Native Americans occupied much of the land in North America long
before the United States of America ever raised its flag and claimed
that land as its own. Yet, on the whole, Native
communities are largely misunderstood by many Americans.
That's why it's important to make an effort to learn about other
cultures of the people, like Native Americans, who inhabit the same
land. Increasing awareness of other cultures increases respect,
cooperation, communication and decreases stereotypes as well as
ethnic and racial division.
With that in mind, here are 10 things Native Americans wish everyone
1. Native Americans are not a monolith.
To say that the Native American culture is a monolith is to claim
that everyone within that group is similar in regards to their traditions,
dress, language, beliefs, and general way of life. This is absolutely
not true. Native American is a broadly encompassing
term that includes almost 600
federally recognized Native tribes living in America, with many
more unrecognized as official tribes. This means that there are,
conservatively, 600 different ways of life, various languages with
different dialects and slang, traditions, art, music, and craft,
economy, topography and geography, religious and spiritual beliefs,
education systems, social structures, family structures, and so
on. Just like you can't take all white people in America and shoehorn
them into one all-inclusive category, it would be a disservice to
do the same to Native people.
2. Not all Native American tribes are federally
To reiterate, not all Native American tribes are federally recognized.
The United States can deny or refute a tribe's petitions for federal
acknowledgment. But for some of the petitions, they've simply yet
to make a decision. The seven requirements that a tribe must meet
in order to become federally recognized include:
- The petitioner has been identified as an American Indian entity
- A predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct
- The petitioner has maintained political influence or authority
over its members.
- The group has governing documents which include its membership
- The petitioners membership consists of individuals who
descend from a historical Indian tribe or from historical Indian
tribes which combined and functioned as a single autonomous political
- The membership of the petitioning group is composed primarily
of persons who are not members of an acknowledged North American
- Neither the petitioner nor its members are the subject of congressional
legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the federal
3. We dont own our reservation lands outright.
While some tribes do not live on a reservation, more than 300 do.
Some are shared by multiple tribes, while some tribes inhabit more
than one reservation. The entire idea behind the reservation formed
when the Constitution was ratified and the government agreed to
look upon Native tribes as independent sovereign nations. The Native
Americans reserved plots of land that no longer belonged
to them outright. As stated by experts at the History Channel:
The main goals of Indian
reservations were to bring Native Americans under U.S. government
control, minimize conflict between Indians and settlers and encourage
Native Americans to take on the ways of the white man. But many
Native Americans were forced onto reservations with catastrophic
results and devastating, long-lasting effects.
Now, reservation land is held in trust for Native Americans
by the federal government, which means that those who live on the
property cannot reap the benefits of owning land, such as obtaining
equity or mortgaging assets.
4. Most of us dont live on reservations.
Most of the Native population in North American are congregated
around the central states such as Oklahoma and the southwest and
northwest states, as well as Alaska and Canadaand most of
these individuals do not live on reservations. They live
in cities, in small quaint towns, up in the mountains, in the suburbs,
and deep in rural areas just like the rest of the population.
Approximately only 600,000 Native individuals live on reservations
today, but these numbers can't be trusted entirely, as Native Americans
are historically grossly undercounted in the census. The total number
of Native Americans and Alaska Natives living in the U.S. today?
6.9 million. So less than 10 percent live on a reservation.
5. History books are not 100% accurate.
What has your history teacher not told you? Or perhaps more likely,
what does your history teacher not even know him or herself? While
ignorance is no defense, many people's worldviews are shaped by
what they learn in school, at home, and in society, especially when
it comes to United States history. Textbooks are definitely whitewashed
and written in favor of those who won the wars, which in America
Americans. Yet, providing our students with a strictly
positive version of U.S. history does not produce patriotic
Americans. Rather, it produces misguided ones.
However, changes are gradually coming as we continue to uncover
the half-truths and flat-out falsities perpetuated by antiquated
textbooks. Future editions of textbooks in our schools could very
well paint a fuller, more accurate picture of the events in our
If you're curious, An
Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne
Dunbar-Ortiz is a good starting point.
6. Regalia is not a costume.
Native tribes each have their own form of regalia,
which consists of the sacred clothing, accessories, and artifacts
we wear and treasure. The colors and stitching are deep in symbolism
and the entire process of hand-making the regalia is significant
in itself. Native individuals wear regalia to pow wows, ceremonies,
and other important events while using them to dance and share stories
with others. Putting on regalia is meaningful and a time of great
pride. It is a form of self-expression not to be taken lightly.
Those who dress similarly and wear them as costumes
during a holiday or sporting event may think they are being playful
when in reality, they are offending a culture. Not only are these
fake regalia costumes portrayed incorrectly, they often sexualize
girls and women by showing excessive skin, and making the costume
unnecessarily tight. The fact that they are available online and
in stores is a testament to how far we still have to go.
7. We didn't choose the term Indian.
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
This part is true. However, he obviously did not land where he
expected to. Christopher Columbus thought he was headed toward India,
where he wanted to see for himself the magical places he had been
reading about and what he had heard from Marco Polo. Gold and spices
were calling his name. Unfortunately, he miscalculated the distance
(badly) and ended up in what is now the Bahamas, which were inhabited
by a group of people who named the island Guanahani. Because Columbus
thought he had landed in India and didnt realize his mistake
for some time, he coined the indigenous inhabitants of the newly
discovered world Indians.
Smithsonian Magazine online has quite a detailed and interesting
story about Columbus voyages and his huge mistake that ended
up in disaster, if you want to know more.
8. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving the same way.
Go read up on the true
history of Thanksgiving and you will see why many Native American
families do not celebrate it the same way that non-Natives do. There's
a reason many have taken to calling it The National Day of
Mourning since the 1970s. While some use Thanksgiving as a
reminder to be grateful, kind and compassionate, many Americans
still believe in the false childhood stories of colonists and Natives
coming around a dinner table feasting on what they have prepared
together, to celebrate the harvest and the coming-together of two
groups of people.
Make no mistake: this did not happen. The Natives were stolen from,
made a mockery of, and murdered. On Plymouth Rock today, a plaque
at the site notes:
Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions
of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless
assault on their cultures. Participants in National Day of Mourning
honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to
9. We dont want your pity. We need allies.
Historically, like many other cultures, Native Americans have gone
through oppression, execution, segregation, racism, and separation.
They've been removed from their land, taken from their families,
mascots of, made into symbols by other cultures, forced into
poverty, and abandoned by their government.
However, they still dont want your pity. What will pity do?
It wont raise awareness, grow important relationships or secure
much-needed funding and programs to help Native people. It wont
improve the lives of the historically disenfranchised in any meaningful
What Native Americans need are strong allies who will stand up
with them to fight the unnecessary and continued oppression and
10. We're still here, and we're doing incredible
We still have a long way to go toward an adequate and accurate
representation of Native American communities. We're grossly underrepresented
in the media, and when we are featured, it's typically in an unflattering
light. It's no wonder we're often referred to as the invisible
The truth is, much of the U.S. doesn't see it, but Native communities
across the country are doing wonderful things. We're creating beautiful,
we're making timeless films,
beautifully and passionately, we're making waves in politics,
and we're just getting started.
Don't believe me?
Haaland is stepping in as Interior Secretary for President Joe
Goade recently became the first Native American illustrator
to win the Caldecott Medal.
Taika Waititi is rolling out a new
show about Native Americans with an entirely indigenous writers
16-year old environmental activist is changing the world. Sixteen.
I could go on, but I encourage you to pay more attention to all
of the ways Native communities are changing the world for the better.
You might be surprised.