Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/53

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49
THE INDIAN'S HEALTH PROBLEM

THE INDIAN'S HEALTH PROBLEM
By CHARLES A. EASTMAN, M.D. (OHIYESA)
AMHERST, MASS.

THE physical decline and alarming death rate of the American Indian of to-day is perhaps the most serious and urgent of the many problems that confront him at the present time. The death rate is stated by government officials at about 30 per thousand of the population—double the average rate among white Americans. From the same source we learn that about 70,000 in the United States are suffering from trachoma, a serious and contagious eye disease, and probably 30,000 have tuberculosis in some form. The death rate from tuberculosis is almost three times that among the whites.

These are grave facts, and cause deep anxiety to the intelligent Indian and to the friends of the race. Some hold pessimistic views looking to its early extinction; but these are not warranted by the outlook, for, in spite of the conditions named, the last three censuses show a slight but continuous increase in the total number of Indians. Nor is this increase among mixed-bloods alone; the full-blooded Indians are also increasing in numbers. This indicates that the race has reached and passed the lowest point of its decline, and is beginning slowly but surely to recuperate.

 

The Change to Reservation Life

The health situation on the reservations was undoubtedly even worse twenty years ago than it is to-day, but at that period little was heard and still less done about it. It is well known that the wild Indian had to undergo tremendous and abrupt changes in his mode of living. He suffered severely from an indoor and sedentary life, too much artificial heat, too much clothing, impure air, limited space, indigestible food—indigestible because he did not know how to prepare it, and in itself poor food for him. He was compelled often to eat diseased cattle, moldy flour, rancid bacon, with which he drank large quantities of strong coffee. In a word, he lived a squalid life, unclean and apathetic physically, mentally and spiritually.

This does not mean all Indians—a few, like the Navajoes, have retained their native vigor and independence—I refer to the typical "agency Indian" of the Northwest. He drove ten to sixty miles to the agency for food; every week end at some agencies, at others every two