What Equal Pay Day Looks Like For Native American Women

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
National Women's Equal Pay Day was back in April, and in July, Black women greeted the symbolic day on which they finally earned as much money in 2016 and 2017 as white men did in 2016.
Today, more than nine months into the year, Native American women finally get to do the do the same.
Per the AAUW (American Association of University Women), "American Indian and Alaska Native women are paid just 57 cents for every dollar white men are paid. For Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women, that number is 59 cents."
The significant lack of data on the jobs and earnings of Native women makes it difficult to paint a comprehensive portrait of the challenges they are facing. Part of that lack is due to the group's small numbers (American Indians and Alaska Natives make up just 2% of the U.S. population); and part is due to the long history of racism and exclusion of Native Americans by the U.S. government. AAUW adds that marginalization, disproportionately high rates of unemployment, and violence against Native women contribute to their bleak financial picture.
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According to the National Institute of Justice, more than 83% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. (The percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native men who have experienced violence is not far behind.)
Using data from the Census Bureau's report on income, poverty, and health coverage, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that although the median household income for Native Americans increased 1.8% from 2015 to 2016, the "rate of poverty among Native Americans was nearly double the national average for all people and 1.7 times higher for children."
At $39,719, the median household income for Native Americans was just 69% of the national average.
Additionally, more than 33% of Native American children lived in poverty in 2016, compared to 19.5% of the general population. That figure was unchanged from the year before, indicating that generational poverty continues to be entrenched in many Native communities.
The outlook may be a difficult one, particularly given that two thirds of Native American moms are breadwinners. But Native women themselves continue to fight for change, particularly in the realm of education. Education doesn't erase wage gaps but it can increase opportunities for overlooked groups. A 2016 Bustle article showcased the efforts of Susan Masten, the founder and co-president of Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, in making it easier for students to pursue education and degrees. And Indian Country Today has reported on Native women's work to educate their communities about the history of indigenous women and expanding the scope of tribal colleges.
All marginalized groups face specific challenges when it comes to agitating for policies that promote equity and opportunity, but Native Americans have a unique, ongoing struggle. The recent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline are just one example of how cultural and natural resources within Native communities can be sidelined for the economic interests of the United States.
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