Whether we like it or not, we live in a racial binary nation – discussions of “race relations” most often focus on “white people versus black people.” We also live in a settler-colonial nation, founded on stealing indigenous land and erasing the existence of the people who were there first. Because of this, Native Americans are always left out of mainstream social thought – even when it is completely ridiculous to do so. For example, Native Americans are consistently ignored in discussions of police violence, though we are the race most likely to be killed by police. When we show up in statistics, we are often labeled as “Other,” under White, Black, and Latino. Settler-colonialism has normalized this erasure.
With the upcoming presidential elections, this invisibility is becoming more and more stark. How often do we hear the presidential candidates talking about Native American issues? About government to government relations with tribes? About treaty obligations? About the Dakota Access Pipeline and state violence towards the water protectors? Not only are our specific issues as sovereign indigenous nations excluded from national political conversations, but we are never brought up in more general discussions of race or racial violence. For most Americans these issues may seem completely insignificant. Who even thinks about treaties on a regular basis? Because Native Americans are numbers wise a small population, it is easy for most people to think our lives insignificant, or at least not any more worthy of national spotlight than issues like ISIS or climate change (though we’re connected to both of those issues – Native Americans have the highest military inscription rate, and indigenous lands are being exploited for natural resource profit, as the #NoDAPL movement highlights). This attitude must change. We must all hold our politicians and media accountable for ignoring and erasing indigenous people.
Native Americans are unique in that we are a racial minority, as well as indigenous. We are Native both racially and politically: tribes are recognized as sovereign nations, have treaties with the federal government, decide who is and is not a citizen, and make laws about health codes, police, education, and more. We are impacted by systemic racism and the structure of settler-colonialism. This is significant. Even if we are a “small group of people” – this simple fact of indigeneity means we will never go away. And neither will our history. The United States, politically and culturally, has a moral and legal obligation to honor and remember these histories. Ignorance on the part of politicians – and no incentive from the general population to change – is detrimental to Native Americans. When politicians don’t acknowledge the existence of Native Americans, or don’t know anything about our politics, we are taken advantage of. Our rights will be trampled on, with few educated enough on American history to properly defend us. Native American leaders remain constantly vigilant to defend our rights and make our existence known. We need more allies.
Until more Americans are properly engaged with and knowledgeable about Native American issues, Oak Flats will continue to happen. Dakota Access Pipelines will continue to happen. Tribal communities will continue to have unsanitary drinking water. Native women will continue to be murdered at ten times the national rate. Native children will continue to be bullied and feel unsupported in schools with racist mascots. No person of color will be free if that freedom is at the price of indigenous peoples and on colonized soil. Indeed, there is no racial justice without including the voices of Native Americans and the recognizing the intersectionality of colonialism in racism. Yet we are never mentioned when politicians and the media discuss “healing the racial divide” in America.
There has been an increase in attention to Native Americans issues in regards to resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but mass media attention and response by politicians has been delayed and minimal. There is no denying that Native American communities are powerful. The movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline is proof of that. But we cannot do it alone. We need your outrage to work with our passion. We need your position of privilege to uplift and share our stories. We need you to hold your politicians and the media accountable for how we are represented – in both senses of the word. Until Native American stories become a normalized part of the mainstream media and politics, we will continue to be exploited. And this exploitation will continue to be unseen. In the fight for racial justice, decolonization and indigenous perspectives must be part of that discussion. We must resist the white supremacist narrative that there is not room for all of our histories and all of our struggles and all of our voices. That our stories are merely “additive” to American history or contemporary politics. We must all demand that Native Americans be valued and remembered. We’ll be waiting for you.