Grace Gott wants to spread the word about issues facing Indigenous people. Gott, a student in Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences’ Hamilton Lugar School, is on track to complete the accelerated International Studies integrated B.A./M.A. program with a minor in Southeast Asian Studies in December 2023. While at HLS, Gott learned about issues facing Indigenous people during a professional internship, through international travel, and in graduate coursework, and now she wants to help spread awareness of the topic.
Gott explains, “According to culturalsurvival.org, only 34% of Americans believe that Native Americans face discrimination, yet American Indians have disproportionate rates of mental health issues, poverty, gender violence, drug abuse, and more. They are the leading ethnic group in the U.S. for suicide. Native women are 2.5 times more likely than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S. to be raped or abused. Clearly this is an important topic that has been undiscussed for too long.”
During her 2021-2022 Virtual Student Federal Service Internship with the Indian Health Service, Gott learned that Indigenous people face similar issues around the globe. Her team researched health and social statistics for Indigenous people in Mainland and Maritime Southeast Asia. Each week during the eleven-month internship, they shared their findings with teams studying Indigenous people in other geographic areas.
Gott says there were consistent themes across the globe, “With most of the Indigenous populations, security was an issue. They all had a history of being pushed to the side by force.” She continues, “Research from every single team showed people living in extreme poverty at higher rates than the general population. There were higher rates of maternal mortality, lower life expectancy – health wise, they were all worse off than the general population.”
Gott was surprised by governments’ lack of transparency regarding Indigenous populations. She explains, “I genuinely thought I would be able to just Google things and find the answers, but it’s not that easy.” She continues, “Eventually, I found the government database for Malaysia and located statistics by region for health. But there was nothing when I looked at the national census – it didn’t present any data on Indigenous people. It had an ‘other’ category, but nothing on the individual groups I was looking for.”
Although finding data about Indigenous people in Malaysia was challenging, Gott says, “It was actually one of the most transparent nations. For example, Thailand does not officially recognize Indigenous people at all, even though they signed the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).”
After nearly a year of online research about southeast Asia, in the summer of 2022 Gott secured an internship with the U.S. Department of State in the American Citizen Services Consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. In that role, she worked with a team responding to issues faced by Americans living in Thailand, handling immigration requests from Thai citizens, and planning a visit for the U.S. Secretary of State. She gained knowledge about the Thai culture from local embassy staff who helped her experience their favorite restaurants and attractions.
While in Thailand for her U.S. Department of State internship, Gott continued to keep Indigenous people in mind. She says, “When I went on a trip up to Chiang Mai, we stopped at a market in an Indigenous village. I realized how far it was from any hospitals, and suddenly the health disparities made sense. It was one thing to read about it, but to actually be there was different. I realized that if a mother is giving birth and has a crisis, how will they get to the hospital? That would help explain higher maternal mortality rates.”
When Gott returned to campus in the fall of 2022, she enrolled in a graduate course called International Indigenous People and the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People). She explains how the course, taught by HLS Senior Lecturer of International Studies Andrea Siqueira, further increased her understanding. She says, “In my Indian Health Service internship, I was mostly collecting statistics. In Siqueira’s class, we had the chance to learn more about what Indigenous people want. Research shows that what’s most important to them is self-determination and land rights – that’s an even bigger priority than dealing with disparities.”
Siqueira’s course also helped Gott realize that global efforts to solidify the rights of Indigenous people were very recent. Gott explains, “I had thought the struggle for rights was something from so long ago, but in this class, I learned that UNDRIP only came into place in 2007. Finding that out was so powerful to me.”
Gott encourages anyone interested in increasing their understanding of issues faced by Indigenous people to consider interning with the Indian Health Service and/or taking professor Siqueira’s course. In addition, the HLS Global Indigenous Studies Network, which was launched in the summer of 2022 provides another emerging resource for those interested in the topic. The network aims to bring together scholars, activists, and policy makers to address questions of indigeneity from various disciplinary and regional perspectives. By January 2023, the network had grown to include over sixty-five members from over twenty different departments and institutes within Indiana University. The network plans to develop further programs, a shared calendar for Indigenous Studies events, and an annual conference on Indigenous Studies of national and international scholars, policy makers, activists, NGO’s and UNESCO representatives which they anticipate launching in Spring 2024.