Nothing About Us, Without Us – Why Native Representation is So Important

Representation is always top of mind for minorities and Indigenous people. As a country we are headed in the right direction with the rise of DEI efforts across corporate America, higher standards in Hollywood to tell accurate stories, and media that showcases people from diverse backgrounds and races, but we still have a way to go. This brings me to a mantra I have been bringing up a lot lately: “Nothing about us, without us.”

Recent news has been covering the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the new requirements put into place. For background, NAGPRA was enacted in 1990 to outline a process for museums and federal agencies to return Native cultural objects. This includes artifacts as well as human remains and funerary belongings to lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian Tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations. Starting in January 2024, museums all over the country began a five-year journey to repatriate these items to their origin Tribes and communities. But as you might imagine, this task is nearly impossible for many reasons, the main one being a lack of Native representation in the museums and on the ground doing the work. Natives have a long-storied history that lives through oral storytelling, so most of the teams working to repatriate these items should be those most familiar with our history – Native Americans. You can watch a recent interview I did with KOTA-TV (FOX) reporter Cody Dennis about NAGPRA here.

The challenges we face with NAGPRA are just one example that shows why it’s so important to include meaningful Native representation in the professional space. “Nothing about us, without us.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is an example of research and representation done right. The director and crew, including Leonardo DiCaprio, worked with the Osage Nation to ensure that every aspect – from clothing to artwork to language – was accurate to the culture and timeframe. Many Osage were cast as extras in the movie as well. Golden Globe winner Lily Gladstone learned to speak Osage for the role. She is Blackfeet (Siksikaitsitapi) and Nimíipuu on her mother’s side (Nez Perce on her father’s side).

For decades, non-Natives have been telling our stories through exhibits, screenplays, and even politics. It will be interesting to see what issues come up throughout the 2024 Presidential Election year that may impact the tribes. We’ll be keeping an eye on state versus federal recognition and the benefits of each (or lack thereof), ICWA, water rights, and whether the candidate’s platforms will help or hinder the tribes.  

As major moments roll out this year, I encourage our donors and supporters to ask questions about Native representation and impact. I am also always happy to share my perspective from a Native point of view. You can message us via Facebook or Contact Us through our website and let us know what you’d like to learn more about!

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