Why it’s Problematic to Include Native Americans Under the “People of Color” Umbrella

Perhaps you’ve read the term “People of Color and Indigenous People” wondered: Why the long title? Aren’t Native Americans people of color, too?

It’s not a redundant phrase; it’s about Native sovereignty. A recent example is the Trump administration’s efforts to strip Native Americans of treaty-protected health care rights by labeling them as a race instead of members of sovereign Native nations.

Quick background: This January, the Trump administration began allowing states to impose work requirements for “able-bodied” Medicaid beneficiaries, according to a story in The Hill.  (In Minnesota, Medicaid is called Medical Assistance). The story called the proposal “a major shift in the design of the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.”

According to the Politico story: Trump challenges Native Americans’ historical standing:

The Trump administration says Native Americans might need to get a job if they want to keep their health care — a policy that tribal leaders say will threaten access to care and reverse centuries-old protections. …

[T]he Trump administration contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules — which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others — would be illegal preferential treatment. “

The three states to impose Medicaid work requirements already are Arkansas, Kentucky and Indiana, according to an article in Telesur. Minnesota lawmakers introduced similar legislation this session but it was voted down. Still, this issue highlights the importance of recognizing indigenous peoples as citizens of sovereign nations, and not lumping them in with people of color.

Here are few links and excerpts with more information on this issue:

National Indian Health Board: Medicaid Work Requirements Will Not Work in Indian Country

Mandatory work requirements for [American Indians/Alaskan Natives] are inconsistent with Federal treaty and trust responsibilities. … The fulfillment of this obligation is a federal responsibility and cannot be delegated to states.

Indian Country Today: Trump Administration Supports Changing Indian Health Programs

“The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, told Politico. “It’s the largest prepaid health system in the world — they’ve paid through land and massacres — and now you’re going to take away health care and add a work requirement?”

Fox 9 News: Natives worry thousands could lose healthcare without jobs

“For Native people we were guaranteed two things, and that was access to education and access to healthcare,” said Rep. Peggy Flanagan, who is also a candidate in this year’s race for governor. “This attack on access to healthcare for Native people is an attack, really, on sovereignty itself.”

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