19 December 2016

Income Maps of the Native Americans Living in the Missouri River Basin

Candice Landry and I were discussing the environmental justice issues surrounding the Stand at Standing Rock. Candice is a geographer who uses demographic and statistical data to highlight environmental justice issues in different US urban centers. Environmental justice looks at where and what portion of our population shoulders burdens related to living in proximity to degraded resources or pollution or contamination. Out of 485 counties in the Missouri River Basin, 48 host population that identifies as Native American and just more than 50% of these counties are either in the path of, or downstream of, the Dakota Access Pipeline.

To start unpacking the question of whether the environmental racism include economic prejudice, we started mapping income and comparing the situation with the Native American households, to that of their non-Native neighbors. We assessed data on households, not on individuals, so these numbers reflect incomes that could support one person, or a whole extended family of people.

We produced the following maps that show Indigenous People's household incomes throughout the counties of the Missouri River Basin. We started with assessing the median incomes throughout, and Candice found that there are significant populations living below $25,000 per year and further, populations living on less than $10,000 per year.

The Missouri River basin is home to more than 27 million people, including 367,649 Native Americans. Native Americans face serious economic challenges. Nation-wide median income for Native American households is $36,130, two-thirds the national median of $53,482. In the Missouri River basin, the gap is even larger where the median income is $29, 853. DAPL runs near and has a potential impact zone of many of where Indigenous People are found:

Many pockets of deep poverty—households earning less than $10,000 per year—can be found along the Missouri River and its tributaries, and many of this population living under the poverty level cluster near, or just downstream from, the pipeline route. The US Census reports that poverty level is currently set at households earning under $12K for one person or $24K for a family of four.

Is it a race thing?
In a word, yes. 
The Indigenous People were speaking loudly on behalf of their rights, the rights of the sacred land and water, the rights of the river. But why were the Indigenous People put in this position by the pipeline in the first place? Environmental racism.

Evidence about the formerly proposed route of the pipeline shows that it was planned to pass just north of Bismarck through the Missouri River. Bismarck, mostly white (Euro-American) population, rejected this proposal due to concern about threats to their water resources from a possible leak in the pipe. So to address the concerns of Bismarck, or rather to avoid addressing them, the company just moved that route to a more agreeable location - where minorities live.

Specifically, where the Indigenous People live - a particularly at risk minority group in the United States that accounts for only 1-2% of the total country population, but who are the original inhabitants of the continent - pre-colonial invasion and occupation.

Is it an economic thing?
Again, yes.
Besides ethnicity, what is the difference between the rural Standing Rock Reservation location and semi-urban Bismarck? (I say semi-urban because Bismarck is not a city in the sense of an east or west coast city, it is more of a town.) Economics. The Americans living in Bismarck have opportunity to income-generating employment allowing for accumulation of wealth, which enables them to hire lawyers and lobbyists, and in this way, they build power, otherwise known as agency, for themselves through dollar bills. The Americans living on the Reservation have limited opportunities for employment and this does not allow for accumulation of wealth, limits ability of Tribal members to hire lawyers and lobbyists, and in this way, they lack power, otherwise known as agency, for themselves through poverty.

Since working on this project, conversations I have had with non-Native Americans has been frustratingly uninformed. Most people I speak with believe that the "Indians are rich from those casinos," or "I didn't know there were Native Americans still living up there."  Candice and I discussed how many people in America have no idea about how many minority and economically challenged or poor people live here because they do not leave their socio-economic safety zone. So we decided to start mapping the difference.

These income maps highlight the already economically at-risk communities that the US Federal, State, and local governments along with the Texas-based developing company are putting at further economic, health, cultural, and wellbeing risk with this pipeline.

This four-set comparison map gives a breakdown of the Native American incomes by county throughout the basin from $25K to $10K side by side.

And this final map is a blow-up of the $25,000 and below breakout. If the household is a family of 4 people, all of these households are considered living below the US definition of poverty line on this map.

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