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VIEWPOINT: High jobless rate afflicts reservations

BEMIDJI -- A recent story claimed Minnesota is ranked high in terms of children's well-being ("North Dakota, Minnesota rank in Top 10 in children's well-being," Page B1, Tuesday).

BEMIDJI -- A recent story claimed Minnesota is ranked high in terms of children's well-being ("North Dakota, Minnesota rank in Top 10 in children's well-being," Page B1, Tuesday).

But the story certainly isn't talking about American Indian children. Poverty, overwhelming poverty, is robbing Indian children of their childhood and a decent future.

At the center of each and every issue plaguing Indian reservations and American Indian communities are unemployment rates rapidly exceeding 50 percent.

In order to get to the root of these problems, we need to tackle this employment question.

How can there possibly be such a huge discrepancy in unemployment between the rest of the population and American Indians if affirmative action programs are being enforced? We must conclude that when it comes to American Indians, affirmative action guidelines are not being enforced. This is the real injustice we must come to grips with if we want to get a handle on the other problems.

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We need elected officials who will see to it that affirmative action laws are enforced, and we need to provide young people with lifelong skills for jobs that pay real living wages

In my opinion, the reason Indians are suffering unemployment rates far beyond the general population in Minnesota are that Indians do not have elected representatives advocating for them.

Not one American Indian sits among the more than 200 Minnesota state legislators, nor are there any among Minnesota's congressional delegation.

Institutionalized racism runs so deep through the fabric of our society that no one questions these situations. But when there is a glaring discrepancy of 50 percent American Indian unemployment while the rest of the population is suffering a 10 percent unemployment rate, there is a problem of racial injustice at work here, and this problem affects every Indian family--- with children suffering the worst.

I have done my own surveys among American Indians as to the problems and what we need to do. Here are a few of my findings:

n Poverty and unemployment: People want decent, real living-wage jobs.

n Hunger and nutrition; Poor people can't afford to eat, let alone to eat properly.

n Housing: The current affordable housing stock is overcrowded and of poor quality.

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n Health care: There is a lack of access to health care in an underfunded Indian Health Service.

n Education: Indian communities lack quality public schools.

How can children have decent lives when they are living in poverty?

Because of poverty and unemployment, racial conflicts and racial injustices involving law enforcement and the criminal justice system become big problems as well. Is it a coincidence that the American Indian incarceration rate in prison populations often is the same as our unemployment rate -- 50 percent?

I don't think so. If we can give people decent living-wage jobs through strict enforcement of affirmative action in hiring, we will be well on our way to solving our police and community relations problems.

There is something terribly wrong when public officials will come to American Indians for our votes and the money generated through gambling revenues but then ignore the horrendous poverty and unemployment in our community.

Paquin is a DFL candidate for Minnesota Senate from District 4.

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