Indian Country | KNKX

Indian Country

Generations ago, the American Indian Osage tribe was compelled to move. Not for the first time, white settlers pushed them off their land in the 1800s. They made their new home in a rocky, infertile area in northeast Oklahoma in hopes that settlers would finally leave them alone.

As it turned out, the land they had chosen was rich in oil, and in the early 20th century, members of the tribe became spectacularly wealthy. They bought cars and built mansions; they made so much oil money that the government began appointing white guardians to "help" them spend it.

Paul Morigi / AP Images for National Museum of the American Indian

 

Protests over the last year that originated in North Dakota against the Dakota Access oil pipeline have once again highlighted the complex relationship among tribal governments and the United States. How exactly do these sovereign nations exist within the U.S.? And what does “sovereignty” even mean?

Mark Arehart / KPLU

The rate of tooth decay among Native Americans is higher than any other population. While the dental community agrees it’s a major health crisis, they can’t reach consensus on how to solve the problem.

Ariel Van Cleave / KPLU

 

On the Swinomish Reservation in Washington’s Skagit Valley, one full-time dentist serves 3,000 patients. While it’s an improvement from years past when a rotating list of dentists would visit the tribe, it’s still not enough to treat the high number of people with rotting teeth. Tribal leaders are calling the current situation a “health crisis.”

Ariel Van Cleave / KPLU

 

Rotting teeth, a fear of the dentist’s drill, long lines out the clinic door: These challenges are facing the Swinomish Tribe.

For decades, dentists would visit the reservation once a month. And if you ask tribal member Aurelia Bailey what that was like, she says it was “horrific.”