Native Americans in Congress: Present, Past, and Future

By NAT Staff

There are currently five Native American members in Congress, three Republicans and two Democrats. They are card-carrying members of the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Ho-Chunk, Yup’ik, and Choctaw tribes

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) (Chickasaw)

Congressman Cole is Chairman of the distinguished House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for appropriating funding for most of the federal government.  He is also known to be Capitol Hill’s foremost expert on Native American issues.

Identified by Time Magazine as “one of the sharpest minds in the House,” Tom Cole, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his eleventh term. Rep. Cole was appointed to the Rules Committee in 2013 and has remained on the panel since then. He also served as the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. Among his other leadership positions, Rep. Cole is Co-Chair of the Native American Caucus and Deputy Whip for the Republican Conference. A member of the Air Force, Army and National Guard Caucuses, he is an ardent supporter of a strong military and also an advocate for small businesses.

The National Congress of American Indians has recognized Cole’s distinguished service with the Congressional Leadership award on three different occasions, more than any member of Congress. He was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2017. His late mother, Helen, was also inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame and served as a state representative, state senator and the Mayor of Moore, Oklahoma.

Rep. Tom Cole at a rally for the Violence Against Women Act  (Photo Credit: Kolby KickingWoman via Indian Country Today)

Cole and Congresswoman Betty McCollum honoring Native American code talkers awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. 

In June 2024, Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04)’s bill, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act of 2024, which he co-led with Congresswoman Sharice Davids (KS-03), passed through the House Education and Workforce Committee markup. This legislation will investigate, document, and report on the histories of Indian boarding schools, Indian boarding school policies, and the long-term impacts of Indian boarding schools on Native American communities.

Following the passage of this bill through full committee markup, Congressman Cole released the following statement:

“Indian boarding schools have had devastating impacts on Native communities. Yet, for so many years, the true stories about what happened to these Native children are unknown,” said Congressman Cole. “As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and the longest-serving Native American in the House of Representatives, it is a priority of mine to properly represent our Indian communities in Congress. Therefore, I am committed to investigating the tragic abuses that occurred at these boarding schools and bringing light to this dark chapter in our nation’s history. This Commission will hopefully bring these communities one step closer to healing and peace for themselves, their families, and future generations, and I would like to thank Chairwoman Virginia Foxx for moving this bill through the legislative process.”

Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) (Cherokee)

Senator Markwayne Mullin is a successful business owner, working cow-calf rancher, and proud husband of 25 years to Mrs. Christie Mullin, and together the two are parents to six wonderful children: Jayce, Jim, Andrew, Larra, Ivy, and Lynette. Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was sworn Into office on January 3rd, 2023, following ten years of service to Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives. A lifelong Oklahoman, Senator Mullin grew up on his family’s ranch in Westville where he and his family still reside to this day.

As one of the only current business operators in the U.S. Senate, Mullin brings over 25 years of firsthand experience and entrepreneurial leadership to address some of the biggest issues impacting the U.S. economy and Oklahoma’s small business community.

Mullin is the first Native member of the U.S. Senate since the retirement of Colorado’s Ben Nighthorse Campbell at the beginning of 2005, as well as the first Native American senator to represent Oklahoma since Cherokee Nation citizen Robert Owen retired in 1925. According to the U.S. Senate’s website, Senator Mullin is the fourth American Indian to ever serve in the U.S. Senate, following Campbell, Owen and Charles Curtis – who was part of the Kansas delegation more than a century ago. Senator Mullin is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and is the first Tribal citizen to serve in the U.S. Senate in nearly two decades.

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker wrapping a ceremonial blanket around the Congressman. (Photo Credit: Fort Smith Times Record)

Senator Mullin serves Oklahoma on the Senate Armed Services Committee; the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee; the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee; and the Indian Affairs Committee.

The Indian Affairs Committee plays a vital role in ensuring that the federal government upholds its trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal nations. I look forward to strengthening tribal sovereignty, pursuing self-determination policies, and fostering economic growth in Indian Country. Let’s get to work,” Mullin stated in a press release.

Mullin being visited by Miss Cherokee Ja Li Si Pittman

In June 2024, Senator Mullin helped introduce the Creating Hope Reauthorization Act to ensure that pharmaceutical companies continue to develop drugs to treat rare diseases affecting children, including types of cancer. The bipartisan legislation would extend the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Rare Pediatric Disease Priority Review Voucher (PRV) program, which incentivizes drugmakers to create these novel treatments by bringing them on the market on an expedited timeline.

“Over the past decade, the Rare Pediatric Disease (RPD) Priority Review Voucher (PRV) program has successfully helped incentivize and expedite the development of new treatments and cures for young children with rare conditions including pediatric cancer and rare genetic disorders,” said Senator Mullin. “Our commonsense bill will reauthorize and extend the PRV to provide greater stability and fuel innovation to benefit a far greater number of pediatric patients living with rare diseases. One in ten Americans are living with a rare disease, but less than 10 percent of all rare diseases have an approved treatment option. It is important we do all we can to improve access to innovative health care options — especially for children. Thank you to Sen. Casey for joining me on this important legislation.”

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS) (Ho-Chunk)

Rep. Sharice Davids presiding over the House of Representatives.

Rep. Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, serves on the Chief Deputy Whip for the Democrat Party. Her committee positions include the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Committee on Small Business, the Committee on Agriculture, and the Joint Economic Committee. Rep. Davids is the Vice Chair for Member Services for the New Democrat Coalition, and serves as Co-Chair for the Congressional Equality Caucus, the Congressional Native American Caucus, the Congressional Sustainable Aviation Caucus, the Congressional FIFA World Cup 2026 Caucus, and the Animal Protection Caucus.

Davids is committed to limiting the influence of special interest groups and to ensure all Americans have affordable, accessible health care. She advocates for employment opportunities for veterans and service members who incurred illness or injury while serving in the military, and works to help veterans transition their skills from service to business through legislation that examines barriers, including lack of access to credit. In addition, she voted to address the veteran suicide crisis and veterans experiencing homelessness. 

Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Davids lived and worked on reservations where she fostered economic development opportunities, community programs and tribal initiatives. 

Sharice raises a gift from Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (Photo Credit: Hocak Worak)

Davids is committed to limiting the influence of special interest groups and to ensure all Americans have affordable, accessible health care. She advocates for employment opportunities for veterans and service members who incurred illness or injury while serving in the military, and works to help veterans transition their skills from service to business through legislation that examines barriers, including lack of access to credit. In addition, she voted to address the veteran suicide crisis and veterans experiencing homelessness. 

Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Davids lived and worked on reservations where she fostered economic development opportunities, community programs and tribal initiatives. 

Rep. Mary Pelota (D-AK) (Yup’ik)

Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola (Yup’ik) was born in Alaska and raised on the Kuskokwim River in Kwethluk, Tuntutuliak, Platinum, and Bethel. She was just six years old when she began fishing commercially with her father.

At age 24, she won her first state election and represented the Bethel region in the Alaska State Legislature.

During her ten years in office, she built consensus around budgets that improved lives in rural Alaska. Since then, she has worked as Manager of Community Development and Sustainability for the Donlin goldmine project. More recently, she was Executive Director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. She helped mobilize 118 Tribes and rural Alaskans to advocate for the protection of salmon runs in Western Alaska.

Rep. Peltola also served on the Orutsararmiut Native Council Tribal Court and the Bethel City Council, and on the boards of the Nature Conservancy, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska Children’s Trust, and the Russian Orthodox Sacred Sites in Alaska.

Rep. Peltola currently serves as a member of the Committee on Natural Resources, which considers legislation about American energy production, mineral lands and mining, fisheries and wildlife, public lands, oceans, Native Americans, irrigation and reclamation, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation as well as wastewater infrastructure, the Nation’s emergency preparedness and response programs, public buildings and federal real estate management, federal economic development agencies, and one of America’s five Armed Forces: the U.S. Coast Guard.

In addition to these committees, Rep. Peltola also serves on a number of caucus’, including Western Caucus, Democratic Women’s Caucus. Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, Problem Solvers Caucus, Blue Dogs (co-chair), Native American Caucus, Oceans Caucus, Arctic Working Group (co-chair), Bipartisan, House Hunger Caucus, and Black Maternal Health Caucus

Peltola makes history as first Alaska Native person sworn into Congress (Credit: Anchorage Daily News)

“She made history by becoming the first Alaska Native to be elected to the Congress of the United States,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., shared in his announcement of her 2022 victory. She also made history as the first woman to represent Alaska in the U.S House. “Peltola is widely known across Alaska not only for a strong record as a state legislator, but as a champion for rural and Native communities who are too often overlooked by policymakers,” he said.

Wearing a traditional kuspuk on the first day of the 2023 session. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

“For so many Alaskan communities, fish are life,” she said. “Our fish harvest is the best in the world. Half of the wild salmon sold in the world comes from our state, supporting good jobs that sustain strong communities. And subsistence fishing is not only an essential food source for so many Alaska families and communities, it is a sacred part of our traditions.”

In May 2024, Peltola introduced a pair of bills to restrict bottom trawling and reduce bycatch – the bipartisan Bycatch Reduction and Mitigation Act and the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act.

“Since coming to Congress, I’ve worked to make fish and fishing policy the issue of national importance it deserves to be,” said the Congresswoman. “I know fish, I know Alaska, and I know how to work with people in both parties to get stuff done.”

Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK) (Choctaw)

Josh Brecheen (pronounced Bra-keen) is a committed Christian, husband, father, and is a fourth-generation rancher from Coal County, Oklahoma. Prior to his Congressional election, he owned and operated a small excavation and trucking business. 

Rep. Brecheen served as an Oklahoma State Senator from 2010 to 2018, obtaining an overall voting record as the third most conservative senator among those with whom he served. He was the original author of measures that included capping state debt, banning dismemberment abortions, and repealing federal common core standards to make way for new, superior standards to educate children in English and math. From 2004 to 2010, Brecheen worked for U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. as a field representative, working directly with Oklahoma constituents and evaluating federal programs for waste and inefficiencies. 

Brecheen, a member of the Choctaw Nation, is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, where he earned a dual degree in agriculture. He served the Oklahoma FFA Association as State President in 1999 and later worked seasonally for the National FFA Organization as an ALD conference presenter. He also brought inspirational messages into approximately 500 public schools, universities, and conferences through his motivational speaking abilities.

Brecheen is also known to be an avid equestrian (Photo Credit: Brecheen Campaign)

Brecheen grew up in the professional cutting horse industry and in his youth was a two-time national qualifier for the National Cutting Horse Association Eastern Championship show. After college, Brecheen started training cutting horse futurity prospects as a “non pro” and has been raising quality cow horses for over 20 years.  

 As a member of Congress, he is focused on reining in our unsustainable debt and deficit spending, which he is convinced is undermining our national security.

Rep. Brecheen serves on the Homeland Security Committee, a standing committee formed in 2005 to ensure that the American people were protected from terrorist attacks. The committee focuses on legislation and oversight related to the security of the United States. He is also a member of the Budget Committee, whose principal responsibility is to develop a concurrent resolution on the budget to serve as the framework for congressional action on spending, revenue, and debt-limit legislation.

In June 2024, Congressman Josh Brecheen voted for a conservative National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that includes several amendments to fight back against the Biden Administration’s social engineering experiment on our troops, which has led to record low military recruitment. The bill included Congressman Brecheen’s amendment, which would prohibit drag shows and drag queen story hours at our military bases. 

History of Native Americans in Congress – A Historical Overview 

In 1870, Hiram Revels made history as the first Native American to join the United States Congress as a Senator. Since then, over 20 Native peoples have come to take their seat at Congress, with 5 members currently presiding. Here is a look at the history of Native American representation in Congress, past and present.


Picture Senator
Tribal ancestry State Party Term start Term end Notes
Hiram Revels
Lumbee  MS Republican 1870 1871 Retired
Charles Curtis
KS  Republican 1907 1928 Resigned after being elected 

Vice President

Robert Owen
Cherokee  OK Democrat 1907 1925 Retired
Ben Nighthorse Campbell

(1933 - )

Northern Cheyenne  CO Democrat (1993–1995) 1993 2005 Retired
Markwayne Mullin

(1977 - )

Cherokee OK Republican 2023 Former House Member

House of Representatives

Picture Representative
Tribal ancestry State Party Term start Term end Notes
Richard H. Cain
Cherokee  SC Republican 1873 1875 Retired
1877 1879
John Mercer Langston
Pamunkey  VA Republican 1890 1891 Lost Reelection
Charles Curtis
 KS Republican 1893 1907 Resigned to become Senator  
Charles Carter
Chickasw  OK Democrat 1907 1927 Lost renomination
William Hastings
Cherokee  OK Democrat 1915 1921 Lost reelection
1923 1935 Retired
Will Rogers Jr.
Cherokee  CA  Democrat 1943 1944 Resigned to join the U.S. Army
William Stigler
Choctaw  OK Democrat 1944 1952 Died in office
Ben Reifel
Lakota Sioux
(Rosebud Sioux)
 SC Republican 1961 1971 Retired
Clem McSpadden
Cherokee   OK Democrat 1973 1975 Retired to run unsuccessfully for the nomination to the 1974 Oklahoma gubernatorial election
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
(born 1933)
Northern Cheyenne  CO Democrat 1987 1993 Retired to run successfully for the 1992 United States Senate election in Colorado
Brad Carson
(born 1967)
Cherokee OK Democrat 2001 2005 Retired to run unsuccessfully for the 2004 United States Senate election in Oklahoma
Tom Cole
(born 1949)
Chickasaw OK Republican 2003 Longest serving Native American in the House
Markwayne Mullin
(born 1977)
Cherokee OK Republican 2013 2022 Has announced retirement to run for the 2022 United States Senate election in Oklahoma
Sharice Davids
(born 1980)
Ho-Chunk  KS  Democrat 2019 First LGBTQ Native American elected
Deb Haaland
(born 1960)
Laguna Pueblo  NM Democrat 2019 2021 Resigned to become U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Yvette Herrell
(born 1964)
Cherokee  NM Republican 2021 2022  


Mary Peltola(born 1973) Yup'ik AK Democrat 2022 First Alaska Native elected to Congress
Josh Brecheen

(born 1979)

Choctaw OK Republican 2022 Former Oklahoma State Senator

In the Administration

Vice President Charles Curtis (1929-1933)

Charles Curtis was a republican from Kansas who served as Senate Majority Leader and 31st Vice President of the United States under Herbert Hoover. He was the great-great-grandson of White Plume, a Kaw chief who aided the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. He was the first person of color to cross racial boundaries and become Vice President.

Curtis receives peace pipe from Chief Red Tomahawk, leader of the Sioux Nation and credited with having killed Sitting Bull (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Former Rep. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), now serving as the Secretary of the Interior, poses for the history-making ceremonial swearing-in (Photo Credit: Joshua Roberts / Reuters file)

Running for Congress in 2024

Jonathan Nez (D) Diné, Arizona 2nd District

Jonathan Nez is a Navajo politician who served as the 9th President of the Navajo Nation from 2019 to 2023. He previously served as Vice President and as a Navajo Nation Council delegate. Earlier in his career, Nez served as a council delegate representing Tsah Bii Kin, Navajo Mountain, Shonto, and Oljato Chapters.

Charlene Nijmeh (D) Muwekma Ohlone, California 18th District

Charlene Nijmeh was born in San Jose, California. Her career experience includes working as a businesswoman, environmentalist, and nonprofit CEO. Nijmeh is the chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Adam Hollier (D) Muscogee, Michigan 13th District

Adam Hollier is the director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency and was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Hollier served in the Michigan Senate, representing the 2nd Senate district, serving Wayne County including Detroit, the Grosse Pointes, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, and Highland Park from 2018 to 2022. 

Charles Walking Child (R) Anishinaabe, Cree and Blackfeet, Montana U.S. Senate

Charles A. Walking Child was born in Great Falls, Montana. Walking Child earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Great Falls in 2001. His career experience includes working as a business owner.  A self-described “poor man’s Republican”, Walking Child aims to wrest Washington from corporate control and restore the U.S. to its basic constitutional principles.

Sharon Clahchischilliage (R) Diné, New Mexico 3rd District

Sharon E. Clahchischilliage is an American politician and a former Republican member of the New Mexico House of Representatives, representing District 4 from 2013–2018. She was elected to the New Mexico Public Education Commission from District 5 in 2022. 

Yvette Herrell (R) Cherokee, New Mexico 2nd District

Stella Yvette Herrell is an American politician and realtor who served as the U.S. representative for New Mexico's 2nd congressional district from 2021 to 2023. A member of the Republican Party, she served four terms as a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives for the 51st district from 2011 to 2019.

Madison Horn (D) Cherokee, Oklahoma 5th District

Madison Horn's career experience includes working as a global cyber portfolio lead with Siemens Energy, the senior manager of cybersecurity and privacy with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and a security consultant with FusionX. Horn has been affiliated with the Smart Cities Council.

Dennis Baker (D) Muscogee and Euchee, Oklahoma 1st District

Dennis Baker was born in Claremore, Oklahoma. Baker earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa in 1977 and a law degree from the University of Tulsa in 1988. His career experience includes overseeing security at Sandia National Laboratories and working as an FBI special agent, a police officer, and a lawyer.

End of Story

Homepage Photo Credit: WTVD, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

Interview: Kiran Ahuja on OPM’s National Impact and Connections to Indian Country


By NAT Staff

Kiran Ahuja, Director of the Office of Personnel Management
Kiran Ahuja, Director of the Office of Personnel Management, speaking at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations. (Photo Credit:Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)

How would you describe what is the Office of Personnel Management, also known as OPM?

The best way to think about the Office of Personnel Management is that we are the human resources arm of the federal government, and our work spans and impacts more than 2.2 million federal employees and their families. We work across a whole range of issues – on the personnel side from recruiting and hiring, wellness programs for federal employees supporting our federal workforce, and conducting engagement surveys to learn how we're doing and finding places we need to improve. We also run a whole set of operations to support the largest employer-sponsored healthcare program in the country. So, it’s a whole range of support from policies to operations for the largest workforce in the country.

And your headquarters, I assume, is in Washington, DC?

We are headquartered in Washington but have employees in a few different places as well – Georgia, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and we have a number of employees who work remotely in all parts of the country.

When were you created as a federal agency, and what was the reasoning behind it?

The premise behind the Office of Personnel Management, which used to be called the Civil Service Commission, is the importance of having a strong civil service that can focus on the functioning of government, ensuring that we're providing the services that are required to the American people. Back in the day, you got a federal job because you did a political favor. This came to light back in 1881, when President James Garfield was assassinated because there was a disgruntled individual who expected a job in return for supporting the then President in his election.

That particular moment in history was an important milestone and kind of the shift that needed to happen to have a well-functioning government that wasn't based on the spoils system. Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which established the merit system for federal service. We moved away from these political favors to actually having a competitive process to be employed in the federal government. OPM itself came much later on as a federal agency through the Civil Service Act, in the 1970s. But our predecessor is a commission known as the Civil Service Commission.

It’s interesting to learn that it took a Presidential assassination to spark what ultimately became the Office of Personnel Management. Could you tell us a bit about your background with the agency and how long you've served there?

The start of my professional career was my first federal job as a lawyer in the Department of Justice, representing the United States on civil rights cases. This was right after law school through their honors program. It was a great way for early career talent to come into the federal government. I was a practicing civil rights lawyer, centering on long-standing desegregation cases in the South.

I then went on to work on various issues both in government and outside of government, focusing on underserved communities including, and most specifically, the Asian American Pacific Islander community and that's where I got to do a lot of work focused on Native Hawaiians. During the Obama Administration, I led the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and near the end of that administration, I came to OPM, at a particular juncture in the organization. I was the agency’s Chief of Staff and with the new incoming administration in 2020- 2021, I served on the transition team and lead what is called the Agency Review Team for the Office of Personnel Management. I eventually came in as the Director.

You're being humble because unless we're mistaken, we understand that you were appointed to your position by President Biden? And you report directly to the President?

Yes. I serve at the pleasure of the President, by statute a four-year term. It's been a great honor to be in this role and I think I really love the fact that I come from an experience where I have, for quite most of my profession, been very focused on underserved communities. I'm ensuring that there's equal access for all individuals to federal resources and services and that our government draws from the full diversity of this country, and that we set ourselves up as a model employer. So, it has been a huge honor.

Kiran Ahuja was President Biden's pick to lead OPM. Per Ahuja, “I think at the end of the day we see ourselves as a strategic partner, but we do have the ability to go in and audit, evaluate and ask for corrective measures if agencies have violated the law in some manner.”
(Photo Credit: Darren Shim/White House)


You mentioned that you worked with Native Hawaiians and I was wondering in your personal life, or possibly as a civil servant, have you been exposed to the Native American community? For example, visiting a reservation or attending events like Pow-Wows? And if so, how did those experiences enlighten you?

One of my more formative experiences was when I led the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. That allowed me the opportunity to build really strong relationships with Native Hawaiians, and also Indigenous Pacific Islanders. To understand the history of those communities, particularly Native Hawaiians, I attended the annual Native Hawaiian Convention in Honolulu every year, which included a number of cultural events. They didn't call them Pow-Wows but they were quite moving and emotional to see the community come together. The convention was a mix of talking brass tacks about economic development, small business, health issues, and educational issues -- but it was also a coming together around the power and voice of Native Hawaiians. They are one of the largest Native communities that has yet to establish a more formal relationship with the federal government to stand up as its own nation. When I led the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, we played a role in promulgating rules to an administrative pathway if they chose to organize as a nation and have a more formal relationship with the federal government.

After that, I was the CEO of Philanthropy Northwest which was based in the Pacific Northwest, and there are a significant number of tribes. My office was based in Seattle but we had a focus on Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington State, and Idaho, where I had the opportunity to engage with the Alaska Native community quite a bit because many were our members and Board Members. There I came to understand the unique circumstances and practices and cultural identity of Alaska natives, as well as some of the other tribes in and around the Pacific Northwest, in particular, the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and a couple of reservations in Oregon. I don’t believe they call them reservations in Alaska.

Ahuja while serving as CEO of Philanthropy Northwest. (Photo Credit: Philanthropy Northwest)

Back to OPM for a moment. Overall, what would you say OPM’s major objectives are at the present time?

I've talked a little bit about our commitment to bringing in early career talent, where we have a real challenge. We have less than 7% of the federal workforces under the age of 30. This tracks much lower than the private sector and other sectors. There's a lot more that we need to do. We established a dedicated internship portal on USA JOBS, coordinated programming across the federal government, issued guidance to agencies on standing up robust internship programs for paid interns. That may sound like a little bit of a no brainer, but oftentimes, agencies have relied on a lot of volunteer internships. We understand the importance of paying interns and of making jobs accessible to diverse communities. OPM has been mandated through an Executive Order to lead efforts across the federal government around diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. This is working and supporting agencies who have developed practices within their organization to ensure that they are creating inclusive work environments, that they are recruiting and drawing from the diversity across this country, and that they're providing equitable opportunities within their organization.

We've also issued a number of policies related under this rubric of DEIA and updated our gender identity and inclusion guidance to make sure agencies are following best practices and following the law around certain norms and practices to allow individuals to express their full identity, and create a supportive work environment for that. We also recently issued guidance on ensuring pay equity within the federal government. I will say that we're in a better place than the private sector in some instances and especially addressing gender pay equity when the gender pay gap is not where it should be. I think we're around 5-6%. We have one of the most equitable pay systems in the country.

We're supporting agencies with improving hiring practices because people are our biggest asset. We need to draw talent from all over. We also need specialized skills in cyber and IT, to support a whole new postal health benefits program, and modernizing our retirement services that are mostly paper-based. So, there is a lot going on and I've only shared with you a small bit of what we are doing.

Director Ahuja speaks at the National Academy for Public Administration 2022 Fall
Meeting (Photo Credit: OPM/Twitter)

So what would your overall interface be with federal agencies?

We see ourselves as strategic partners for agencies in helping them understand what are the laws and regulations that govern federal hiring and federal programs, and also create tools and practices that allow them to reach their goals. There's a balance that has to happen when you're dealing with a merit-based program where hiring is regulated through laws, in order to ensure that the hiring is based on merit. OPM also actively works with unions, develops promising practices, issues guidances, and provides technical assistance to support federal agencies in their efforts to serve the American people.

You set various policies but do agencies have autonomy? Are they responsible if they do not adhere to policy and procedures?

If agencies want to do certain things within their agencies, they have to come to OPM to ask permission to do so. That is a way of ensuring that what they are laying out or prescribing adheres to the law, since we have jurisdiction over Title 5 and various components of Title 5. I think at the end of the day we see ourselves as a strategic partner, but we do have the ability to go in and audit, evaluate and ask for corrective measures if agencies have violated the law in some manner.

Do you sponsor events, like symposiums or conferences where agencies share how they’re performing and discuss other OPM-related issues?

Yeah, absolutely. I would say a perfect example of that is our Chief Human Capital Officers Council, which represents our chief human capital officers across the government. I chaired that Council and we come together monthly. Those meetings are a mix of here's the latest and greatest from OPM or here's what's happening in other agencies.

Photo from the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council Fall Forum.
(Photo Credit: OPM/Twitter)

Do you maintain a Native American office, where there are individuals responsible for Native American affairs?

The Office of Congressional, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs has the responsibility to maintain the agency's relationship with tribal communities. They have staff in my front office because tribal engagement, outreach and policy is a priority for me and we do a lot of the work in tandem with the White House. It has been a priority of this administration to have a strong positive relationship with Tribal communities. There's also other parts of our organization, in particular our Health Benefits program, where we've expanded health benefits for tribal employers. That has required the staff to have an ongoing engagement.

We're up to speed on current OPM directives that connect to the Native American community. As an example, policy encourages federal agencies to interface with tribal colleges and consult with non-tribal entities. When you say consult with non-tribal entities, can you define what that means?

President Biden has made consultation and our relationship with tribal communities to be a top priority. It is when we are engaging in a nation-to-nation dialogue between the Federal Government and tribal government. And, there's a whole set of requirements when we do that and it's not just like another stakeholder engagement process. There was a memo on Uniform Standards for Tribal Consultation that explains where agencies were asked to be signatories. We've been tasked with partnering with the Department of Interior to develop training for federal employees on what are the best tribal consultation practices and to encourage uniformity that doesn't exist now in the federal government because each agency has developed it on their own. And we take from one part of the government that is doing it well and use that as a model to ensure that we're all adhering to those best practices and standards.

Over two thirds of the Native American community live off of reservations – from major cities to small town America to rural communities. You mentioned the tribally controlled colleges as a vehicle for agencies to source potential internships and other job opportunities. However, the tribal colleges, except maybe one, only offer two-year degrees. On the flip side of this coin, there are over 200 organized Native American student coalitions, societies, special programs and other organizations situated at other learning institutions – for example, Native Americans at Harvard, University of North Carolina’s American Indian Center and the American Indian Resource Center at UCLA. When OPM brings forward new policies and recommendations, are you open to encouraging the inclusion of the aforementioned-type organizations as a source for recruiting outreach activities?

Absolutely, here has been a focus, not only with OPM but across the federal government, on engagement with minority serving institutions which include tribal colleges. But people just see that as kind of a first line. A further extension of engaging with a diverse set of stakeholders when it comes to recruitment is ensuring that there is diverse recruitment. We've done that. We worked with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and also AISES, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to engage with their member institutions and students. With AISES, the focus was more specifically on STEM careers. They have a governing council that we recently hosted to make sure we were up to speed on what was happening across the federal government to attract Native American students in these fields or Native Americans in fields even beyond STEM. We are building that repertoire from our end and we know that there are a number of agencies that have a more robust engagement than we do being a smaller agency.

We are launching what we call the Talent Sourcing for America, which is a communications effort to reach individuals from diverse communities, including Native Americans. It provides toolkits and best practices and this engagement is at the College level and is bringing more early career talent into the federal government.

Congressmen Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly joined Director Ahuja for the panel discussion: “A Conversation on How to Find and Recruit the Next Generation of Federal Employees.” (Photo Credit: Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications)

I covered the AISES Conference last fall for Native America Today and it was a pleasure to see federal agencies present.

We can't take credit for that but there is a growing commitment. I think it goes to show you that agencies are designating individuals who can focus, and in this case, it was on STEM careers. We do ourselves a huge disservice if we're not thinking expansively and going after talent wherever it is. Agencies are understanding that and the value of bringing these voices into the federal government.

Looking to the future of OPM, what kind of projects and initiatives are you planning?

We are the government and need to bring in tech talent and there is a big push to improve pay and provide more workplace flexibility. We know we're competing for cyber tech talent and especially now with the surge in generative AI and what that means to the workplace. We want to encourage individuals who have that interest or have those skills to work for an organization where we think we win on mission every time. OPM has been leading the effort around what we call online assessments, multi-hurdle assessments, where you're actually getting the applicant to display what they know, versus using the resume or the certificate as a proxy. We want these individuals in the federal government, we want their talent. It also shows the shift that is happening not just in the public sector, but in the private sector. So, I would point out those two initiatives that are really important for us right now.

You have a wonderful mission and federal agencies follow your guidance. Where do you feel there could be room for improvement?

There’s room for improvement. There's more engagement that I'd like to see us do, not only at OPM but across government. In the Native American and Alaskan Native communities, we have stayed fairly steady with representation in the workforce. It's kind of hovered under 2% and those numbers are from FY 2020. We've seen a little bit of an uptick. There is an important focus from the White House around our tribal responsibilities. From that extends the work and engagement that doesn't come from OPM but comes from my fellow agency leaders who are very earnest and proud of the steady progress we're making. We have expanded our level of engagement and we will continue to do more in that regard. We're always open to feedback to improve our processes, and find other ways we could be doing more.

Well, I believe you've already answered my last question. That is, do you feel the Office of Personnel Management is benefiting Native communities? From speaking with you today, that answer is a big “yes.”

Oh, that's good. I'm glad you agree.

End of Interview

Voice of America’s Asian American Changemakers series featured the work of Kiran Ahuja. The program is a character driven docuseries highlighting the lives and experiences of Asian Americans in the political and public arena.

(Editor’s Note: Native America Today and NAM Programs wish to express our appreciation to the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of the Director, Office of Communications, and the Office of Congressional, Legislative, and Intergovernmental Affairs for their support in making this interview possible.)

Comcast Commits $650k to Native Women Lead Fund

By NAT Staff
Native Women Lead cofounders from left: Alicia Ortega, Jaime Gloshay, Jaclyn Roessel, Stephine Poston, Vanessa Roanhorse and Kim Gleason (Courtesy of Native Women Lead)

Comcast announced a $650,000 commitment to Native Women Lead (NWL), becoming the nonprofit organization’s first and largest corporate partner of its Matriarch Revolutionary Fund, the first-ever impact investment fund in the U.S. focused on established Native women-owned businesses.

Through Comcast’s support, NWL can continue its goal of building a $10 million Matriarch Revolutionary Fund that when fully resourced will help empower 200 Native women-owned businesses at $50,000 - $250,000 each. Comcast’s grant will also support NWL’s broader network of over 20,000 Indigenous women across Turtle Island, or North America, grow their businesses, communities, and environment with values-aligned integrated capital.

As business owners, Indigenous women face institutional racism and predatory lending when it comes to accessing capital and federal funding. In 2017, the Native Nations Institute found that the number of Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranteed loans awarded to Native-owned businesses constituted less than 1%.

Jaime Gloshay (Courtesy of Comcast)

“It’s important for us to design capital, tools, and products that meet the needs of Native communities,” said Jaime Gloshay, Co-Founder of Native Women Lead. “As our first corporate partner, Comcast’s grant is truly significant and will help us amplify our work, support our entrepreneurs in reclaiming our narrative, and give us the opportunity to center and uplift the people who are making meaningful change in our communities.”

Native women also experience some of the highest poverty and wealth gaps in the country. According to the Center for American Progress, they are paid 60 cents for every $1 paid to White, non-Hispanic men, yet 66% are their family’s primary breadwinners and economic drivers in their communities.

“Access to capital remains a significant barrier for women entrepreneurs, but is particularly challenging for Indigenous communities,” says Dalila Wilson-Scott, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation and President of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation. “We are proud to partner with Native Women Lead to help empower these talented, innovative business owners realize overdue economic opportunities for themselves and their community.”

A REA program apprentice (Photo Credit: Roshan Spottsville)

In addition to the Matriarch Revolutionary Fund, Comcast’s grant will help NWL scale and fund the newly launched Rematriating Economies Apprenticeship (REA) program that will support 10 Indigenous women on a five-month paid apprenticeship toward becoming an emerging fund manager. Following the apprenticeship, participants will also be presented with job placement opportunities at several investment fund companies or firms throughout the United States.

“We want to see our women writing the checks themselves,” said Vanessa Roanhorse, Co-Founder Native Women Lead.

“I want to see our entrepreneurs thrive – that has been the magic of Native Women Lead. Being able to see someone succeed closes that belief gap in oneself and empowers one another to continue to push and take this journey of entrepreneurship with that curiosity, with that awe, with that wonder, and to be open to the challenges of business ownership,” Jaime Gloshay added.

NWL was founded in 2017 to inspire innovation by investing in Indigenous women entrepreneurs. Today’s grant announcement continues Comcast’s multi-year partnership with the organization and is part of Project UP, Comcast’s $1 billion commitment to reach tens of millions of people in order to advance digital equity and help create a future of unlimited possibilities.


About Native Women Lead

Native Women Lead’s mission is to revolutionize systems and inspire innovation by investing in Native Women in business. We do this by co-creating with and convening our community to build coalition while honoring our culture, creativity, and connections. Our core values (BEWE) reflect our understanding that Native Women are the Backbone of our communities, we are Emerging as entrepreneurs, and we are Weaving our ideas, resources, and community to manifest change while Empowering one another. For more information, visit To learn more about REA and to access the application visit here.

About Comcast Corporation

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company. From the connectivity and platforms we provide, to the content and experiences we create, our businesses reach hundreds of millions of customers, viewers, and guests worldwide. We deliver world-class broadband, wireless, and video through Xfinity, Comcast Business, and Sky; produce, distribute, and stream leading entertainment, sports, and news through brands including NBC, Telemundo, Universal, Peacock, and Sky; and bring incredible theme parks and attractions to life through Universal Destinations & Experiences.

Lakota Nurse Tackles Health Equity in Documentary

who cares

Who Cares: A Nurse’s Fight for Equity, is a landmark documentary illustrating the life-changing role nurses play in supporting the health and well-being of their communities, far beyond providing care at the bedside. The film examines the health, social and cultural challenges nurses face in America’s diverse communities.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)—the country’s largest philanthropy focused solely on health—the documentary highlights how important it is that nurses factor patients’ social, cultural and spiritual backgrounds into their care.

Who Cares centers around psychiatric nurse practitioner Whitney Fear, who practices at a federally qualified health center in Fargo, North Dakota. She’s a Lakota nurse who grew up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. For the past decade, Fear has drawn from her personal background to elevate awareness about the unique needs and experiences of patients in her community. The film aims to capture the dramatic and difficult nature of nursing through the passionate and often dry-humored lens through which nurses like Fear view the profession.

photo by Marilyn Angel Wynn, Native Stock
Photo Credit: Marilyn Angel Wynn, Native Stock

“Nurses have unique insights into the challenges that patients, families and communities face, far beyond their medical conditions,” said Beth Toner, RN, MJ, MSN, Senior Communications Officer at RWJF. “As the COVID pandemic made clear, nursing doesn’t just happen in hospitals and physicians’ offices. Nurses often provide care to communities and populations who have been marginalized and left behind. The people we care for need us to meet them with support wherever they are. Healthcare leaders should consider how to support nurses with the training, resources and systemic structures that allow us to deliver the best possible care to everyone.”

beth toner
Beth Toner, Senior Communications Officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age all affect their health, Fear says. The documentary highlights these complex, yet addressable challenges in the Fargo community. According to Fear, achieving health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. In her role as a nurse, she routinely sees how poverty, race/ethnicity, discrimination, access to health care and education—otherwise known as the social determinants of health—affect longevity, vulnerability to chronic conditions and more.

Nurse advocate Whitney Fear, RN, BSN PHN
Nurse Advocate Whitney Fear, RN, BSN, PHN

“The needs in rural, underrepresented communities can feel overwhelming, especially in the face of issues like COVID, but a little compassion goes a long way in caring for people in need,” said Fear. “Nurses can have a positive impact on the health and overall wellness of our patients. That impacts lives for generations.”

The documentary is the latest offering from SHIFT Nursing, an online community for nurses that first launched in 2020 with SHIFT Talk, a podcast ‘for nurses, by nurses’—where nurses ‘get real’ about the challenges they and their patients face. The documentary and podcast are supported by RWJF as part of the foundation’s 50-year commitment to nurses and the leading role they play in achieving health equity for their patients. Directed by Jordan Fein and produced by Alkemy X, the film captures the difference Fear makes with personalized, empathetic and holistic care.

The documentary focuses on different aspects of caring for vulnerable people and the challenges that result when it seems like no one cares about a community. It illustrates how Fear and her colleagues care for people with substance use disorders, provide culturally competent care to Native communities and identify and address sex trafficking.

Since launching during the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in August 2020, SHIFT has given voice to America’s nearly 4 million nurses during a global pandemic that’s taken an incalculable toll on the profession.

Who Cares: A Nurse’s Fight for Health EquitySHIFT Talk and related resources can be found at SHIFTNursing. Follow conversations about the film on social media at the following hashtags: #WhoCaresNursesCare #WhoCaresAboutHealthEquity #WhatNursesCareAbout #NursesCareAboutHealthEquity.

To view the film, click here:

About Whitney Fear
Author, Whitney Fear

Whitney Fear is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and carries the rich experiences of a decade long career in behavioral health/community health. During her career, she has gained knowledge and experience in helping individuals who encounter difficulty in gaining access to healthcare services. Fear believes that patients already possess the potential to reach their healthcare goals, and the provider is there help them to unlock that potential. She is originally from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is committed to improving health and health equity in the United States. In partnership with others, they are working to develop a Culture of Health rooted in equity that provides every individual with a fair and just opportunity to thrive, no matter who they are, where they live or how much money they have. Follow the Foundation on Twitter or on Facebook.

StrataTech Joins Google’s Indigenous Program to Train 10,000 Students

By NAT Staff

StrataTech CEO, Mary Kelly (right), pictured with Mike Rowe (center) during his visit to the Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, FL

StrataTech Education Group announced its participation in the Grow with Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program. The initiative helps prepare Native students at more than 50 organizations for the workforce through digital skills, training, and career workshops. By providing $1 million to the Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) to embed the program in schools, Google’s aim is to help train 10,000 Native students on digital skills and career readiness by 2025.

“Transportation barriers can be a major obstacle for those pursuing an education, more so for Indigenous students who live on reservations,” said Mary Kelly, CEO and President of StrataTech Education Group.

Mary Kelly hopes to increase access for Natives seeking an education and eliminating traditional obstacles (Photo Credit: StrataTech)

“By helping with the cost of transportation – especially when gas prices are at or close to $5 a gallon – and offering resources designed for Indigenous students, we hope to alleviate some of the obstacles that might prevent them from pursuing a career in the skilled trades. We are thankful to Grow with Google and Native Partnerships for sharing this micro-grant to help StrataTech in our mission of increasing access to education for all.”

As part of Google’s commitment to supporting Native American jobseekers, the program partners with Native-serving organizations to help students develop the digital skills they need to find and secure internships and jobs that will help them build successful careers. Over the next four years, the Partnership with Native Americans will provide curriculum and trainers at Tribal Colleges and Universities, Native American-serving nontribal institutions, high schools, and vocational programs.

“We are excited to partner with Google to launch the Grow with Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program. PWNA appreciates Google taking the initiative to bridge the digital divide in Indian Country. The gap that exists goes beyond the cable infrastructure, hardware, internet access, and extends to the technical skills for education and employment,” said Joshua Arce, President & CEO, Partnership With Native Americans. “Google has demonstrated their willingness to meet the students where they are at, with the tools that they have, to provide a best-in-service digital training program designed to increase technical proficiencies and employable skills for Native students. Grow with Google training translates into immediate incentives and adds technical skills to a student’s digital toolbox that they can build on in the future."

Started in 2021, the Grow with Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program provides Native-serving organization career centers with funding and a semester-long in-person and online digital skills program. The program combines existing Grow with Google workshops with job seekers including design thinking, project management, and professional brand building. Partnership With Native Americans works with Native-serving organization career centers to onboard the program.

A student benefactor of the Grow with Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program (Photo Credit: University of South Dakota)

“Every student should have the opportunity to learn digital skills for today's in-demand jobs," said Tia McLaurin, Community Engagement Manager, Google. "We're proud to work with the Partnership With Native Americans to bring the Grow with Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program to StrataTech Education Group to help more students prepare for the workforce and thrive as they start their careers."

Grow with Google’s Indigenous Career Readiness program builds on a $10 million, multi-year grant to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) to create a National Digital Navigator Corps. The Corps will span 18 rural and tribal communities across the United States and impact thousands of people through one-on-one technology training and community outreach to connect people to the internet, appropriate devices, and training.

Grow with Google was started in 2017 to help Americans grow their skills, careers, and businesses. It provides training, tools, and expertise to help small business owners, veterans and military families, job-seekers and students, educators, startups, and developers. Since Grow with Google’s inception, it has helped more than eight million Americans develop new skills. Grow with Google has a network of more than 8,500 partner organizations like libraries, schools, small business development centers, chambers of commerce, and nonprofits to help people coast-to-coast.


StrataTech Education Group focuses on the education, growth and development of specialized career education schools, particularly skilled-trade programs designed to address the nation’s growing infrastructure needs. Holding an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau, StrataTech Education Group’s portfolio includes The Refrigeration School, Inc., Tulsa Welding School, Tulsa Welding School Jacksonville, and Tulsa Welding School & Technology Center.

Partnership With Native Americans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to championing hope for a brighter future for Native Americans living on remote, isolated and impoverished reservations. Collaborating for nearly 30 years with our reservation partners, we provide consistent aid and services for Native Americans with the highest need in the U.S. Much of our work centers around material aid, educational support and community-based services. PWNA also connects outside resources directly to reservations through its distribution network and reservation partnerships. We care about quality of life for Native Americans and respect their self-determined goals for their tribes.

Marvel Unveils First Native American Avenger

By Danielle Dawson and NAT Staff

joe gomez

Joe Gomez

The year 2021 marks 80 years of Captain America and the world-renowned comics giant, Marvel Entertainment, has something special in store. Meet warrior Joe Gomez, the Avengers’ first Native American Captain America Hero, who is a proud member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas. The superhero is featured in the United States of Captain America mini-series, now in international release.

The saga of the new hero begins when Captain America’s original shield is stolen. And when the mysterious shield thief targets a cultural landmark in Kansas, hoping to put a permanent stain on Captain America’s image, Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson are hot on his trail when they meet the Kickapoo Tribe’s own Captain America.

The character was co-created by Christopher Cantwell and Dale Eaglesham, who are working in close partnership with geoscientist and Lipan Apache writer Darcie Little Badger and artist David Cutler, a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

The inspiration for the Indigenous hero is a combination of Gomez’s recognition of Captain America and what the mantle stands for, as well as his personal honoring of Kickapoo traditions as a grass dancer, where he is a pinnacle and protector of his people.

darcie little badger

Co-Writer Darcie Little Badger

Per co-writer Darcie Little Badger, “Something I love about Joe is his day job. It represents everything he stands for as a hero. See, Joe Gomez is a construction worker, a builder in a world plagued by destruction… Work like that may seem thankless, but Joe genuinely enjoys helping his community survive and thrive… I know lots of people like Joe—many of them my Indigenous relatives—so it was wonderful to help develop a character with his values, strength, and extreme crane-operating skills.”

joe gomez

Brought to life by a diverse lineup of all-star talent, Gomez and other heroes are slated to fight alongside the iconic shield bearer, coming from all walks of life and with their own thrilling origins, heartfelt motivations, and bright futures explored by their creators in each issue.

Boosting diversity in the Marvel Universe has become a priority since the notable success of 2018’s Black Panther, but this landmark announcement is only the latest in a marathon of inclusivity. Joe Gomez is set to don the iconic shield after Aaron Fischer, the very first openly gay Captain America (created by Josh Trujillo and Jan Bazaldua), and Nichelle Wright, a black woman from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Mohale Mashigo and Natacha Bustos). Arielle “Ari” Agbayani, a Filipino-America hero (created by Alyssa Wong and Jodi Nishijima) has now also been announced to feature in September, following Joe.

At the beginning of 2020, Marvel had published the anthology special Marvel's Voices, in which comic book creators from diverse backgrounds crafted short stories starring the Marvel Universe's various superheroes. Previously, Marvel’s Voices had solely existed as a monthly podcast where those of color were given a space to talk about their previous and upcoming work in the industry. Each contributor for this collection was invited to tell a story uniquely important to them. This book is not just the product of their talents but their unique perspectives and love for Marvel, even featuring a collection of essays from cultural journalists discussing a diverse range of topics and themes.

Then, just in time for National Native American Heritage Month, Marvel's Voices: Indigenous Voices special features an all-star ensemble of Indigenous comic book creators to deliver four short stories from across the Marvel Universe. It features a cast of legacy Indigenous characters in stories not only written by Indigenous authors, but also drawn by Indigenous artists.

marvel's voices - indigenous voices

Cover art for Marvel’s Voices: Indigenous Voices

The first short story is by Black-Ohkay Owingeh author Rebecca Roanhorse, Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre, and Lee Loughridge. The next tale is by Darcie Little Badger, Kyle Charles and Felipe Sobreiro, and the closing story is written by Stephen Graham Jones, David Cutler, Roberto Poggi and Cris Peter.

rebecca roanhorse, author

Author Rebecca Roanhorse, who felt a “connection with the superhero”.

When Marvel approached Roanhorse to contribute to an anthology featuring Indigenous creators telling the stories of Indigenous characters, she was immediately interested. Roanhorse said she also felt a connection with the Indigenous superhero, since Roanhorse is also part Indigenous herself. And fan reactions have largely been positive — from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers. "I don't think it can really be underestimated, the amount of excitement and what it means to comic book readers — especially younger ones and even fans who have grown up with these characters — because they were Indigenous and they could see themselves," she said. "I think people are very excited about it, I think it was really speaking to a need that I think is out there."

david cutler

Comic artist and illustrator, David Cutler, advocates bringing forward First Nations heroes. Born in Newfoundland, he is a member of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation.

Cutler provided similar sentiments when he was asked his thoughts on the Captain America project. “I can't really express the pride I feel being a part of the team that gets to introduce Joe to the world,” he said. “The Marvel Universe is the biggest stage there is and bringing a new First Nations hero to that venue means more than I can say.”

The anthology series highlights three Indigenous characters and contexts.

maya lopez (echo)

Maya Lopez (Echo), a half-Cheyenne and half-Latina warrior, is one of the few deaf comic characters. She is an Olympic-level athlete possessing "photographic reflexes" or the uncanny ability to perfectly copy other people's movements just by watching them.

danielle 'dani' moonstar (mirage)

Danielle "Dani" Moonstar (Mirage), a Northern Cheyenne mutant, originally code-named Psyche, has empathic psi abilities that allow her to communicate with animals and people, as well as create three-dimensional images of visual concepts from within the minds of herself and others.

silver fox

Silver Fox (pictured left) of the First Nation Blackfoot Confederacy is a mutant whose superhuman powers were never fully revealed. She possesses accelerated healing abilities and an age suppressant. Due to being an experienced markswoman and a highly trained hand-to-hand combatant with strong leadership skills, she became a member of the most formidable covert ops team the CIA had to offer.

Similarly, Indigenous writer, Taboo, from the Black Eyed Peas, teamed up with co-writer Benjamin Jackendoff and artist Scot Eaton for Werewolf by Night, a new four-issue miniseries that re-imagines a classic horror icon in a brand new cultural context. The storyline also features a Native American US Marshal, Red Wolf, who appears in pursuit of the young werewolf and reports of missing Native people.

Taboo and Earl's writing possesses a specific Indigenous angle, acknowledging the long and ugly history in genre fiction where people of color are depicted as monstrous. Instead of the character being an unknowable horror in the vein of the story’s original concept, he is the protagonist and main character. The emphasis on his werewolf side's emotional intensity humanizes him in a way that horror stories of the past would not. He is not a predator, but rather a protector of other Native people living on his reservation, an idea demonstrated by a scene at the start of the issue, where the character, Jake Gomez, protects Hopi lands from trespassers with ill-intentions.

werewolf by night

The new Werewolf by Night is a Native American teen trying to solve a mystery while living alongside his loved ones on a Hopi Reservation in Arizona.

Jake's “werewolf” is presented in the same style of a conventional hero like Spider-Man or Captain America. He embraces his transformation and uses it for good as he fights for the safety of his people, thereby including the reader into the cultural context of his life on a reservation and reversing a dated dynamic where marginalized communities are carelessly represented.

Native American and Indigenous heroes are stepping into the spotlight by way of stories written by Native creators. By placing them front and center, Marvel offers up spellbinding stories from the many voices waiting to be heard. The purpose of these Native-themed works is not about a company boasting about inclusion, but rather they signify the diversity and culture of Native peoples.

Hopefully, Captain America Joe Gomez will inspire more creative outlets.

About Marvel Entertainment

marvel logo

Marvel Entertainment, LLC, is one of the world's most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a library of more than 8,000 characters featured in a variety of media over seventy-five years. Marvel utilizes its character franchises in motion picture and television entertainment, licensing and publishing.

Adjoining Story

Comics by Indigenous Creators - A Reading List

By Ariel Baska

November comes the tradition of Thanksgiving. As a child in school, I was exposed to the holiday as a story of bonding between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. My teacher talked of sharing, all while neglecting to mention anything meaningful about the people, the languages, or the cultures of the indigenous peoples.

Now, however, I have been seeking out the storytelling of indigenous authors and creators within comics. The power of the word and the image together, I believe, in some ways makes the comic book the ideal medium to connect with mythic symbols, concealed histories, and tales of daring. I have compiled this sampling of the wonderful and multi-faceted works by and about indigenous creators! Some of these can be difficult to find, but if I included them here, I did so because I believe they are worth the trouble.


La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo
La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo
Writer: Henry Barajas (read the interview with Henry here)
Artist: J. Gonzo
Letters: Bernardo Brice
Editor: Claire Napier
Publisher: Image Comics

La Voz De M.A.Y.O: TATA RAMBO is based on the oral history of Ramon Jaurigue, an orphan and WWII veteran who co-founded the Mexican, American, Yaqui, and Others (M.A.Y.O.) organization, which successfully lobbied the Tucson City Council to improve living and working conditions for members of the Pascua Yaqui tribe. Thanks to this period of activism, the Yaquis were federally recognized as one of the remaining Native American tribes. Meanwhile Ramon's home life suffered as his focus was pulled from family to wider community, and from domesticity to the adrenaline of the campaign.

Tata Rambo

Why This Is So Good: This comic reads like a piece of detective fiction, fused with memoir, as the author digs and uncovers pieces of his family’s past. Writer Henry Barajas tells the story of the Yaqui tribe and the part his great-great-grandfather (Tata Ramon) played in preserving the land and the voice of the people. To do so, Ramon had to document the existence and experience of the Pascua Yaqui, when no treaties or clear documents existed.

The strength of this work lies as much in the telling though, as the demonstration of how these rich stories and traditions passed down orally can be lost to time and relegated to irrelevancy by the powers that be without the written word. The historical record provided in this volume is deeply personal, exquisitely drawn in solid lines that echo images from underexposed historical texts. A winning portrait of the treasures so easily lost to time.

Release Date: November 2019

Available Digitally at Comixology


Secret Path

Secret Path
Writers: Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire
Artist: Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Secret Path is a ten song digital download album by Gord Downie with a graphic novel by illustrator Jeff Lemire that tells the story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died in flight from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School fifty years ago.

Chanie, misnamed Charlie by his teachers, was a young boy who died on October 22, 1966, walking the railroad tracks, trying to escape from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School to return home. Chanie’s home was 400 miles away. He didn’t know that. He didn’t know where it was, nor how to find it, but, like so many kids—more than anyone will be able to imagine—he tried.

Why This Is So Good: This wordless story, narrated only by the music and lyrics of Gord Downie, is masterful at communicating the horrors of the residential school system, and one boy’s deep longing for home. Downie’s expressive voice on the digital download album, paired with Lemire’s stark lines and blue ink washes convey a perfect sense of reflexive melancholy, that visibly brightens every time Chanie’s memories flood back to him. The imagery chosen matches the lyrics tonally to a tee, without ever becoming tediously concerned with illustrating a lyric. The choice is always resonance rather than consonance. For telling the story of why children suffered so much in the residential school system, you could not do better than this book, which clarifies in imagery the uniformity expected, the separation enforced, and the misery created. A truly lovely book with an important story to tell.

Release Date: October 2016

(Note: Though not directly created by indigenous peoples, Secret Path highlights indigenous experiences.)


Outside Circle

The Outside Circle
Writer: Patti LaBoucane
Artist: Kelly Mellings
Publisher: House of Anansi Press

In this important graphic novel, two Aboriginal brothers — both gang members — surrounded by poverty and drug abuse, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives. Pete, a young Aboriginal man wrapped up in gang violence, lives with his younger brother, Joey… A jail brawl forces Pete to realize the negative influence he has become on Joey and encourages him to begin a process of rehabilitation through a traditional Native healing circle. Powerful, courageous, and deeply moving, The Outside Circle is drawn from the author’s twenty years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of Aboriginal men who are gang-affiliated or incarcerated.

Why This Is So Good: This story is unique amongst the stories I’ve included on this list, in that it outlines a social evil created by colonial rule, and discusses a realistic path forward. Two brothers face a disproportionately white judicial system to become a part of the disproportionately brown criminal justice system.

While the horrors of gang warfare are acknowledged, and no excuse given for these crimes, the narrative deftly integrates a secret history of poverty and violence. In frames flowing with tears and roots, LaBoucane and Mellings draw apt visual metaphors for the pain and loss at the heart of such acts. At the same time, they highlight the power of restorative justice and reconnection with native identities for those who’ve become trapped in the endless cycle of violence. The severed connection to self, restored through ritual and healing practices, becomes central to unity and ultimately, freedom of the most important kind. This book is drawn from the author’s real-life experiences, and her passion for this work is the heartbeat that drives the story. An ultimately hopeful story of moving on.

Available at Kindle


Red Bone

Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band
Writers: Christian Staebler and Sonia Paoloni
Artist: Thibault Balahy
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Experience the riveting, powerful story of the Native American civil rights movement and the resulting struggle for identity told through the high-flying career of West Coast rock 'n' roll pioneers Redbone. You've heard the hit song "Come and Get Your Love" in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, but the story of the band behind it is one of cultural, political, and social importance.

Why This Is So Good: Not only is this the story of a highly influential rock group, Redbone, who made a powerful impact on the international music scene, but it is equally the story of the members and their shared cultural identity as Native Americans, and what that identity means. Co-written by a French super-fan of the group, the graphic novel documents a series of interviews with embedded flashbacks, that tell the history of the band in brilliant detail, and the history of America we never learned in school.

The lifeblood of this book though, is the artwork. Thibault Balahy crafts expressive faces, lined in unusual patterns, sometimes quite abstractly. He pairs this with two-toned, yet utterly brilliant watercolors that feel stream-of-consciousness. The drops from the brush run away with the intensity of emotions that appear to bleed through each page. Read Comic Bookcase’s review! (

Release Date: October 2020

Available Digitally at Comixology

(Note: Though not directly created by indigenous peoples, Redbone highlights indigenous voices.)


SixKiller #1

SixKiller #1
Writer: Lee Francis IV
Artist: Weshoyot Alvitre
Publisher: Native Realities

Alice In Wonderland meets Kill Bill set in Cherokee Country. When Alice Sixkiller's sister is murdered she embarks on a mysterious journey of revenge. But her quest won't be easy, especially as her schizophrenia pulls her further and further down the rabbit hole. As she is swept away from reality, the stories and characters of her people give her purpose and direction: to find her sister's killer and exact vengeance. This debut comic… weaves a surreal tale of intrigue, identity, blood memory and issues of violence against Native women.

SixKiller #1 image 2

Why This Is So Good: Representation matters, and this issue is a shining example of representation done well. The book depicts a female lead with a serious mental illness, who uses elements of indigenous culture in her attempts to understand her own world. She is not “slightly depressed” or just a little too spunky for her own good. She is a thorny, difficult character experiencing the complexities of grief. In the hands of lesser writers and artists, this story might become gratuitous or exploitative. Instead, her encounters with a rabbit and her conversations with her totemic figures place the story in the realm between madness and magical realism. Her fragmented sense of self is reflected effectively in the opening scenes, and the psychological depth explored in the connections to Lewis Carroll only enrich the experience.

Available at Red Books and Comics


Tribal Force #1
Writer: Jon Proudstar
Artist: Ron Joseph
Colors: Weshoyot Alvitre
Letters: Lee Francis IV
Publisher: Native Realities

In the Diné belief there are Five Worlds of existence. These worlds are barred from mortals. Nita Nitaal Nakia is the first to break the boundaries placed by the gods. What she sees as dreams or nightmares are glimpses into possible futures, parallel realities, mirrors of uncountable existences. With an inexhaustible array of possible endings, the unique factor presented before her is the last spoke in the wheel of reality. The last chance for everything to go right. With the wrong outcome as the end of human civilization as we know it.

Why This Is So Good: This story packs a punch, and not just because of the super-powered Navajo warrior at the heart of it. The story blends history and science fiction and ancient legend with trauma and healing, telling the story of a girl who is facing abuse at the hands of her father. The mechanism at play in this comic is nothing new, but the many levels on which the narrative structure works are revelatory. The pairing of the gritty and the fantastical works so well that it’s almost heartbreaking that only the first issue is currently available. Nonetheless, an essential read on this list.

Available at Red Planet Books and Comics


Sovereign Traces

Sovereign Traces, Volume 1: Not (Just) (An)Other
Editors: Gordon Henry Jr. and Elizabeth LaPensée
Writers: Various
Artists: Various
Publisher: Makwa Enewed

By merging works of contemporary North American Indian literature with imaginative illustrations by U.S. and Canadian artists, Sovereign Traces, Volume 1: Not (Just) (An)Other provides a unique, extended possibility for audiences to engage with works by prominent authors such as Stephen Graham Jones, Gordon Henry Jr., Gerald Vizenor, Warren Cariou, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Louise Erdrich, Joy Harjo, Richard Van Camp, and Gwen Westerman. Through this exciting medium, Sovereign Traces beckons to audiences that are both new to and familiar with Native writing, allowing for possibilities for reimagined readings along the way. Readers will find works of graphic literature, uniquely including both poetry and fiction, newly adapted from writing by American Indians and First Peoples.

Why This Is So Good: Many of the most acclaimed voices of Native American authors are represented here, all literary prize-winners, every last one. Does that fact make you as skeptical as it made me? I usually would place little hope that a novelist or poet could transform their work seamlessly into a new medium, but the artists and writers here blend their talents and produce something shockingly good.

The first story, “Werewolves on the Moon” calls on the supernatural stories of werewolves as a child and his older sister are called in for a school conference about his controversial drawings. The story never explicitly calls on their Native American identity. However, many themes that emerge in the other explicitly indigenous stories can be found here too, making it a perfect starting point for an anthology wrapped in gorgeous language and multi-layered imagery.

Also, because each author is so impressive, each story or poem is accompanied by a mini-bio, to give you a better sense of the larger context of their work. For an introduction to the world of American Indian literature, brought to life in imaginative color, you could do no better.

Available at Amazon



MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection
Editors: Elizabeth LaPensée and Michael Sheyahshe
Writers: Various
Artists: Various
Publisher: Inhabit Education Books

MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection brings together dozens of creators from North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling. From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work on the continent.

Why This Is So Good: This collection explores superheroes and science fiction just as much as it does legends and lore, with contributions from some of the greatest talents working in comics and advocating for Native voices. This graphically superb anthology begins with an excerpt from David Mack’s extraordinary work in the Daredevil Vision Quest series, an Indian Sign Language telling of the perspective of Echo. Echo’s real name is Maya Lopez, and Mack created her for Marvel as an indigenous Latina deaf superhero who works with Daredevil. Those words, strung together in that order, may seem extraordinary in and of themselves, but Mack’s stunning artwork paired with deep insight into Echo’s experience make this first piece breathtaking.

The stories that follow have less realism than this origin story, but because they follow this one story, they feel more grounded in the power of symbol, in the unending thrill of stories. Even as we encounter bears climbing between earth and sky, spaceships, and monsters, we remember the power crafted by the image.

Available at Amazon


This Place: 150 Years Retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold
Writers: Various
Artists: Various
Publisher: Highwater Press

Explore the past 150 years in what is now Canada through the eyes of Indigenous creators in this groundbreaking graphic novel anthology. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

Why This Is So Good: The book itself positions each story within a timeline of oppression, giving context to the events that were happening simultaneously to each story told. The beauty of this collection is that while all of the tales have a distinct historical setting, the tales they tell are not all explicitly historical. A favorite segment of this anthology, Red Clouds, written by Jen Storm, and illustrated brilliantly by Natasha Donovan, features a spirit called the Manitou, which can become a force for good or evil. The magic of the story lies in the tension of the spirit force and how it will respond to encroachment from white settlers, while Donovan’s otherworldly illustrations of the creature amongst the aspen are spine-tingling.

Many of the other stories function as comic biographies, but the illustrations are gorgeously stylized, and integrate aspects of indigenous lore that are unfamiliar but fascinating. This anthology helped me better understand the history of our neighbors to the north, and gave me a far deeper appreciation for the power of art to reclaim history.

Available at Kindle


Trickster, Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

Trickster, Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection
Editor: Matt Dembicki
Writers: Various
Artists: Various
Publisher: Fulcrum Books

All cultures have tales of the trickster – a crafty creature or being who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. He disrupts the order of things, often humiliating others and sometimes himself. In Native American traditions, the trickster takes many forms, from coyote or rabbit to raccoon or raven. The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics.

Why This Is So Good: In Trickster, 24 Native storytellers were paired with 24 comic artists, telling cultural tales from across America. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture.

The thematically grouped different perspectives makes the short-form comics contained in this volume a highly accessible look at the same theme across American Indian cultures. Anthology volumes such as these can be a mixed bag, and this one is no exception, but the approach only increases their impact both individually and collectively. This patchwork quilt of a book reveals small glimpses into a fascinating mythos, told in a unique style of storytelling that echoes the rhythms of nature and rich ancestral traditions.

Available at Amazon

About the Author

Ariel Baska

Ariel Baska is a horror and documentary filmmaker. She recently wrapped her short, Our First Priority, which she wrote, directed, and Kickstarted. Ms. Baska is the founder, co-host and executive producer of Ride the Omnibus, a podcast parked at the intersection of pop culture and social justice. Her reviews of horror films can be found at Ghouls Magazine, while her comic book analysis and criticisms can be discovered at Comics Bookcase.

In her former career as an educator, she authored four books on topics covering gifted education, and receiving the National Association for the Gifted (NAGC) A. Harry Passow Classroom Teacher Award.

About Comics Bookcase

Comics Bookcase is the foremost commentary/curation website dedicated to comic books and graphic novels. They cover all manner of releases, both through a network of comic shops that represent the direct marketplace, as well as traditional booksellers. Their website is updated daily with new features, interviews, reviews, and reading lists. The over-arching goal of Comics Bookcase is to “connect readers old and new with all the good stuff comics have to offer.”

Biden’s Budget Makes Significant Investments in Bureau of Indian Education

Haskell Indian Nations University
(Photo Credit: Conrad Swanson / Journal-World)

The President’s Budget for fiscal year 2022 includes $1.3 billion in funding to invest in Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) initiatives that would support Native students and teachers from early childhood through college, an increase of $110.6 million from the 2021 enacted level. The Budget makes historic investments that will help the country build back better and lay the foundation for shared growth and prosperity for decades to come.

“The Interior Department plays an important role in the President’s plan to reinvest in the American people. From bolstering climate resiliency and increasing renewable energy, to supporting Tribal nations and advancing environmental justice, President Biden’s budget will make much-needed investments in communities and projects that will advance our vision for a robust and equitable clean energy future,” said Secretary Deb Haaland.

Tony L. Dearman, BIE Director
“The President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget provides the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) the opportunity to support BIE students and our schools after such a tough year,” said BIE Director Tony L. Dearman.

The budget includes the two historic plans the President has already put forward — the Americans Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan – and reinvests in education, research, public health, and other foundations of our country’s strength. At the Bureau of Indian Education, the budget would:

  • Increase Indian School Equalization Program (ISEP) and Early Childhood Funding. The budget includes a $60 million program increase above 2021 enacted levels to improve Indian student academic outcomes, support expanded preschool programs, and provide pay parity for Tribal teachers while fully funding projected Tribal Grant Support Costs. Within the increase, $49 million is for Indian School Equalization Program (ISEP) formula funds to improve opportunities and outcomes in the classroom; provide improved instructional services; and support improved teacher quality, recruitment, and retention. An additional $3 million is for Early Child and Family Development to expand preschool opportunities at BIE-funded schools and $8.0 million is for Tribal Grant Support Costs for Tribes that choose to operate BIE-funded schools to support 100 percent of the estimated requirement.

Woman posing in front of ITS banner
Photo Credit: AISES

  • Improved access to Education IT. An increase of $20 million for Education IT will support the ongoing costs of distance learning and enhanced use of technology in the classroom. Supplemental funding to support BIE-funded schools has enabled new technology investments and operational capabilities for learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These investments will be long-lasting and will provide invaluable infrastructure to enable BIE to continue to deliver education during and after the pandemic, and they will substantially improve the efficiency and quality of education upon return to in-school learning. Although most schools remain in either a distance learning or hybrid instruction mode, BIE continues to work collaboratively with Tribes and communities to alleviate the strains imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on BIE students and their families, as well as on teachers, administrators, and staff in K–12 schools and at Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). The 2022 budget increase in education information technology resources will continue the annual learning software subscriptions and licenses. The increase will also support contract extensions needed to maintain this investment, as well as the educational IT personnel costs to support remote learning and additional broadband capabilities.
  • Expand Scholarships and Adult Education Opportunities. An increase of $10 million for the Scholarships and Adult Education (TPA) ( program will improve educational opportunities and serve a larger population of qualified Native American students with financial assistance for eligible American Indian and Alaska Native students. The program supports Administration priorities through educational grants to Tribal communities, which have been historically underserved and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality. These funds enable Tribes to further Tribal sovereignty and self-determination by establishing their own educational priorities, promoting economic development, and improving standards of living in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

BIE's Western Agency Spelling Bee winners
Winners of BIE’s Western Agency Spelling Bee (Photo Credit: Navajo Times)

  • Improve Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Practices. The BIE budget includes $400,000 as part of a Department-wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility budget initiative to address identified high-priority needs in support of Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, as well as Executive Order 13988, Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation. As part of this initiative, the Department, bureaus, and offices will jointly conduct a review of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility program across Interior to identify gaps, challenges, and best practices and to examine Department and bureau roles, responsibilities, and governance.
  • Prioritize Education Construction. The budget also includes $264.3 million in annual funding for Education Construction to replace and repair school facilities in poor condition and address deferred maintenance needs at campuses in the BIE school system. Education Construction funds will be supplemented by permanent funds from the Great American Outdoors Act. BIE is expected to receive up to $95 million per year in GAOA permanent funding for priority deferred maintenance projects from 2021 through 2025. Actual amounts are dependent on energy development revenues, as specified in the GAOA.

Bureau of Indian Education logo

About the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)

The BIE implements federal Indian education programs and funds 183 elementary schools, secondary schools and dormitories (of which over two-thirds are tribally operated) located on 64 reservations in 23 States serving an estimated 45,000 individual students. The BIE also operates two postsecondary schools and administers grants for 29 tribally controlled colleges and universities and two Tribal technical colleges.

First Nations Grants Over $1 Million to Bolster Language Immersion Programs

Michael Roberts

“People recognize that Native language is critical not just for passing down knowledge, but for fostering pride and culture, which is the foundation of Native resilience and success.” (Michael Roberts, First Nations President and CEO)

For the fourth year in a row, First Nations Development Institute is continuing its Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) with the awarding of nine grants to Native-led organizations and tribes building language in their communities through immersion programs.

First Nations launched the initiative in 2017 as a three-year project to support Native nations and organizations actively working to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures through Native language immersion. The initiative was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided a $2.1 million challenge grant that First Nations matched thanks to generous support from multiple foundations and many individual donors across the U.S.

Now – with ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Kalliopeia Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Wells Fargo, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and many individual contributions – the initiative is extending to a fourth year to support the continuing demand and needs of Native language immersion programs.

“The number of grant applications First Nations receives every year for language programs is a testament to the importance of cultivating and preserving Native languages,” said Michael Roberts, First Nations president and CEO. “People recognize that Native language is critical not just for passing down knowledge, but for fostering pride and culture, which is the foundation of Native resilience and success.”

Since the NLII began, more than 30 Native organizations and tribes have received over $4 million in funding to build the capacity of and directly support their Native language immersion programs. The fourth year of the initiative brings funding to these additional nine grantees:

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (Porcupine, SD) - $90,000

This organization will create a Lakȟóta Montessori-themed preschool curriculum and will design 20 authentic Lakȟóta stories that will be used in all classrooms and instruction. The organization will also launch the “Unci Stories” mobile application, and will redesign and rebrand their current Montessori through Adult curriculum.

Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani (Wailuku, HI) - $90,000

The goal of Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani is to increase language acquisition, literacy, and fluency by implementing a tutoring program and resources. The program will also conduct professional development trainings and Hānai ʻAi workshops to produce traditional food-making implements to learn, practice, and utilize the language, along with Ka Piko Kaiao program classes to increase language and cultural fluency.

Lower Sioux Indian Community (Morton, MN) - $90,000

With this funding, the community will increase language instruction for teachers and staff, hire a Language Teacher Apprentice to increase the number of language teachers, and create and record family language materials to increase parent and community language acquisition. The community will also expand total immersion instruction at the Cansayapi Wakanyeza Owayawa Oti School.

Pueblo of Sandia (Bernalillo, NM) - $90,000

Through the Tiwa Language Program, this organization will provide instruction to children and adults, and develop electronic resources and hand-made materials to utilize in language learning. Materials will be catalogued and made available by check out or via the intranet. In addition, six tribal members will complete the Philosophy of Indigenous course online through the Indigenous Montessori Institute.

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (Baraga, MI) - $90,000

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College will develop and implement permanent signage, obtain resources for all facilities, and complete 16 teach-the-teacher training sessions for faculty and staff. The college will also implement weekly Nookomis/Mishomis teachings, develop and implement curriculum, and incorporate language use into community programs.

Northern Arapaho Tribe (Ft. Washakie, WY) - $90,000

The tribe will continue with the Arapaho Language acquisition project and will recruit three more apprentices. All apprentices will be assigned a master teacher to learn the language, speak Arapaho, and understand its importance to the Arapaho. Project participants will speak the language by teaching students using lessons developed through the project term.

Kulaniakea (Honolulu, HI) - $90,000

The project team for Kulaniakea will create a comprehensive curriculum plan and corresponding educational materials. They will produce three prototypes of educational materials and accompanying lesson plans. They will then pilot-test and evaluate the lesson plans and educational materials with preschool-aged children and parents.

Oneida Nation (Oneida, WI) - $90,000

Through this project, two contracted immersion trainees will achieve second-level speaking ability and comprehend all Oneida language vocabulary, and language nest students will increase their proficiency of the Oneida Language. Further, an outdoor learning classroom will be installed for students to foster connections to land, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and increase language retention as assessed by staff observations.

Lakota Waldorf Society (Kyle, SD) - $90,000

The Lakota Waldorf Society will continue work to ensure that all students receive Lakota language instruction, not counting daily conversational interactions during lunches, recesses, and other situations. They will also ensure that every student participates in a play, knows four songs, and can demonstrate familiarity with the stories of the plays and that all teachers and staff attend weekly Lakota language workshops.

Native Language Immersion Initiative

About First Nations Development Institutez

For 40 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities.


Elizabeth Peratrovich Is My Role Model

by Evan Elise Roberts

Guest author Evan Elise Roberts, a Tlingit from Colorado, attends Yale College where she works on behalf of the Native American Cultural Center and serves as a Board Member of the Association of Native Americans at Yale. She is also the daughter of Michael Roberts,  President and CEO of First Nations Development Institute.

Role models are some of the most powerful people in the world, no matter their positions in politics or leadership, because they can influence the minds of the next generation. As a high schooler, all of my peers and I are looking up to role models and those who we truly admire. But being Native American, my choices for role models are not nearly as plentiful as my classmates.

There are few prominent Native Americans in politics, or who are prominent scientists or writers, and even fewer who are popular celebrities. Even in American history class, accomplishments by prominent Native Americans are not often taught, leaving Native students to their own devices to learn about important and inspiring people like them.

Lucky for me, from a young age I have heard story after story about a wonderful ancestor of mine – the inspiring Elizabeth Peratrovich. Elizabeth Peratrovich was a civil rights activist whose advocacy helped pass the Alaska Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. She was a hero to our people, the Tlingit, as well as to so many other Alaska Natives. In fact, she blazed the way for advancements in fighting Jim Crow laws in the United States as a whole, as her actions came almost 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To me, my great-great aunt Elizabeth Peratrovich was finally a role model who was a Native woman. We need to learn more about women like her – women who stood up for what they believed, against all odds, and who defended their people and their rights throughout their entire lives.

In the time of Elizabeth Peratrovich, discrimination toward Natives was shown in many ways, including signs posted outside of establishments like “No Dogs or Natives allowed.” She fought against so many stereotypes against Native people and showed that we can be anything we want. Her speech to the senate before the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Act was so inspiring, saying “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of ‘savagery,’ would have to remind gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them, of our Bill of Rights.”

It showed me that no matter our position, we can stand up for what we believe in and make a difference with the power of our words. I am honored to call Elizabeth Peratrovich my kinswoman and my role model.

To learn more about Elizabeth Peratrovich, click here. 

Native America Today thanks First Nations Development Institute and Native Stories, where this article originally appeared. To learn how First Nations is making an impact, click here.

About First Nations Development Institute

For 38 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities.  First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit

First Nations is closed on February 16 each year in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. In 1988 the Alaska Legislature also established that day in her honor.


Tribes Take Measures to Slow Spread of Coronavirus

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

(Editor’s Note: The following three articles are former lead stories. NAT’s Breaking News section is regularly updating information relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic.)


There are 574 federally recognized tribes, 229 presiding in Alaska. Many successfully manage their health care systems. 

Sharon Bahe has made her home on the Navajo Nation a refuge, placing cedar branches and burning sage to help purify the space and praying for protection for herself and her children home from boarding school and a toddler with severe asthma.

Her community of about 500 in northern Arizona has become a hot spot for the new Coronavirus, with several cases confirmed. While other kids play outside, she tells hers they can't “until the virus goes away.”

Officials on the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation, broadened a stay-at-home order from Chilchinbeto to the entire reservation: No visitors in, and residents can't leave their homes except for essential tasks, including to get food and medical supplies.

The order is among the strictest yet in Indian Country, though tribes across the U.S. for weeks have been preparing amid worries that the outbreak could quickly overwhelm a chronically underfunded health care system and affect a population that suffers disproportionately from cancer, diabetes and some respiratory diseases.

They've shut down casinos, hotels and tourist destinations — often their primary revenue sources — and reminded citizens of the resiliency of their ancestors.

“Tribes are really just big families in a lot of ways," said Matthew Fletcher, a law professor at Michigan State University. "The threats to your family are something you're going to take seriously.”

Matthew Fletcher is a Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law, and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. (Photo Credit: National Public Radio)

Tribal elders, revered for their knowledge and cultural guidance, are the biggest concern, and outreach and other efforts are underway on the Navajo Nation, which spans three states in the U.S. Southwest. Many families there live miles apart in homes that hold multiple generations but can lack electricity, running water and reliable internet.

For most people, the Coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But for the elderly and people with existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness. The vast majority of those who are infected recover.

A federal funding package in response to the virus included $40 million for tribes for epidemiology, public health preparedness, infection control, education and other things.

But the money hasn't reached tribes because there's no mechanism for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get it to the Indian Health Service, the agency responsible for providing primary medical care to Native Americans. Tribes and tribal organizations run some hospitals and clinics under federal contract.

Dean Seneca, a member of the Seneca nation who has worked more than 18 years in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, told Indian Country Today that tribal epidemiology centers did not have the capacity to track the disease. (Photo Credit: UB Today)

“Everyone is on high alert right now. They're waiting, they're asking us,” said Stacy Bohlen, Executive Director of the National Indian Health Board who is from the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

In the meantime, tribes are taking action to slow the spread of the virus.

In South Dakota, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner prohibited church groups from bringing volunteers to help repair homes on tribal land. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe canceled about 300 spring turkey and prairie dog hunting permits for non-tribal members.

In Montana, the Northern Cheyenne and the Crow tribes enacted a 10 p.m. curfew, partly to ensure law enforcement isn't bogged down, and restricted movement on and off their land. They also asked residents who attended hugely popular basketball tournaments off the reservation to self-quarantine.

The Bay Mills Indian Community has special hours for the elderly at a grocery store on the densely populated reservation in northern Michigan and a gas station with full service to limit exposure to the pumps, said tribal Chairman Bryan Newland.

It also is among tribes nationwide that have closed casinos and is paying its 400 employees. The National Indian Gaming Association has asked Congress for at least $18 billion in federal aid over six months to address shortfalls from closing casinos, which tribes depend on because they don't have a property tax base.

For others, it's tourism, but those operations, too, are shutting down. They include Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation and the famed blue-green waterfalls of the Havasupai reservation in northern Arizona.

 Waterfalls of the Havasupai Reservation (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Monument Valley (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

Tribal leaders say all tribes are at risk but some face unique situations. Of the country's 574 federally recognized tribes, 229 are in Alaska where supplies must be flown in or shipped on barges. Kevin Allis, chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians, said that could expose isolated Alaska Native villages and create a disaster.

The villages have clinics, but residents must travel to regional hubs or farther for serious medical issues.

“This is a very scary situation for them,” Allis said.

Some health care clinics and hospitals that serve Native Americans have closed or scaled back services to focus on the Coronavirus. Community health representatives on the Navajo Nation have been driving long distances to people's homes to teach them about the virus and what to do if they exhibit symptoms.

They're using a new Navajo phrase that translates to “a step above the big illness,” said Mae-gilene Begay, who oversees the program.

The Navajo Nation had at least 14 confirmed cases as of Friday evening. Others have been confirmed at health care facilities for Native Americans in the Portland, Oregon, area and in the Great Plains. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma said one of its citizens has died from COVID-19.

Bills in Congress seek to create parity for tribes, giving them direct access to a federal drug repository and gear if they exhaust their supplies, and the ability to apply directly to the CDC for a health emergency preparedness program. A federal funding package gives $64 million to IHS.

But Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico said that "can't be the end of the work.”

Bahe was busy getting supplies to stay home for the long term. Her children kept themselves occupied on electronic devices while she stressed frequent hand-washing and general cleanliness. She said she already had enough oxygen and medication for her toddler.

“I was telling my kids we have to keep doing what we're doing because we're not sick yet,” she said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez declared a public health state of emergency on March 11, two days before the Administration announced a national state of emergency. He stated, “We call upon our Navajo people to stay home and remain calm to prevent the spread of the virus among our communities,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez in a release. “We also ask the public to be vigilant and respectful of first responders, health care workers, and emergency management officials who are responding to these cases. Please continue to pray for these individuals, their families, and all of the people of our Nation as we get through this together.”

Navajo Nation President Nez urged tribal members to listen to authorities and leadership throughout the crisis. (Photo Credit: Navajo Nation, Office of the President and Vice President )

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez wore a mask and gloves while addressing tribal lawmakers. He said the tribe was preparing food packages for elders and will take over all billboards on the 27,000-square-mile (69,930-square-kilometer) reservation to enforce CDC guidelines. It's also considering roadblocks.

President Nez presiding over a recent Tribal Council meeting. (Photo Credit: Navajo Times)

“I love you, Navajo Nation, but please listen to authorities, leadership when they say, ‘Stay home,’” he said. “That's the best way to fight this virus.”

The Indian Health Service is talking weekly with tribes to keep them informed. The agency said all of its facilities can swab patients for COVID-19, though supplies are depleted nationwide, and testing is done at outside labs. Chief medical Officer Michael Toedt highlighted a drive-up testing location in northwestern New Mexico and the replacement of office visits with calls and video conferencing.

Newland and other tribal leaders said they're still not assured they will get needed resources that should be guaranteed through acts of Congress and treaties with the U.S. from generations ago.

“What we really want to know is where can we get our test kits, where do we get economic relief, and we want information as close to real time as possible about how closely we are affected in terms of concerned cases,” Newland said. “Other than that, we can figure it out.”

“I love you, Navajo Nation, but please listen to authorities, leadership when they say, ‘Stay home,’” he said. “That's the best way to fight this virus.”

The Indian Health Service is talking weekly with tribes to keep them informed. The agency said all of its facilities can swab patients for COVID-19, though supplies are depleted nationwide, and testing is done at outside labs. Chief medical Officer Michael Toedt highlighted a drive-up testing location in northwestern New Mexico and the replacement of office visits with calls and video conferencing.

Newland and other tribal leaders said they're still not assured they will get needed resources that should be guaranteed through acts of Congress and treaties with the U.S. from generations ago.

“What we really want to know is where can we get our test kits, where do we get economic relief, and we want information as close to real time as possible about how closely we are affected in terms of concerned cases,” Newland said. “Other than that, we can figure it out.”

Associated Press writers Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Paul Davenport in Phoenix and Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report. Fonseca is a member of the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at


Felicia Fonseca is a correspondent for the Associated Press, and her works have been published worldwide. Based in Arizona, she studies and writes about Native American tribes and their efforts to build sustainable economies.

Lead Story Image: Web MD

To learn more about Native American health programs and organizations, visit Native America Today’s Community Resources Section.

Native American Tribe Takes Trailblazing Steps to Fight Covid-19 Outbreak

By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian

The Lummi Nation, a sovereign Native American tribe in the Pacific north-west, will soon open a pioneering field hospital to treat Coronavirus patients, as part of a wave of strong public health measures which have gone further than many world governments.

Tribal leaders have been preparing for Covid-19 since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, with medical staff beefing up emergency plans, reorganizing services and gathering medical supplies, including test kits and personal protective equipment.

The Lummi reservation is located in Whatcom county – 115 miles north of Seattle, Washington, where the first US Covid-19 case was confirmed in January, followed by the first death in February.

So far, the tribe has reported three Covid-19 cases, but expect numbers to rise as the pandemic progresses.

“We quickly recognized the need to make sacrifices for the greater good, in order to protect our people and the wider community,” said Dr. Dakotah Lane, medical director of the tribal health service, who is in strict self-quarantine after coming into contact with a Covid-19 patient.

Dr. Dakotah Lane (pictured above) in self-quarantine. (Photo Credit: Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

As the Trump administration was weighing options, the tribe swiftly introduced mitigation and prevention measures such as social distancing, drive-through testing, telemedicine clinics, and a home delivery service for the elderly.

The tribal council declared a state of emergency on 3 March – 10 days before the Administration did the same – and approved $1m to prepare and respond for the evolving pandemic, which includes setting up the hospital.

A community fitness center, located next to the tribe’s health clinic, has been re-purposed into a makeshift hospital, with beds, protective gear and other essential equipment in place. It will open once the pharmacy is fully stocked. The 20-bed hospital will treat less critical inpatients, in order to free up intensive care units in nearby facilities, and prioritize Native Americans from any tribe.

“Our unique approach has piqued a lot of state and federal interest, we’re offering them a different model which shows that tribes are part of the solution in recovery efforts,” said the tribal chairman, Lawrence Solomon. “No private organization is going to try what we’re doing.”

Lummi Nation Tribal Chairman Lawrence Solomon reports the Lummis have created a health model that demonstrates tribes are part of the solution. (Photo Credit: Lummi Nation)

The tribe’s proactive response to the evolving global pandemic has been possible thanks to vast improvements to the quality and capacity of its community healthcare system over the past decade.

Like an increasing number of tribes, the Lummi Nation has opted for “self-determination” which enables greater financial flexibility and clinical autonomy – as opposed to depending on the federally controlled Indian Health Service (IHS) which has suffered decades of severe under-funding.

As a result, the Lummi Health Services raises substantial revenue by treating patients on Medicaid and Medicare – the third party billing program created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010. This extra cash has allowed them to invest in infrastructure and build capacity: the tribe now has eight doctors compared with just three in 2013, including three physicians with public health expertise.

A patient being cared for at an Indian Health Service facility. (Photo Credit: Pinterest)

CDC modeling suggests that anywhere between 2.4 million and 21 million people in the US could require hospitalization during the course of the pandemic, potentially overwhelming the hospital system.

The Lummi want to help. Dr Lane said: “The Lummi believe in controlling our own destiny. We don’t count on help reaching us, but the hospital is something we can do to help the community.”


Nina Lakhani is a British freelance journalist reporting from Central America and Mexico for The Daily Beast, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Global Post and The Telegraph. In London, she worked for the Independent and Independent and Sunday. Before journalism, Nina was a mental health nurse. She can be found on Twitter@ninalakhani

To learn more about Native American health programs and organizations, visit Native America Today’s Community Resources Section.

Tribal Programs That Prepare for Public Health Crises Readying for Coronavirus


The Shoalwater Bay Reservation in southwest Washington is right on the Pacific Ocean. It's small and isolated, with about 100 residents, one gas station, and a small casino.

Kim Thompson is the tribe's Health Director. As she gave a tour of the clinic recently, she said they're not ready for novel Coronavirus cases yet — but they're trying to get there.

"This is where we have it set up so patients can come in through this back door," avoiding contact with other patients, she said.

Thompson said the clinic will soon be able to take swabs from patients and send them off to a commercial lab to test for the novel Coronavirus.

"We haven't set up the gowns or everything yet, since we don't have all the testing materials yet," she added.

Kim Thompson (pictured above) is Health Director of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. Thompson said the clinic will take swabs from patients and send them to a commercial lab for testing. (Photo Credit: KUOW)

Across the country, public health workers on Native reservations are scrambling to prepare for COVID-19. In South Dakota, an Indian Health Service clinic confirmed a case. And, in Washington state, one of those who died at the hard-struck nursing home in Kirkland was a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. But tribes are expecting much worse to come, and they're trying to get ready.

At Shoalwater Bay, Thompson said getting supplies and the money to pay for them has been difficult.

"Funding is a unique challenge," she explained. "We have a budget that we're allotted every year by Indian Health Services. And, when that money runs out, we have to count on our third-party revenue" — that is, payments from insurance companies.

"The smaller tribes are the most hit," said Vicki Lowe, the director of Washington state's American Indian Health Commission, and a descendant of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe.

She said many tribal programs that prepare for public health emergencies like this one are strapped.

Some rely on less than $5,000 a year.

"So, when there's an outbreak, an emergency like this, it just stretches them even thinner," she said.

To avoid spreading the novel Coronavirus, some tribes are closing their casinos. Others are enacting rigorous cleaning procedures.

"If [tribes] have to shut down a business, they might lose some of their cash flow to help fund their [public health] staff," Lowe said.

The Indian Health Service is distributing additional Coronavirus funding, but it works out to only about $70,000 per tribe, and smaller tribes could get much less than that.

The American Indian Health Commission in Washington state was created in 1994 by federally recognized tribes, Urban Indian health organizations, and other Indian organizations to provide a forum for addressing tribal-state health issues. The Commission’s mission is to improve the health of AI/AN people through tribal-state collaboration on health policies and programs that will help decrease disparities.  They work on behalf of the 29 federally-recognized Tribes and 2 Urban Indian Health Organizations in the state.

Experts say that's a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed to pay for testing kits and for personal protective equipment for health care workers. And isolating and caring for infected community members will also require resources.

Lowe said, in some ways, Washington state's 29 tribes are better positioned than tribes in other states to respond to an emergency like this one, because of work the state's American Indian Health Commission has done.

In 2009, some local health jurisdictions didn't distribute tribes' allotments of H1N1 vaccines and antivirals to the tribes. Since then, the AIHC has worked to strengthen relationships between local health jurisdictions and tribes so they can coordinate effectively during public health emergencies.

But big obstacles remain.

Beyond funding, Lowe said, another challenge for tribes is that many of their members are medically vulnerable.

"American Indians and Alaska Natives do suffer from higher cardiovascular disease, asthma," she said.

"Those chronic diseases make them at higher risk if they do contract the virus," she added.

"And we could imagine a situation where every speaker of a language could pass away," said Tony Johnson, chairman of the Chinook Tribe, just next door to Shoalwater Bay.

"The fluent first language speakers of the languages of the Pacific Northwest are basically all in the demographic that is at really high risk," he said.

Johnson said memories of smallpox are also putting Native people on edge during this new pandemic.

"We live in a community where not very long ago more than 90% of our community died from imported disease," he said.

Chinook Tribal Chairman Tony Johnson. The Chinooks are just next door to the Shoalwater Bay Reservation. (Photo Credit: The Astorian)

Johnson said he wants to make sure that doesn't happen now. He's taking precautions such as not allowing his 9-year-old daughter to visit her grandparents. To protect the community's elders, Johnson has also cancelled all tribal events, including a big annual story-telling gathering and an event to encourage community members to participate in the 2020 census.

Many tribes have had to do that — and they're worried that their communities might get under-counted as a result, which would exacerbate funding problems down the road.

That said, "our real goal is to take care of our community that's endangered by this virus," Chinook chairman Tony Johnson said, "as long as it takes to get a vaccine."


Eilís O'Neill was the EarthFix reporter at KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio in Seattle. Eilís (eye-LEASH)  fell in love with radio as a 14-year-old high school intern at KUOW. Since then, she’s wandered the world recording people’s stories and telling them on the air. O’Neill worked at KALW in San Francisco and WAMU in D.C.; she’s freelanced for public radio programs such as The World and Marketplace from places such as Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile; and she’s written for The Nation and other leading magazines.

To learn more about Native American health programs and organizations, visit Native America Today’s Community Resources Section.