With Donald Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change this past week, it’s difficult not to think about the devastating effects that Trumpian policy is already having on some of this country’s and the world’s most vulnerable groups, who, coincidentally, have also been tirelessly advocating for the environment since long before he took office, including native peoples here in the United States. Just a handful of months ago, social and news media exploded with stories about protests on the Standing Rock reservation that is spread throughout South and North Dakota; stories spilled over with footage of members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe freezing outside and suffering police brutality just to protect their largest water source, the Missouri River, from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). As the people of the tribe had been proclaiming since the possibility of the construction was announced, this pipeline threatens to pollute the river and therefore poison native communities and surrounding lands--not to mention, the construction is supposed to take place on sacred lands.
It’s important to remember that native people in this country suffer under U.S. policy in areas that far surpass environmental issues; and us being a company with a particular interest in sex, we know that there are many other health risks to living on reservations, including how rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infections on reservations are often high above those in other regions of the country. And while sex education and protection in North and South Dakota in general is relatively poor, the numbers become much more concerning on native reservations such as Standing Rock, where the poverty rate as of 2015 stood at a staggering 43.2%, roughly triple the national average, and the unemployment rate as of 2014 was 60%. Native women across the country are about 3.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault in their lifetimes, compared to women of all other races, and the rate of assault by an assailant of a race other than the race of the victim is much higher than any other race of women. Indian Health Services, which is supposed to provide insurance to all Native Americans and Alaska Natives, only manages to insure about one in three because they are chronically underfunded, leaving many native women without access to essential tools like emergency contraception without traveling hundreds of miles to find it.
As we reflect on how the president’s recent environmental (in)action will impact our most vulnerable communities, let us remember all the other ways in which those communities remain at a distinct disadvantage in this country. This article, written by an enrolled member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen in British Columbia, helps to illuminate many of the issues facing native communities in the U.S. to this day, outside of what we traditionally consider “native issues,” such as the controversiality of certain mascots, or the proliferation of gambling and casinos.
Here are some additional resources about sex education and sexually transmitted infections in South Dakota more broadly:
Argus Leader: “STDs, especially gonorrhea, spiking in S.D., Sioux Falls”
Planned Parenthood: “SEEKING SOLUTIONS AS STDS CONTINUE TO RISE”
Daily Kos: “South Dakota Sex Ed and Rape and Consent”
Sex, etc.: “Sex in the States”
Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes