Log In | About Us | Contact Us

The Status of Native American Women in the United States

by The Native American Times


Contact: Office of Public Policy GBGM-Women's Division 100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530 Washington, DC 20002 (202)488-5660 Fax:(202) 488-5681
Office of Public Policy
GBGM-Women's Division
100 Maryland Avenue, NE Room 530
Washington, DC 20002
Fax:(202) 488-5681

"Click on the link below to view this Action Alert in PDF format, a printer-friendly format.  Adobe Reader software is needed to view documents in PDF format.  If you do not have Adobe Reader, you may download the software for free at the following website:  http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html

Note: Click here to download this Action Alert bulletin in PDF form.

January 2005

Native Americans make up one of the most neglected populations in the United States.  Centuries of violence, disease, and unjust government policies have created a host of social problems in Native American communities.  Suicide is second highest cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives aged 15 to 24 and the third cause of death for Native American children aged 10 to 14.1  Native Americans have among the highest rates of diabetes and chronic kidney failure.2  The poverty rate on Native American reservations is 31%, the highest poverty rate in America.  Approximately 46% of Native Americans are unemployed.3  The following article from the Native American Times details how Native American women are disproportionately affected by the social and economic problems plaguing their community.

From  Native American Times
“Indian women in dire straits, report states:
featured in bottom of statistics across the board”
December 6, 2004*

A new report shows that Native American women have lower social and economic status than white women throughout the U.S., with lower earnings, less education, more poverty, and worse health status.  The Status of Women in the States, written by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, reports that the median annual earnings of Native American women who work full-time, full-year in the U.S. are $25,000, and they make only 58 cents for every dollar white men in the country make.  The report says 25% - one in four – of American Indian women in the U.S. live in poverty.  The number is even greater for Native American single mothers: more than a third (38%) of families headed by a Native American single mother live in poverty.

NCAI [National Congress of American Indians] Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson said the report reflects a troubling degree of inequality for Native American and Alaska Native women in the areas of political participation, employment and earnings, social and economic autonomy, and health and well being.

“Effective federal, state and local policies to lower American Indian women’s poverty rates are greatly needed to address these disparities,” Johnson said.  “Ways to address these inequities include emphasis on educational attainment, enforcement of equal opportunity laws, payment of living wages, increased access to affordable child care, and providing adequate health and leave benefits.”

The differences between Native women who live in urban and rural areas are even more pronounced.  In non-metro area, those working full-time, full-year make only $23,200, and women in metro areas make $27,600.  When women who work less than full-time are included in the figures, the picture is bleaker.  Native women who live in non-metro areas make only $15,000, and those who live in metro areas make $18,800.

Differences also abound from state to state.  Native American women’s earnings range from a high of $38,700 in Connecticut to a low of $19,900 in North Dakota.  American Indian women in Virginia are the least likely of Native women to be poor, with 11% living in poverty, while almost half of American Indian women in South Dakota do (45%).

*This article is reprinted with permission from the Native Times

“Government at all levels should put forth an effort to recruit American Indian women into training and education programs that will offer them higher paying opportunities and positions and help close the wage gap,” Johnson said.

A smaller proportion of Native American women (30%) in the country work in managerial or professional jobs, compared with 36% of all women.  Only 12% of Native American women serve in statewide elected executive offices in any state in the country.  As of October 2004, there were 10 Native American women serving in state legislatures in 5 states across the country, out of a possible 7,382 seats.  In comparison, there were 1,355 white women serving, 215 African American women, 58 Hispanic women, and 23 Asian American women.

Johnson said political participation is a viable method for American Indian women to shape the policies that affect their lives.  NCAI sought to increase the involvement of all American Indian people in the political process through the Native Vote 2004 campaign.  She said success stories include Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who was elected to the Minneapolis school board and Cecelia Fire Thunder, who recently became the first woman elected president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  In addition, a Chickasaw woman, Lisa J. Billy, was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives.  More efforts like these are needed to include Indian women in the political process.

Health disparities also characterize Native women’s experience in the United States.  Only 69% of Native American mothers begin prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, compared with the rate of 83% for all women.  The death rate for American Indian infants is also higher; nearly 10 American Indian babies in 100,000 die before their first birthday, compared with nearly 6 white babies in 100,000.  The rate of AIDS for Native American women is more than twice that of white women, although Native American women have lower mortality rates of heart disease and breast cancer than most other women.

“It is critically important to support and fund new research on American Indian women.  Many data sources are out of date or incomplete.  In order to adequately address the problems facing Indian women we need reliable statistics to describe the quality of American Indian women’s lives and experiences,” Johnson said.  “Researchers don’t know enough about many of the serious issues affecting American Indian women’s lives because Indian women do not yet have sufficient political or economic power to demand the necessary data.  NCAI is working hard to address these issues for the benefit of all Indian people.”

“The data in this report clearly show the many challenges faced by Native American women in this country,” says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.  “We hope that the report will serve as a springboard to energize policymakers to improve the status of Native American women.”

Native women would clearly benefit from policies and practices designed to lessen both race- and sex-based inequalities that have combined to discriminate against American Indian women.  The Status of Women in the States recommends public and private policies to improve the status of women, including:

  • Greater enforcement of equal opportunity laws and recruitment of Native American women into training and education programs for jobs not traditionally held by women.
  • Living wage laws and raising minimum wages, which would particularly help Native American women as they are more likely to be in low-wage work.
  • Tribally designed economic development strategies and reinforced tribal sovereignty.
  • Affirmative action to encourage higher education for women and increased investment in tribal colleges.
  • Policies that reduce barriers to Native American women’s access to health resources, including health insurance, preventive care, and screenings for disease.
  • Recruitment of Native American female candidates into political parties.

1 Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), “Native American Legislative Update,” July 28, 2004, http://www.fcnl.org/act_nalu_curnt/indian_728_04.htm.

2 Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), “Indian Health Fact Sheet,” July 2, 2004, http://www.fcnl.org/issues/nat/sup/indians_healthfacts_41701.htm.

3 National Congress of American Indians, "Economic Development,"


Date posted: Jan 31, 2005