“At Daily Kos, the Equity Council works to build a better organization and community by focusing on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Kos Media. The Equity Council issues this statement as a commitment to these ideals, and to encourage Daily Kos to take action internally and externally to support the movement.”
Our work in the fall of 2022 is no less urgent than it was in the summer of 2020, when we were reeling from the disproportionately deadly impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities and also from the flagrant, ubiquitous, systemic disregard for the rights of Black and brown people to live in peace and safety anywhere in this country.
We cannot afford to continue the status quo in any area; a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is the antithesis of the healing we need. Hence our original initiative has grown. Lauren Sue, a current co-chair, describes the aims of the Equity Council:
“We don’t discard people here. We celebrate each other. We laugh with each other, and we respect and support each other. We want that work to continue every day and to expand to the larger site community until it’s no longer work, until respecting each other and valuing each other is innate.”
This month, Daily Kos is honoring and celebrating the rich and complex history of Native Americans and highlighting issues related to contemporary Indigenous people in the U.S.
The first day to celebrate the American Indian was established by the Boy Scouts of America in 1915, at the insistence of a Seneca doctor named Arthur C. Parker. Over the following decades, individual states, beginning with New York in 1916, declared various Native American Heritage celebration days. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush formally established November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” The resolution has been renewed each year since, sometimes under other names, including the current banner,“Native American Heritage Month.”
Today, the legacy of racism and white supremacy in the United States continues to weigh heavily on Native American and Alaska Native individuals, businesses, and communities. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., speaking on the colonialism we continue to dismantle through our work here at Daily Kos, wrote in his 1963 book, Why We Can’t Wait:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode.”
That was written 59 years ago. This federally sanctioned displacement of Indigenous cultures persists unabated. In the collection Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women, the incomparable Wilma Mankiller, who served as principal chief of Cherokee Nation and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as an activist, wrote:
“Though many non-Native Americans have learned very little about us, over time we have had to learn everything about them. We watch their films, read their literature, worship in their churches, and attend their schools. Every third-grade student in the United States is presented with the concept of Europeans discovering America as a “New World” with fertile soil, abundant gifts of nature, and glorious mountains and rivers. Only the most enlightened teachers will explain that this world certainly wasn’t new to the millions of indigenous people who already lived here when Columbus arrived.”
A former Republican senator once remarked that “there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.” It was meant to be derisive to Natives—a dig at some perceived lack of culture, or a failure to cultivate one. That senator, fired from his role as a political commentator for making these “dismissive” remarks, elucidated one of the country’s biggest problems in its relationship with Indigenous Americans: The United States’ westward expansion and “manifest destiny” nearly destroyed Native Americans, deliberately erased Native cultures—plural, because there are hundreds of Indigenous nations in the U.S. alone—and, after separating families, driving entire nations into abject poverty, preventing Indigenous participation in American civic forums, and ignoring the needs of Native peoples for centuries, now accuses American Indians of having no presence in daily American life.
The truth is that Native American cultures laid the groundwork for the United States. Our current system of government is modeled on the oldest participatory democracy on Earth, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s Great League of Peace. Land management under Native American stewardship is still unmatched by federal efforts. Maize was cultivated by Indigenous people for hundreds of years before the arrival of colonizers to the Americas, and now corn is the No. 1 crop in the United States. Native Americans invented tools for health and wellness—from oral birth control to sunscreen—we still rely on. These few concepts and items represent less than a fraction of one percent of Native American ingenuity, development, engineering, and culture. America exists on Native American lands and persists because of the vital—if unrecognized—contributions by Indigenous peoples to its better nature.
And yet, it is difficult to overstate the effect of complicating factors Natives face on a daily basis. Murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women, and Native women, girls, and two-spirit people are reported missing at a rate that far exceeds their share of the population. These missing persons cases are very frequently left cold, and often uninvestigated, because of jurisdictional conflicts on reservation lands—and a lack of interest by those outside of the victims’ families. Widespread poverty, lack of generational wealth, structural racism, and relative invisibility in the larger sphere of American culture means America’s Indigenous people work uphill against uniquely complicated obstacles.
We hope the resources we offer here, along with content on the site, will foster awareness of the complex interplay of historical factors, cultural identity markers, and U.S. governmental policies affecting citizenship as they relate to community formation for the millions of people who are included under this very broad umbrella of “Native American” and suggest ways in which Daily Kos readers may participate to bring about positive change for us all.
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The following resources offer a place to start (or continue) exploration of the enormous variety and significance of Indigenous artists, authors, and activists.
National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)
The National Congress of American Indians, founded in 1944, is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities.
Native American Rights Fund (NARF) The Native American Rights Fund holds governments accountable. They fight to protect Native American rights, resources, and lifeways through litigation, legal advocacy, and legal expertise.
An immensely complex specialty, tribal law affects every aspect of Native life in ways large and small. It is possible here only to gesture toward the subject by suggesting these few resources.
Turtle Talk Describes itself as “The leading blog on legal issues in Indian Country.”
In June, 2020, SCOTUS handed down a surprising decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), a decision (written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, no less) whose far-reaching ramifications are only beginning to be utilized. Although nothing is assured with this SCOTUS, the decision–which affirms that only the U.S. Congress, not individual states, has the authority to legislate terms of treaties with Native nations–has the potential to support significant, transformative sovereignty claims by tribes based in Oklahoma and beyond.
In an essay published in The Atlantic shortly after the decision was announced, Julian Brave NoiseCat wrote:
“Tribal attorneys ‘will be quoting that decision for the rest of our lives,’ Riyaz Kanji, the lawyer who argued the McGirt case on the [Muscogee Creek] tribe’s behalf, told me. ‘The Court is not going to be in the business of taking away tribal rights without congressional intent anymore’.”
For additional legal commentary:
As is the case for every nonwhite community of the United States, voting rights have been hard-won by Native Americans, but unequally practicable thanks to America’s long history of socioeconomic suppression of this country’s Indigenous people. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) writes:
“American Indians have been the victims of systematic discrimination in the past, which has included the taking of American Indian land, the denigration of American Indian languages and cultures, the isolation of American Indians on reservations, the denial of rights of citizenship, and efforts to remove or exterminate various tribes. The effects of this discrimination continue. One consequence is a depressed socioeconomic status that limits the ability of tribal members to participate effectively in local, state, and national elections.”
Some of the key organizations supporting Native voters:
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2S)
The halls of justice are labyrinthine for Native Americans, particularly those living on reservations or other tribal lands, owing primarily to the “maze of injustice” that creates a dysfunctional and disproportionately sluggish (or nonexistent) response to reports of violent crimes against Indigenous people. This is especially true for Native American and Alaska Native women, girls, and two-spirit people, who face a murder rate 10 times higher than the national average, and endemic violence so widespread that 4 of every 5 Native women will experience an act of violence in their lifetimes. The MMIW, MMIWG, and MMIWG2S campaigns are aligned in shining a light on the new, ongoing, open, stalled, or cold cases of Indigenous people whose investigations were hampered as a result of this heightened level of danger and apathetic law enforcement response. The following organizations work in various ways to crowdsource information, divert resources to where they’re most effective, bring stolen sisters home, investigate cases, reduce the rates of violent crimes against American Indian women, and press legislation through that will better protect the rights of Native people.
Environmental Justice Activism
As the first and best stewards of the Americas and her landscapes, environmental justice is primary among Native American concerns. From climate change to pipelines to polluted waterways to rapidly decreasing biodiversity to deteriorating air quality, the environment intersects with all life on Earth. Learn the issues, what’s at stake, and how to help.
NATIVE HISTORY, SCIENCE, POLITICS
Native American Studies Research Guide: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
In June 2022, Living Languages Grants were awarded to 45 Tribes and Tribal organizations from the Indian Affairs Office of Indian Economic Development to bolster efforts to revitalize the languages lost to forced assimilation efforts. Some of those efforts are already underway and available to the broader public. Others are in development within the Nations themselves. This is not an exhaustive list.
MUSEUMS AND CULTURAL CENTERS
NATIVE AMERICANS IN THE ARTS
Joy Harjo (Mvskoke, Muskogee Creek Nation) is a poet, musician, playwright, and author. She served as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate (2019-2022), the first Native American to hold the appointment and only the second to serve three terms. Her work while consulting for the Library of Congress is compiled in “Living Nation, Living Words,”, “a sampling of work by 47 Native Nations poets through an interactive ArcGIS Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection.” Harjo is the author of thirteen collections of poetry and the recipient of a number of awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, The Wallace Stevens Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and others. She currently serves as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Raven Chacon (Diné) is a composer and solo performer. His work has won countless awards, including the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Music for “Voiceless Mass,” a 16-minute ensemble work that explores “spaces in which we gather, the history of access of these spaces, and the land upon which these buildings sit.” Chacon has also been awarded and American Academy in Berlin Prize, a United States Artists fellowship), and a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation artist fellowship.
Louise Erdrich (Anishinaabe, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) is the author of 28 books of fiction, poetry, and children’s fiction, and one of the most awarded authors in contemporary American letters. Erdrich has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2021, The Night Watchman) and the National Book Award (2012, The Round House), as well as the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Sentence, is set in the year 2020 and features a main character, Tookie, who must grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the death of George Floyd in her home city of Minneapolis—while being haunted by her own past and the ghost of a patron of the bookstore where she works.
Other sources of books by contemporary Native American authors:
Native American visual artists
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS TRUTH AND JUSTICE
Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools that sought to eradicate Indigenous languages, practices, and culture. Many students never returned home. The devastation enacted on American Indian families and cultures by assimilation schools is immeasurable, and efforts to locate the children who died in the system have yet to begin in earnest in the United States. (Canada’s search for missing and murdered First Nations students has thus far uncovered the graves of more than 1,900 Indigenous children.) The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, announced in 2021, seeks to “address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” said Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet position in the United States and current Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
To learn more about forced assimilation schools in the United States and America’s fraught history with Native American culture, this list of books, collated by Dine author and researcher Farina King, is a good place to begin.
Online, the following databases, articles, and archives offer a broad view of 150 years or more of the impact residential schools have had on Native Americans from hundreds of tribal Nations: