Celebrating Native American Heritage

November is recognized as the season of Thanksgiving. We all know the history: In 1620, the Mayflower set sail for Cape Cod. After a troubled first year, the Pilgrims enjoyed a three-day feast with their Native American friends of the Abenaki and Pawtuxet tribes, who saved the Pilgrims from starvation by teaching them how to live off the land.

Despite the initial hospitality, the relationship between European settlers and Native Americans quickly declined. The Native American tribes were already well-established throughout North America, especially along the east coast. In fact, by the time European adventurers arrived in the 15th century A.D., scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas. Of these, some 10 million lived in the area that would become the United States.

Deals and treaties between the U.S. government and native tribes were often imbalanced and unfair. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which forced 45,000 Native Americans to move west of the Mississippi. By the end of the 19th century, almost all Native Americans were pushed onto government-run reservations.

Native Americans Today

Today, there are 5.2 million Americans who self-identify as Native American. While that puts the population at about 1.6% of the U.S., the same is not reflected in the workforce. EEOC data from 2013 found that Native Americans account for only 0.38% of professional workers and 0.67% of service workers.

Author and researcher Algernon Austin found that even when controlling for age, education, residence, marital status, and other factors, Native Americans had significantly lower odds of being employed than whites.

What’s the Role of Diversity Practitioners?

There are a number of steps you can take to change how Native Americans are viewed in the workplace and in your community, including:

  1. Reach out to organizations that promote Native Americans, and encourage staffers to volunteer.
  2. Expand your hiring search. If you aren’t seeing a diverse applicant pool inclusive of Native Americans, that may be a sign your job postings aren’t in all of the right places.
  3. Provide unconscious bias training. Unconscious biases influence the way we treat people, especially when it comes to offering them new opportunities.
  4. Create opportunities to connect. Studies have shown we have favorable views of the people we spend time with, regardless of our previous views of them, so encourage diverse teams and outings.

Famous Native Americans

There are many important figures in U.S. history who have proudly held onto their Native American roots, like:

  • John Herrington. A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Herrington was the first Native American astronaut to walk in space back in 2002. To honor his heritage, Herrington carried his nation’s flag into space with him.
  • Russell Means. Although Means, a member of the Sioux, passed in 2012, his actions live on today. A powerful actor, writer, and tribal leader, Means dedicated his life to Native American rights.
  • Rita Coolidge. With Cherokee blood from her father’s side, the musician’s career has long been inspired by Cherokee culture, language, and tradition.

Other famous Americans you might not realize are Native Americans include Chuck Norris, Quentin Tarantino, and Tina Turner. This Thanksgiving, take the time to honor Native American cultures and the rich histories that come with them.