Last week, February 2nd to be exact, I read an article in The New York Times by Timothy Williams entitled, “Brutal Crimes Grip an Indian Reservation”. The article was talking about the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. He says “despite its bucolic name, the reservation, nestled among snowcapped peaks and rivers filled with trout, is a place where brutal acts have become banal.” He goes on to say that “Wind River has a crime rate five to seven times the national average and a long history of ghastly homicides.” Even after Obama ordered a “surge” (similar to the war strategy used in Iraq) of law enforcement officers violent crime increased by 7% in Wind River (although the strategy lowered rates on other reservations).
What struck me is how like hell this place sounds. There is more. The author goes on to say,
“Crime may be Wind River’s most pressing problem, but it has plenty of company. Life, even by the grim standards of the typical American Indian reservation, is as bleak and punishing as that of any developing country. On average, residents can expect to live 49 years, 20 years fewer than in Iraq. Unemployment, estimated to be higher than 80%, is on a par with Zimbabwe’s. . .The reservation’s high school dropout rate of 40% is more than twice the state average. Teenagers and young adults are twice as likely to kill themselves as their peers elsewhere in Wyoming. Child abuse, teenage pregnancy, sexual assault and domestic violence are endemic, and alcoholism and drug use are so common that residents say positive urinalysis results on drug tests are what bar many from working at the state’s booming oil fields.”
If this was a Tony Hillerman mystery the Wind River people would hold some kind of cleansing ritual to try to rid this site of evil ghosts who are probably haunting it. In fact “many believe that the reservation, shared by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes, is haunted – the ghosts of the innocent killed in an 1864 massacre”. Whatever is going on in this community sounds so grim that some kind of positive interventions seem to be called for. How can this be fixed? It is so American to want to fix things (and people) that are broken I know, but I don’t think I have ever read about any American community that required some kind of social assistance as badly as this one.
The second piece of interesting information that I retrieved from this article was mentioned in one small paragraph, but has big implications for places where hydrofracking is on the agenda and likely to be forced down our throats. This is what Mr. Williams say, “On one section of the reservation, people must boil drinking water because chemicals, possibly the result of the oil and natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, have contaminated the water supply. And fearing that the chemicals might explode in a home, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered residents to run fans and otherwise ensure ventilation while bathing or washing clothes.” Besides thinking OMG, haven’t these people got enough to worry about, are my very real concerns, that regulations do not prevent all accidents and that fines for industries who have environmental accidents often do nothing to undo the damage to the environment. Perhaps we are just going to be turning our own little corner of the universe into a living hell. So two lessons in one article, that’s a pretty good outcome. Say no to hydrofracking and ask Congress to find some way to help the people at the Wind River Reservation.