices. In 2001, for example, a New York court awarded the Cayuga Nation $248 million for illegal land seizures two centuries earlier.

The legal position of Indians as American citizens who enjoy a kind of quasi-sovereignty still survives in some cases. Notable examples are the lucrative Indian casinos now operating in states that otherwise prohibit gambling. Indian casinos take in around $15 billion each year, making some tribes very rich. One such group is the Pequot tribe of Connecticut. In 1637, as the result of a brief, bloody war, Puritan New Englanders exterminated or sold into slavery most of the tribe’s members. The treaty that restored peace decreed that the tribe’s name should be wiped from the historical record. Today, the few hundred members of the Pequot tribe operate Foxwoods, reputedly the world’s largest casino.

The Census of 2000 listed a Native American population of around 2.5 million, 80 percent of them of mixed Indian and non-Indian ancestry. Half of today’s Indians live in five western states (California, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington). Although some tribes have reinvested casino profits in improved housing and health care and college scholarships for Native American students, most Indian casinos are marginal operations whose low-wage jobs as cashiers, waitresses, and the like have done little to relieve Indian poverty. Native Americans continue to occupy the lowest rung on the economic ladder. At least half of those living on reservations have incomes below the poverty line.

This “public sculpture” by the Native American artist Lewis DeSoto links his own surname with more than four centuries of American history. The wall label invokes the depredations of the sixteenth-century Spanish conquistador Hernan DeSoto. The car reminds the viewer that the Chrysler Corporation chose the name DeSoto for a now-defunct automobile. On the rear of the car is an insignia based on traditional Indian basket designs, encircled by the Latin word for smallpox, which the conquistadores transmitted to the Indian population.

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