The Rundown

Don't Ignore the Plight of Native American People this Thanksgiving

Your guide to respecting Native American heritage on Thanksgiving. What’s working, what’s not and what you can do about.
November 22, 2017, 3:00pm
Illustration via Aaron Barksdale

Love it or hate it, Thanksgiving is here. In many ways it’s a well-intentioned holiday with deeply problematic roots. It would be wrong and historically inaccurate to say that early European settlers arrived in America and began their lives in the New World by peacefully breaking bread with indigenous people. To this day, descendants of Native Americans are impacted by the effects of colonialism, which makes holidays like Thanksgiving an appropriate time to take serious pause on the status of America’s first peoples, and what is or isn't being done to make things better.

One of the major issues affecting Native populations is poor quality housing. In 2012, a report from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness with data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that 4.8 percent of all sheltered homeless families identify as Native American or Alaska Native. That number has since decreased, in 2016 HUD reported that 2 percent of sheltered homeless families with children identify as Native American. Despite the decrease, Native Americans still experience high rates of poverty.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2015 26.6 percent of Americans who identified as single-race American Indians or Alaska Natives lived in poverty—the was highest rate that any other race. The National Congress of American Indians reported that 40 percent of people living in on-reservation housing are in substandard conditions, less than half of these homes are connected to public sewer systems and at least 16 percent don’t even have indoor plumbing.

Also, Native Americans face high rates of incarceration and inequality within the criminal justice system. According to data from the CDC, Native Americans are killed by law enforcement more than any other racial or ethnic group, which has sparked a movement similar to Black Lives Matter.

Other issues facing Native communities are infringement on land and natural resources by the federal government and energy companies, an epidemic of domestic violence against women and more.

What you can do:

There’s plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but also be mindful of the struggles that Native communities have endured and are still grappling with, and that there many ways you can personally help.

Support the National Congress of American Indians, an organization founded in 1944 by Native Americans from 50 different tribes. The group aims to serve the interests of tribal communities and governments across the United States, advocates for public policy, and champions various causes to protect and preserve the heritage and traditions of indigenous people.

Check out Native Renewables. Their group focuses on climate justice and the use of clean energy alternatives to protect the environment. It's all the more relevant given the ongoing disaster that is the (now leaking) Keystone crude oil pipeline.

Also, learn more about initiatives created by native women to advocate for gender equality. Indigenous Women Rise is a grassroots organization the celebrates resistance and resilience.

And then some:

The NFL has drawn a fair amount of controversy this year from the kneeling protests during the national anthem, and Colin Kaepernick shamefully continues to be unsigned. But now there’s another ugly issue the NFL, and particularly the team from the nation’s capital, need to address.

The Washington Redskins (who’s infamous logo has sparked controversy for years) will host this year's Thanksgiving game for the first time,

Tribal leaders have asked media outlets not to say the name of the team during the game, which they feel is a racial slur. The National Congress of American Indians has a “proud to be” campaign, for people to show off the aspects of their identity in an effort to change the name of the mascot.