Indigenous Peoples’ Day

(*Updated post from 2020)

by Rachel Fried, Director, Public School Initiative

Basic cultural comprehension goes a long way.

Often, schools and individuals are unsure where to even begin with Native recruitment and retention. The reality is, simple transformations can have great significance. As college access practitioners, a first step can be to look inward at institutional and individual language, references, and resources through a critical indigenous lens. A few common areas for consideration are below.

A starting point for people in all places

The way we communicate often makes or breaks opportunities to be active accomplices. Whether seasoned indigenous-serving professionals or first-time engagers, starting with how we talk to and about Native and Indigenous people is always the best step one.

Avoid historification

Native people are often referred to in the past tense – “those who used to live on this land”… “the ones who came before us”… – and honestly, it’s creepy. (Side note: It wasn’t until the last 20 years when Native American people were officially moved out of the Museum of Natural History.) The point is, Native people exist today… Check your school and personal verbiage for unintentional historification! It’s a quick way to demonstrate understanding.

Amplify authenticity (know your sources)

Ethnic fraud is rampant. We can all contribute to its end. Rely exclusively on authentic Indigenous and Indigenous-serving sources for knowledge and support. Amplify authentic indigeneity at your institution, elevate authentic indigeneity everywhere.

Recognize (specific) sovereign nations

Understanding Native American identity as a citizenship, nationhood-based status is an essential foundation. In daily practice, asking about, remembering, and recognizing the specific Native nations of individuals is a key starting place for effective culturally-resonant communication.

Acknowledge diversity (of identity and experience)

As with many communities of color, the vast diversity of identity and experience within Native America and the broader global Indigenous community is immense. Start by acknowledging the fact of breadth, and then break down pan-Native assumptions in communications and practices wherever possible.

Craft land acknowledgement statements carefully and thoughtfully

Not all land acknowledgements achieve their intended purpose, despite the best of intentions; in fact, they can even be more damaging than supportive. The Native Governance Center of Minnesota has developed an excellent resource for creating land acknowledgements:

When in doubt, ask! SACAC provides a knowledge- and experience-rich community for all. Whether you are deeply dialed in with Native and Indigenous communities or you are just beginning your process, let’s learn together.