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IllumiNative, Native Organizers Alliance, and Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth Announce “Indigenous Futures Survey” Research Project

TULSA, OK (June 23, 2020) – IllumiNative, Native Organizers Alliance, and Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth are partnering with acclaimed researchers Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip) of the University of Michigan and Dr. Arianne Eason of the University of California, Berkeley, to conduct the Indigenous Futures Survey – a groundbreaking research project for Native peoples by Native peoples.

“This year has been difficult for many reasons. We’ve had to change and adapt to a new way of living, being in community, healing, learning, operating, and caring for our communities,” said IllumiNative Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk. “As we prepare for the 2020 election, an election that will have far-reaching consequences for our nations and peoples, we want to empower and uplift the voice of Native peoples and move towards better understanding through data driven by Native people from our own perspectives.”

Building on the learnings of the Reclaiming Native Truth (RNT) body of research, co-led by IllumiNative Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk, the Indigenous Futures Survey (IFS) is the first survey in Indian Country that provides an opportunity for all Native peoples to be a part of shaping our future, offering a platform for understanding critical issues impacting Indian Country that can be used to motivate change. The survey will raise the collective voices of Native people in the critical policy debates which will unfold in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections.

“We bring the past and the future together by how we walk today,” said Native Organizers Alliance Director Judith Le Blanc. “Let Native people reshape our world and establish a ‘new, better normal’ that includes Native peoples’ voices in shaping the next steps for our communities and for humanity.”

The 15-20 minute survey launches today, Tuesday, June 23, 2020 and will close on August 1, 2020. To learn more about the survey, or to take the survey, please visit the Indigenous Futures Survey page. IFS researchers are looking to reach as many Native relatives as possible and are seeking to partner with organizations and tribal leaders to help disseminate the survey to at least 2,000 participants 18 years of age and older. IFS disseminating organizations and tribes can request access to data collected from the survey to be helpful to their future work.

The goals of the 2020 Indigenous Futures Survey are to:

  1. Identify Native people and tribal communities’ priorities for changing narratives about Natives and building a more equitable future, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. Explore the experiences and attitudes toward federal, local and tribal governance and engagement in democratic processes.
  3. Demonstrate how to engage tribal and Native communities to promote shifts in the public discourse and point the way to collective actions and democratic engagement.

“This survey allows us to learn the priorities and hopes of Indian Country that can influence the experiences of future generations,” said Center for Native American Youth Acting Director Nikki Pitre. “By having access to data from our people, this will help support our programming at the Center for Native American Youth and identify what the priorities are for our people.”

To participate in the IFP survey dissemination, or have questions regarding the survey, please email indigenousfuture@aspeninstitute.org or call (202) 736-2905.

For press inquiries, please email press@nunaconsultgroup.com to schedule interviews with the principals of IllumiNative, Native Organizers Alliance, and/or Center for Native American Youth as well as the lead researchers Dr. Stephanie Fryberg and Dr. Arianne Eason.



IllumiNative is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in
American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples. www.illuminatives.org


The Native Organizers Alliance (NOA) is dedicated to building the organizing capacity of tribes, organizers and community groups for transformational policy change. It also provides a forum for Native leaders, organizers and organizations to work in collaboration with each other and promote their work with non-Native national allies. http://nativeorganizing.org/


The Center for Native American Youth is a national advocacy organization working to improve the health, safety, and overall well-being of Native American youth ages 24 and under. Founded by former US Senator Byron Dorgan, CNAY is a policy program within the Aspen Institute, headquartered in Washington, DC. While a part of the Aspen Institute, CNAY is also overseen by a Board of Advisors. We strive to bring greater national attention to the issues facing Native American youth while fostering community-driven solutions, with special emphasis on youth suicide prevention. https://www.cnay.org/

IllumiNative Launches Rapid Response Art Fund to Support Native Artists as a Vehicle to Call for the End of Systemic Racism

Tulsa, OK. June 16, 2020 – Today, Native-led nonprofit organization IllumiNative announced the launch of a Rapid Response Art Fund to support Native artists’ creation of work that calls for racial justice. In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others that have sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism across the United States. The new fund will provide immediate funding and resources to support Native artists to participate in national discussions related to racial equity and justice.

Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan Remarks | May 30, 2020

Good afternoon, everyone:

[Ojibwe Greeting]

My name is Peggy Flanagan and I am the Lt. Governor of the State of Minnesota and I am a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe and my family is the Wolf Clan and the role of our Wolf Clan is to ensure that we’re not leaving anyone behind.

And that work could not be more important than this moment when we find ourselves in right now.

As we’ve come together as community it was become tremendously difficult to not reach out and to embrace each other, because as we were watching our communities fall apart the moment to connect, the moment to physically touch and care for one another is one of the things that we are prevented from doing right now. But because of the importance of this moment, as the Governor mentioned, this is the first time that we have been in the room together because it matters THAT much.

Now, before I became Lt. Governor, I was an organizer and I was an organizer for 20 years. And when there are protests in the street, I was there.

I marched behind Valerie Castillo as we mourned the unjust loss of her son. And my heart and my guts are being ripped out in this moment, as I also want to go to the streets. And what we’ve experienced in the loss and the murder of on camera of our community member, George Floyd, is horrific.

And that space on 38th and Chicago is sacred ground. And people should be able to come together on that sacred ground and mourn and grieve and demand change and justice in policing and every other racist system that we have that has been part of this state but in this moment we cannot, we have detractors. We have white supremacists, there are anarchists, there are people who are burning down the institutions that are core to our identity and who we are.

As a member of the Urban American Indian Community, watching the destruction of Migizi, an institution in our community that has been the foundation for organizing, for education, for opportunity, for building community together is no longer there.

We did NOT do that. We have been coming together to take care of our community, and so, this is what I ask of all of you. We need to create the space for people to grieve, to come together, to mourn the loss of George Floyd, but in order to be able to do that. We need to create the space to remove the people that are doing us harm.

We’ve watched communities step up and come together to clean the streets, to feed one another, and that is what we need to do here.

One of the ways that we can care for community is to stay home tonight. Is to stay home tonight, so that we can remove those folks who are harming us. So that we can remove those folks who are detracting from the memory of George Floyd and for the work that we have to do to ensure justice is done, and to ensure that the additional officers are held accountable.

But we cannot do that until community can gather safely. So I am grateful to be in this space with all of you, to be at home as we are together in community, and it is time for us to call on each other as organizers to stay home so that we can make sure that we have the opportunity to retain our community and to be able to rebuild and recover together. And do all the work that we can in the Capitol building behind us to undo these systems of racism and to move policies forward that are truly just.

This swell of mourning and grief has been just below the surface, and it burst out into public and we must take this moment to change it all, to change it all.

llumiNative, Native Organizing Alliance, and NDN Collective’s Joint Statement on the Murder of George Floyd

May 29, 2020

As thousands of people respond to the murder of George Floyd with mass protests and demonstrations across the country, we stand with our brothers and sisters in the Black community. We recognize and share their pain, grief, and outrage. Systemic racism was the engine that built this country.

Today, Black, Brown, Immigrant and Indigenous communities are still under attack and this status quo continues to be nurtured and encouraged by the inaction of elected officials and by the direct words of the President.

We call for strong leadership, we demand action from our representatives, and we encourage non-violent, powerful protests that stand for justice, showing that we are all related.

Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), Founder and Executive Director, IllumiNative
Judith LeBlanc (Caddo), Director, Native Organizers Alliance
Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), President & CEO, NDN Collective

IllumiNative and Partners Launch New Native American Education for All Initiative In Response to COVID-19

IllumiNative announced the launch of their Native American Education For All (NEFA) initiative to deliver free digital lesson plans and activities for distance learning in response to COVID-19. The first phase of the initiative is being released in partnership with the National Indian Education Association (NIEA).

The Native American Education for All (NEFA) initiative aims to dismantle the invisibility of Native peoples in the K-12 public education system. IllumiNative will also be releasing art-based teaching guides with Amplifier Foundation later this month.

“This curriculum and these resources are the first steps in ensuring Native peoples are visible so that all students and educators from every walk of life learn about traditional and contemporary Native issues,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of IllumiNative. 

IllumiNative is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to amplifying contemporary Native voices, stories and issues in pop culture, media, and K-12 education.

Echo Hawk said there is a demand for this type of educational material because research found that 78% of Americans are interested in learning more about Native cultures and 72% of Americans support significant changes to K-12 curricula. 

“This is in direct contrast with the fact that our research found that 27 states fail to mention a single Native American post-1900,” she said.

IllumiNative and NIEA are committed to providing widely accessible online resources to students from all walks of life, backgrounds, and neighborhoods while also supporting teachers and families as they work to educate our future workforce and leaders. 

“The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of providing all students access to flexible, digital curricula they can access from home. NIEA is honored to offer support in this moment of extreme uncertainty,” said Diana Cournoyer, NIEA Executive Director. “Equally important we want to ensure culturally accurate, student-centered learning resources are easily adaptable for all Native and non-Native educators and families.”

To access the full Native Education for All curriculum, activities, and resources, visit https://illuminatives.org/native-education-for-all/. For questions, please contact Director of Communications and Storytelling Jaynie Parrish via email jaynie@illuminatives.org


About IllumiNative

IllumiNative is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples. For more information visit, www.illuminatives.org

About National Indian Education Association

NIEA is the Nation’s most inclusive advocacy organization advancing comprehensive culture-based educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Formed by Native educators in 1969 to encourage a national discourse on education. For more information visit www.niea.org

Ed Helms, Taika Waititi, Casey Affleck, Wilmer Valderrama, Taboo, and More Join IllumiNative to Fight Invisibility of Native Communities During COVID-19

PSA, Virtual Town Hall, and Weekly Podcast Mobilize Native Peoples, Artists, and Allies to #WarriorUp to Fight the Pandemic

TULSA, OK (April 23, 2020)  Artists, actors, government leaders and activists, including Academy-Award winner Taika Waititi, Academy-Award winner Casey Affleck, Ed Helms, Taboo, Wilmer Valderrama, Riley Keough, Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Congresswoman Sharice Davids, urge viewers to #StayHomeTogether in a new PSA released today by the Native-led nonprofit IllumiNative. The PSA, in partnership with Harness, the group co-founded by America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama and Ryan Piers Williams, is part of IllumiNative’s #WarriorUp campaign, which will also feature a Virtual Town Hall and a weekly podcast to raise awareness of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Native communities. 

“For decades, we have been fighting for the visibility of Native peoples. Now this fight has become absolutely vital to ensuring that Native communities are not left behind or erased from the COVID-19 response,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, Executive Director of IllumiNative. “Tribes and Native communities need to be seen, heard and included in local, state, and federal solutions and conversations. Together we can find a common pathway forward out of this public health emergency.”

On Thursday, April 30th, Taboo, IllumiNative, NDN Collective and Indian Country Today will co-host a Virtual Town Hall that will livestream on Taboo’s YouTube channel  as well as on Facebook Live on each of their respective Facebook pages to unite Indian Country and allies against COVID-19.  Spotlighting economic and healthcare issues, Native leaders, legislators, influencers, and advocates will explore how the pandemic is exacerbating disparities and inequalities affecting not only Native Americans but all communities of color. Under these unprecedented circumstances, this town hall brings together Native voices and allies to overcome these disparities and showcase the resiliency of a unified community.

This week, IllumiNative is also introducing a 30-minute podcast focused on telling stories about the impact of COVID-19 on Native communities. Hosted by IllumiNative Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk, conversations with trusted Native leaders will include the latest headlines and feature stories from across Indian Country about the resilience, strength, hope and community that is coming together. IllumiNative’s inaugural podcast episode brings you stories from across America and unpacks health and economic issues – from the CARES Act and how it impacts tribes, to interviews with those on the frontlines of the Coronavirus pandemic. Podcast episodes are released weekly and are available at https://illuminatives.org/warrior-up/

Studies show that 78% of Americans know little to nothing about Native peoples, and representation of Native communities in mainstream media is less than 0.04%. These numbers are critical when translated directly to emergency funding during times of crises and historical lack of investment in Indian Country to sustain Native communities through a pandemic. Historically underfunded, Indian Health Services, housing, and infrastructure in Native communities have been neglected and unprepared for a crisis of this magnitude.

Native artists, comedians, educators, influencers, media, and allies are joining forces to #WarriorUp to fight against invisibility of vulnerable Native communities during this crisis. Visit https://illuminatives.org/warrior-up/ to find resources, content, and opportunities to support. 


IllumiNative is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

Offensive to Native Americans, Racist Mascots Have No Place In Sports

New Scientific Study Reaffirms that Native Peoples Are Deeply Insulted by the Washington Football Team’s Name. A United Coalition of Native American Leaders, Activists, Scientists and Organizations Release the Following Joint Statement.

This week in Washington, DC, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Fawn Sharp delivered a State of Indian Nations speech to Members of Congress, Tribal Leaders and citizens, and the American public. In brief, President Sharp’s speech outlined the goals of tribal leaders; the successes and challenges experienced over the last year; and NCAI’s vision for the advancement of Native peoples moving forward, covering a range of issues from lack of federal funding for tribal programs to concerns about voter suppression and climate change. Additionally, her speech touched upon the ways in which racist mascots degrade and offend Native American Nations and citizens.

Today, we stand united to end the use of offensive and racist Native mascots, behaviors and caricatures in sports.

Today, leaders, activists and organizations from Indian Country gathered together to once again declare that the name of the Washington football team must change. They reaffirm their commitment to this goal based on a new, in-depth and profound scientific study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan.

For too long, Native leaders have been silenced by the use of opinion polls conducted by organizations and individuals who do not understand Native communities. Moreover, these polls have refused to release methodological details and data files, which leaves open the question, who are the Native people in these studies? Despite these questionable practices, the public opinion polls have been used to legitimize the Washington football team name and cast doubt on the Native American community’s efforts to change it.

This new study debunks previous “polls” and gives us the scientific, evidence-based data to apply increased pressure: we will not be silenced by unsympathetic media or anyone else. Race-based sports mascots, derision of our cultural symbols and vulgar behavior by sports fans must stop.

“The continued use of degrading mascots and the perpetuation of a single opinion poll intended to speak on behalf of Native Americans demonstrates a deep lack of respect for Native peoples and nations. Our tribe has a long history in the fight for equity for Native people, both nationally and at home in Minnesota. Last October, we came together with other tribes and partner organizations to protest the Washington NFL football team name and mascot,” said Keith Anderson, Chairman, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. “We support IllumiNative and the groundbreaking scientific research that shines an important light on how many Native Americans feel. It is our hope that this will move us forward in correcting the narrative.”

“This new research is critical to understanding what actual Native peoples think about sports mascoting and how we are harmed when our identities and cultures are exploited by the NFL and other profiteers. Momentum is turning in our direction, as evidenced by this study, by Maine and other states that have ended their sports slurs, by art and literature on the subject, including our new play, Reclaiming One Star, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. We and myriad allies have eliminated 2,000+ school mascots and one pro baseball symbol since 1970, when the University of Oklahoma was first to retire its objectionable mascot, Little Red. Over two-thirds of “Native” mascots have been consigned to history books because educators, journalists, politicians and social justice leaders listened and learned about how mascots hurt our children. The time has come for the NFL to stop mocking, start listening and end this public bigotry,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) has been in the no-mascots movement since 1962. A writer, curator and policy advocate, she is a 2014 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

“Almost every single poll that has been gathered by non-Natives has been deemed unreliable and recklessly gathered. From the 2004 Annenberg Poll to the 2016 Washington Post Poll, the results have been extremely detrimental in how the mascot issue has been handled by the larger society and how Native people have been treated thereafter. The new scientific study clearly shows that although our opinions may differ, Native people continue to be adversely affected by Native mascots,” said Amanda Blackhorse (Diné from the Navajo Nation) Social Worker and Indigenous Identity Advocate. “This finding supports the larger movement to dispel Native mascots, supported by solid academic research. Native people must protect the health and well-being of those who are impacted by Native mascots. This is a health issue, not a sports issue.”

“The data simply does not add up. The psychological evidence reveals that mascots are harmful to Native people and children, that they lead non-Natives to stereotype and discriminate against Natives, and, as our recent research reveals, offend Native people who engage in Native cultural practices and are highly identified with being Native. Yet, widely cited opinion polls would have Americans believe that Native people cannot see the negative psychological effects or recognize the discriminatory nature of these mascots. And, worse, yet that Natives People are not offended by being called a racial slur. This does not make sense. If you look beyond simple opinion polls, the evidence is clear: There is no acceptable reason or excuse for continuing to use Native people as mascots,” said Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip Tribes), Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan.

“Given the psychological literature and the strong stand that tribal leaders take, it is time to stop using Native Americans as mascots. Our study demonstrates that people who identify most with being Native American, such as tribal leaders and their constituents, are the ones most likely to be offended by the clearly denigrating and stereotypical team mascots and by the behaviors that accompany the use of Native mascots,” Arianne Eason, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley. “These are also the people most likely to experience negative impacts of the us of Native mascots. Regardless of what sports fans claim, the outcomes are clear, Native mascots harm and offend Native people, especially highly identified Native people.”

“IllumiNative was founded on research that revealed how invisibility, false narratives and toxic stereotypes fuel bias, discrimination and racism against Native Americans. The systemic erasure of Native Peoples from modern society has led to the fact that 78% of Americans know little to nothing about Native Americans, 72% rarely encounter information about Native Peoples and 66% of Americans don’t think Native Peoples face discrimination,” Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), Executive Director, IlumiNative. “The limited exposure Americans have to Native peoples is rife with harmful stereotypes and representations that includes those perpetuated by Native American sports mascots, team names and racist fan traditions that are still celebrated within the NFL, MLB as well as college and K-12 sports.”

Call to Action:

We humbly ask the American public to stand with us in advocating for the change of the Washington football team name to help make it clear to all people everywhere that the use of racist Native mascot names – including the Washington football team name – must end.

Background on the Scientific Study

On Tuesday, Feb. 4th, a new groundbreaking, peer-reviewed scientific study was released; it surveyed more than 1,000 Native Americans about their feelings towards mascots, fan behavior and the Washington Football team. The first of its kind, this study adds a significant measurable factor as it looks deeply at the complexity of identity and shows the impact of mascots to those deeply tied to their identity and community. Called Unpacking the Mascot Debate: Native American Identification Predicts Opposition to Native Mascots, the study was conducted by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip Tribes), from the University of Michigan, and Dr. Arianne Eason of the University of California, Berkeley, along with their research team. The study builds on a body of research created by Unpacking the Mascot Debate lead researcher Dr. Stephanie Fryberg whose work in-part helped to inform the 2005 American Psychological Association Resolution recommending the retirement of American Indian Mascots.

About IllumiNative:

IllumiNative, is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

Available for Interviews:

  • Crystal Echo Hawk, Executive Director, IllumiNative
  • Suzan Shown Harjo, Recipient, 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Stephanie Fryberg, University of Michigan
  • Arianne Eason, University of California Berkeley

Press Contacts:

Coalition members include Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Chairman Keith Anderson; Suzan Shown Harjo, Recipient, 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom; Amanda Blackhorse, (Diné from the Navajo Nation) Social Worker and Indigenous Identity Advocate; IllumiNative; and Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Univ. of Michigan.

IllumiNative Announces New Funding for Native American Education for All

IllumiNative, a national Native-led nonprofit organization, in partnership with Wend Collective, announced a new grant program today that will equip Native-led organizations with the resources and tools needed to advance Native Education for All policies in their state. Grants will support coalition building, community organizing and planning efforts for a minimum of three states in 2020 with maximum awards of $160,000.

Of the program, Crystal Echo Hawk, Founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative said;

“Native Americans are a vibrant and growing population with rich, distinct cultures in the United States. However, our country’s K-12 public education system often fails to teach accurate history about Native peoples or about our contemporary contributions and issues in society. Americans today are being taught an inaccurate history of this country and importance of Tribal Nations and peoples to the fabric of American society continues to be erased. This invisibility and the false narratives and toxic stereotypes often perpetuated in K-12 classrooms creates hostile learning environments for Native students and fuels bias and discrimination against Native peoples.

By launching the Native Education for All grant program, we are saying that Native peoples are invisible no more and that education about Native peoples, past and present, is good for all students. IllumiNative is excited to build partnerships with tribes and Native-led organizations and to invest in their work to build their capacity, local and statewide organizing and coalition building that can create education policy change in their state.”

The program has been informed by two pieces of research that examined the issue of invisibility and provided a path forward. According to Reclaiming Native Truth, a public opinion research project co-led by IllumiNative’s founder Crystal Echo Hawk, 72% of Americans polled support significant changes to K-12 curricula, and 78% of Americans want to know more about Native peoples. A new report, published last year by the National Congress of American Indians, Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Education about American Indians and Alaska Natives, also identified a growing movement and momentum of states moving towards the change that is necessary and long overdue in K-12 education.

The grant awards will go towards building capacity for Native-led organizations to set a firm foundation for passing Native Education for All advocacy in the future, no policy changes are expected during the year-long grant. Organizations will be provided technical assistance and training tailored to fit their needs.

Interested parties should submit a Letter of Interest by March 31, 2020. After a review process, IllumiNative will invite finalist applicants to submit a full proposal in Spring 2020. Grants will be awarded Summer 2020.  An informational webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, March 3rd at 12:00pm EST. To register, please click here.

For more information, please go to https://illuminatives.org/native-education-for-all/ or contact Leah Salgado at leah@illuminatives.org.

About IllumiNative
IllumiNative,is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.


Trump’s Effort to Rebrand Native American Heritage Month Does Not and Will Not Deter Indigenous Movements

(This Opinion/Editorial was originally published by Indian Country Today on Thursday, November 7, 2019. See the original piece here.)

Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), Founder and CEO, IllumiNative
Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), President and CEO, NDN Collective

For nearly three decades, the month of November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Bi-partisan support through Presidential Proclamations and law formally recognized and honored the contributions of Native and Indigenous peoples throughout the month. This year, however, the 45th President of the United States attempted to rebrand the month entirely, prioritizing an inaugural proclamation of November as “National American History and Founders Month.” While it is not certain why this decision was made, recent reporting on this inaugural proclamation found it to be a priority of prominent Republican donors. The White House retroactively published a proclamation about Native American History Month on November 5th, but the message was heard loud and clear throughout Indian Country:  This administration is trying to erase us.

In an era of alarming displays of support and sympathy for white nationalism coded as patriotism, we recognize that the decision to prioritize the celebration of “founders” by the President, with a purposeful exclusion of Native communities, is a direct effort to diminish both tribal sovereignty and growing social movements for justice, equity, and inclusion. This action was an attempt to further diminish Indigenous Peoples in our own land and an attempt to erase us from discussions about this country’s origins.

While the highest levels of government have and continue to be both active and complicit in the attempted erasure of our people, they are not alone. Erasure is institutionalized by other sectors in society, including the K-12 public education system, pop culture, and the media. Formally recognized holidays and proclamations like Native American Heritage Month are key to addressing this erasure, and correcting historical and institutionalized narratives that have privileged white colonial history while purposely excluding the history of those who have been most disenfranchised: Indigenous, Black, and other people of color.

It is no surprise to Native people that a president who uses Native-specific racial slurs to talk about his political opponents, supports the expansion of pipelines through tribal lands despite opposition by tribal leaders, and hijacks celebrations of Native veterans, has disrespected us yet again. There has been a consistent pattern of disregard for the strength and well-being of Native communities, most prominently shown through proposed cuts to funding, and even elimination of Native education programs.

To be sure, Indian Country has long-standing allies from both sides of the aisle who have worked side-by-side with tribal communities to right some wrongs perpetrated by the government. Both Republican and Democratic elected officials have introduced legislation that supports Native communities, advocated for full funding of Indian education and health services, held agencies accountable to their missions of serving Native communities, and worked with elected officials to ensure they consult with tribal leaders. Support for Tribal Nations and Native people can and should be a collective effort of all those in government, regardless of political affiliation.

The acknowledgement and celebration of Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for America to reckon with its past, to heal long-standing historical wounds, to build national self-awareness, and fully realize what it means to be a nation built on justice and equity for all people. This should be a priority to those in the highest levels of leadership.

Despite this latest slight to Indian Country by this Administration, Native and Indigenous movements for justice and visibility are mobilizing in unprecedented ways. Looking back to the month of October, wherein dozens of Indigenous Peoples’ Day declarations were made on local and state levels, we recognize the growing power of Indigenous organizing for visibility and self-determination. Together, we are boldly asserting ourselves. We are reclaiming our narratives, restoring the visibility of our Nations, our histories, and our accomplishments.

IllumiNative was founded to combat the erasure of Native peoples, to change the narrative, and illuminate what it means to be Native American in today’s contemporary society. We celebrate Native peoples this month and every month by amplifying Native artists, Native issues, voices for change,  and by providing significant, sound research to build the foundation of truth for all Native peoples in this country.

Similarly, the NDN Collective was founded to build the collective power of Indigenous people through movement-building, decolonization and self-determination. Asserting ourselves as the original inhabitants of this land is not just critical for our own collective wellbeing, healing and self-determination as Indigenous people, but it’s part of a much broader movement for justice and equity for all people and the planet. We recognize that as human beings upon one shared Earth, we are bound by natural laws of interdependence. Therefore, we must take every opportunity to stand up to inequality and create equitable solutions.

As organizations, we share a commitment to fighting erasure. As Native people, we understand how critical this fight is to our future. Indigenous Peoples are an essential part of the historical and cultural fabric that makes up this nation. We remain and persevere as active participants of the present, and we will continue to be co-creators of the future. On a global scale, the perspectives and experiences of Indigenous Peoples and Nations are also essential to solving the most pressing problems facing this country and the world. Indigenous communities are leading the fight to end climate change and ensuring access to clean water and air.  It is imperative that we build a future and country that is grounded in truth, solidarity, justice and equity. A country that works for and includes all. A country where Indigenous Peoples, as the original people of this land, are valued, respected and recognized.

Some may call the celebration of Native American Heritage Month merely a symbolic gesture. But symbols and the movements behind them matter.  Accurate representation and the movement for narrative change are catalysts for change. This is why we will continue fighting for visibility and the restoration of celebrations like this one. This month, we will continue to honor and recognize the countless displays of Native and Indigenous magnificence and celebrate over 600 years of resilience. We will continue to build within our communities, lift up our stories, and work with allies to reshape an American narrative that truly honors the first people of this land. Together, we can create a vibrant future for this country that exemplifies the best in all of us and defeats the hate that threatens to surround us today.

For Native American Heritage Month, we invite Indian Country and our allies to join us as we remind America that Native American history is American history. To participate in our campaign, download this image, take a selfie holding up the message, and post your photo using the hashtag #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth. 

About IllumiNative

IllumiNative is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

About NDN Collective

NDN Collective is a national organization dedicated to building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples, communities, and Nations to exercise our inherent right to self-determination. Through a holistic approach to infrastructure, funding, advocacy, movement building, and philanthropy we are fostering a world of justice and equity for all people and the planet.