by Doug George-Kanentiio
Among the traditional Mohawks there is a special appreciation for the strawberry plant-called Niihontesha. It is a unique plant as its seeds are outside of the skin of the berry and is the first one to ripen in the early summer.
The strawberry plant itself comes from Karonhia:ke (the Skyworld). It is said that when the first human type being descended to the earth from the sky world (Karonhia:keh) she brought three plants with her: Niihontesha, Onenstateh (corn) and Oienkwa:onweh (tobacco).
Called Atsitsakaiion (Mature Flower) Skywoman created the current dimensions of the continent we call Anowara:kowa (the Great Turtle) as she danced counter-clockwise, her feet caressing the land as the seeds of the plants took root and grew. The rhythm and style of her dancing is carried on by the Mohawks to the current day with the “Women’s Dance” songs said to be the first ones sung by human beings in this part of the world. It is also the food which sustains us once our physical bodies die and our spirits begin their journey along the great star path back to Karonhia:ke which lies beyond Teka:tsi:stoh:kwaieron:nion:ha:ton (the “many constellations” aka the “milky way”).
When Iroquois Mother Goddess, Sky Woman, fell from the sky she was clutching strawberries in one hand and tobacco in the other.
When the strawberries are ripe in their natural state in the fields a group of female and male spiritual advisers called “faithkeepers” (Iakoterihonton for the women and Roterihonton for the men) will counsel the leaders of the nation (Iakoia:ne-clanmothers and Roia:ne-male “chief”) that the time is right for the people to gather at the longhouse to celebrate the return of the plant.
A one-day ceremony will be held during which the people will prepare a special drink of strawberry juice and maple syrup, blended to be light and refreshing. The leaders will address the plant itself as the Mohawks believe that which grows, whether tree, animal or earth, responds to the human voice. The Mohawks have long held that water and other earth elements have what is referred to as their own way but interlocked with our lives. They react to what we say and particularly the music we make with our voices and minds.
Harsh, angry music or words deter a plant’s growth, just as it will a child, and actually effect the energy and appearance of lakes, rivers and streams. Music of this kind also has a negative impact on the water we consume and since our bodies are mostly liquid that kind of angry human expression may bring harm to ourselves.
By outwardly expressing thanks to the strawberry, we release its curative and nutritional powers. The Mohawks are careful in their selection of which berry to pick and will always leave the first plant as it is the guardian for the rest. As the picking takes place the Mohawk harvester is saying words of gratitude and apology for taking the fruit of the plant, assuring it that enough is left behind to regenerate and that it will be used for the right purposes. No chemical is permitted as this may bring harm to the fruit.
Attendees at the annual festival.
Once assembled the people will bring the strawberry to the ceremonial place and will take their seats according to which of the three clans (bear, wolf, turtle) they belong. The individual will rise and give thanks using a quiet and respectful tone. After this is done the clanmothers will announce to the people that in the past few months a certain number of girls (Ieksa:ah) have been born since the Midwinter Ceremony in winter. They are now ready to be shown to the people to be welcomed into the longhouse family. The female infants (boys are named at another ceremony months later) are carried by the Roiane to the centre of the longhouse and show to the people and to the four directions with their new names spoken so that all of creation will know of this new being.
The names given to the girls are theirs along and will be used throughout their lives as the primary means by which they will interact with the plants, medicines, animal live, the earth and by the spiritual beings. These are called Rationhia:kehronon (sky people). Others may call them “angels” but to the Mohawks the relationship is much more dynamic and involved. The sky people will, depending upon need and specific request, provide guidance and direction to the infant throughout their lives.
The Strawberry Ceremony is one of the most ancient of all Mohawk rituals. Throughout the year the preserved fruit will be used to give thanks for the gift of life. Since it is in a heart shape, with long root threads resembling arteries and veins, it is an excellent natural medicine for that organ. People who have heart disease or are recovering from a heart attack are advised to heal by consuming the fruit and drinking tea from its roots and leaves.
Eleanor Spears Dove, Narragansett elder, sampled a strawberry from a basket passed at the Narragansett Strawberry Thanksgiving, another popular event.
It is said the strawberry plants likes to be among humans and can be found in its natural state near the homes of the Mohawk people. It is also taught that other humans from across the salt water will bring about great environmental destruction to the Great Turtle to the extent that indigenous plants and animals will disappear. In time, natural strawberries will no longer grow, a certain sign of the great ecological changes now imminent.
While the strawberries carry on their original instructions it seems human beings are now far from theirs. Yet the Mohawks continue to celebrate this most wonderful of Skyworld gifts.
(From News from Indian Country)
Influential American Indian Scholars
By Academic Influence Staff
Our list of 35 scholars of American Indian descent features historians, anthropologists, professors, and researchers alongside artists, authors, educators, and activists. These luminaries have helped shape the course of history within their communities, the broader cross-section of American Indian peoples, and for America as a whole.
These influential Native American scholars include academics and professionals who span a wide breadth of disciplines and who are touchstone figures in a broad spectrum of cultural movements and moments. The people highlighted here include historians, anthropologists, professors, and researchers alongside artists, authors, educators, and activists. Representing a sweeping diversity of Native American Tribes and Nations from Crow to Choctaw; Tuscarora to Muscogee Creek; Abenaki to Cherokee, the luminaries included on our list have helped shape the course of history within their respective indigenous communities, for the broader cross-section of American Indian peoples, and beyond.
Also represented within our list are the deep roots that so many Native American scholars have planted in the academy. The list below, which is composed both of living influencers and powerful figures who are no longer with us, demonstrates the profound and permeating influence of so many renowned American Indian academics, educators, and creatives. Included are people who remain active in the academy, and who still impact the world of learning, often in a multidisciplinary capacity. And there are those that, though deceased, have achieved a far-reaching legacy of influence and impact that persists today.
The people included in our list were identified using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data in order to identify top influencers in their respective areas of expertise.
Find out more about our Methodology.
The following list is presented alphabetically and is therefore not intended to suggest a ranking of individuals. Instead, this is a comprehensive list of the top American Indian Scholars impacting the world today.
Influential American Indian Scholars
Osceola Macarthy Adams
1890 - 1983
Osceola Macarthy Adams was an American actress, drama teacher, director, and clothing designer. She was one of the 22 founders of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Born to a life insurance executive in Albany, Georgia, Macarthy was mixed with European, Native American, and African American heritage. She attended schools in Albany, Georgia including Albany Normal School, a predecessor to Albany State University, and then attended Fisk University's Preparatory School. Later, she attended Howard University, where she studied ancient Greek and philosophy.
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred is an author, educator, and activist, born in Montreal, Quebec in 1964 and raised in the community of Kahnawake. Alfred is an internationally recognized Kanien'kehá:ka professor. Alfred grew up in Kahnawake and received a B.A. in History from Concordia University, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. He served in the US Marine Corps in the 1980s. Alfred was the founding director of the University of Victoria's Indigenous Governance Program (serving from 1999 until 2015) and was awarded a Canada Research Chair 2003–2007, in addition to a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in education.
Alvin Eli Amason
Alvin Eli Amason is a Sugpiaq Alaskan painter and sculptor. He was raised in Kodiak and is of Alutiiq ancestry. He received his Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University and taught for several years at Navajo Community College. For seventeen years, he taught at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and was the head of the Alaska Native Art studies program there. After retiring, he was asked to join the Department of Art at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and develop an Alaska Native Art curriculum.
JoAllyn Archambault is a cultural anthropologist with an expertise in Native American people. She is the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s American Indian Program. Born to a Sioux father and Creek mother, Archambault was raised in Sioux traditions and is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota. Archambault has made a great contribution to anthropology by providing an insider’s perspective to her research on Native American people.
Denise Noelani Manuela Arista is an associate professor of Hawaiian and US History in the Department of History at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her scholarship focuses on 19th century American History, Hawaiian History and Literature, Indigenous epistemology and translation, and Colonial and Indigenous history and historiography. Arista was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi and she graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1986. She received both her BA (1992) and her MA (1998) in Hawaiian Religion from the Department of Religion at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. In 2010, she earned her PhD from the Department of History at Brandeis University. Arista's dissertation, "Histories of Unequal Measure: Euro-American Encounters with Hawaiian Governance and Law, 1793-1827," won the 2010 Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians for the "best-written doctoral dissertation on a significant subject in American history". Arista was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in 2008. In 2013-14, Arista was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2018, Arista was promoted to associate professor of Hawaiian History at the University of Hawai'I.
Jodi Byrd holds a master's degree and Ph.D. (2002) in English literature from the University of Iowa. Her dissertation was Colonialism's Cacophony: Natives and Arrivants at the Limits of Postcolonial Theory. Before moving to Cornell University, she taught at the University of Illinois Chicago, and before that she was an assistant professor of indigenous politics in the department of political science of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She was formerly associated with the American Indian Studies Program at Illinois. She was president of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures for 2011–2012. In 2012, she was adopted as a Clan Sister (one of the central organizing members) of the Native American Literature Symposium, which she has stated has been an inspiring community for her since her first days as a graduate student.
Gregory Cajete is a Tewa author and professor from Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. Cajete earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology and sociology from New Mexico Highlands University, with a minor in secondary education. His Master of Arts degree is from the University of New Mexico, and his doctorate is from the International College, Los Angeles's New Philosophy Program. His Philosophy Doctorate is in social science Education with an emphasis in Native American Studies. Currently he is director of the Native American Studies program and associate professor of education at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He has been a New Mexico Humanities scholar of ethnobotany and is a member of the New Mexico Arts Commission.
Ward LeRoy Churchill is an American author and political activist. He was a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 until 2007. The primary focus of his work is on the historical treatment of political dissenters and Native Americans by the United States government. His work features controversial and provocative views, written in a direct, often confrontational style.
Joe Medicine Crow
1913 - 2016
Joseph Medicine Crow was a Native American writer, historian, and war chief of the Crow Nation. His writings on Native American history and reservation culture are considered seminal works, but he is best known for his writings and lectures concerning the Battle of the Little Bighorn of 1876.
Jeffrey A. Gibson is a Mississippi Choctaw -Cherokee painter and sculptor from the United States, based in Hudson, New York. Background Early life Born in Colorado, as a child his family moved frequently. As a youth he lived in and Korea. Important to his role as an artist, press releases state that “This unique combination of cultural perspectives and exposure are essential to understanding Gibson’s artworks that combine and transform seemingly disparate references drawn from both Western and non-Western sources.”
Richard W. Hill Sr.
Rick Hill is a citizen of the Beaver Clan of the Tuscarora Nation of the Haudenosaunee at Grand River. He holds a master's degree in American Studies. He is the former Assistant Director for Public Programs, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution; Museum Director, Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM; and Assistant Professor, Native American Studies, SUNY Buffalo. He recently retired as Senior Project Coordinator of the Deyohahá:ge: Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic, Ohsweken, Ontario. Rick is currently a Distinguished Fellow – Adjunct Professor and curriculum developer at Mohawk College, in Hamilton, Ontario.
Valjean McCarty Hessing
1934 - 2006
Valjean McCarty Hessing was a Choctaw painter, who worked in the Bacone flatstyle. Throughout her career, she won 9- awards for her work and was designated a Master Artist by the Five Civilized Tribes Museum i
LeAnne Howe (born April 29, 1951) is an American author and Eidson Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at the University of Georgia, Athens. She previously taught American Indian Studies and English at the University of Minnesota and at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Georgia Mills Jessup
1926 - 2016
Georgia Mills Jessup was an American painter, sculptor, ceramicist, muralist, and collage artist. Early life and education Jessup, a native of Washington, D.C., was of African American, Native American, and European descent. Her father, Joseph Mills, was a member of the Pamunkey tribe; her mother was Margaret Hall Mills, a hairdresser who had dreamed of a career in the theater. The thirteenth of eighteen children, she was one of twenty-nine members of her family who followed an artistic profession. After an early display of artistic talent, she was apprenticed to Herman L. Walker; two of her paintings were shown at the 1939 World's Fair, when she was just 13 years old. Jessup was a 1943 graduate of Dunbar High School. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Howard University, where she studied with Loïs Mailou Jones, in 1959, following that with a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Catholic University of America in 1969.
Jennie R. Joe
Jennie R. Joe (born 1941) is an American academic, medical anthropologist, and fellow of the Society for Applied Anthropology. Initially trained as a nurse, she was one of the health clinic workers during Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. She is a professor in the Departments of Family and Community Medicine and American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona. Joe was one of the inaugural board members for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and serves on the board of the Urban Indian Health Commission.
Ruthe Blalock Jones
Ruthe Blalock Jones is a Delaware Shawnee
Daniel Heath Justice
Daniel Heath Justice is an American-born Canadian academic and citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He is professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies and English at the University of British Columbia. He started his studies at University of Northern Colorado and received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He began his career at the University of Toronto, where he taught English and worked in association with the Aboriginal Studies Program. Why Indigenous Literatures Matter (2018) is the winner of the NAISA (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association) Award for Subsequent Book published in 2018. It also received the 2019 PROSE Award, granted by the Association of American Publishers, in the category of Literature and was nominated for the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Literary Criticism from the Association of Canadian and Quebec Literatures (ACQL). In 2015, Justice was awarded the UBC Killam Research Prize in recognition of his leadership in the field of Indigenous Literary Studies and for his many contributions to it, including Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History (
Tsianina Lomawaima is an interdisciplinary researcher of Indigenous Studies, anthropology, history, and political science. She is a professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. She specializes in the interaction between sovereign Native nations and U.S. federalism, the status of Native people as U.S. citizens, and federal Indian policy particularly in education. Her historical focus is the early 20th century.
Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne, b. 1934) is a Native American academic and activist. She was one of the designers of the Native American studies programs at University of California, Berkeley, the University of Montana, and Haskell Indian Nations University. In 2000 she became the first American Indian to hold the endowed chair of Native American studies at Montana State University and was honored with the Montana Governor's Humanities Award. She retired in 2004 and became a special advisor to the president of Montana State University.
Devon A. Mihesuah
Devon A. Mihesuah (born 2 June 1957) is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation, a historian and writer, and a previous editor of the American Indian Quarterly. She is the Cora Lee Beers Price Professor in the Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. She is the second Native woman to receive a named/distinguished professorship (the first is Henrietta Mann). Her lineage is well-documented in multiple tribal records. Mihesuah has written award-winning books and articles about colonization, boarding schools, stereotypes, research methodologies, Indigenous women, AIM, repatriation, racism, violence against Natives, "fake news," slander and libel against Natives, in addition to a series of award-winning novels.
Simon J. Ortiz
Simon J. Ortiz (born May 27, 1941) is a Native American writer, poet, and enrolled member of the Pueblo of Acoma. Ortiz is one of the key figures in the second wave of what has been called the Native American Renaissance. He attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, as a chemistry major with the help of a BIA educational grant. While enthralled with language and literature, the young Ortiz never considered pursuing writing seriously; at the time, it was not a career that seemed viable for Native people; it was "a profession only whites did." Since 1968, Ortiz has taught creative writing and Native American literature at various institutions, including San Diego State University, the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, Diné College, the College of Marin, the University of New Mexico, Sinte Gleska University, and the University of Toronto. He currently teaches at Arizona State University.
Bertha Parker Pallan
1907 - 1978
Bertha Pallan Thurston Cody was an American archaeologist, working as an assistant in archaeology at the The Autry Museum. She was also married to actor Iron Eyes Cody. She is thought to be the first Native American female archaeologist of Abenaki an
Christopher J. Pexa
Christopher Pexa specializes in 19th and 20th century Native American and U.S. literatures, Native American studies, and settler colonial studies, with an emphasis on questions of indigenous ethics, sovereignty, and nationalism. He completed his latest book with University of Minnesota Press, entitled Translated Nation: Rewriting the Dakota Oyate, that explores the ambivalent ways in which allotment-era Dakota authors played to white regimes of legibility while at the same time honoring tribal common sense and producing a contemporary Dakota nationhood. Pexa's essays have appeared or are forthcoming in PMLA, Wíčazo Ša Review, SAIL, and MELUS. He is also a published poet and is currently working on a book of prose poetry, entitled Throne of Horses, about the afterlives of Indian boarding schools.
Jolene Rickard, born 1956, citizen of the Tuscarora Nation, Turtle Clan, is an artist, curator and visual historian at Cornell University, specializing in indigenous peoples’ issues. Rickard co-curated two of the four permanent exhibitions for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Alice Mary Robertson
1854 - 1931
Alice Mary Robertson was an American educator, social worker, Native Americans’ rights activist, government official, and politician who became the second woman to serve in the United States Congress, and the first from the state of Oklahoma. Robertson was the first woman to defeat an incumbent congressman. She was known for her strong personality, commitment to Native American issues, and anti-feminist stance.
Luana K. Ross (born 1949) is a Native American sociologist of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, located at Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Montana in 1979, her master's degree from Portland State University, and her doctorate in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1992, before serving as faculty at the University of California, Davis and University of California, Berkeley. Since 1999 she has been a faculty member for the Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. She has also been an Adjunct Professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Washington since 1999. In January 2010, she was appointed president of Salish Kootenai College, effective in July of that year. She resigned from the position in 2012.
Dr. Leilani Sabzalian (Alutiiq) is an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies in Education and the Co-Director of the Sapsik'wałá (Teacher) Education Program at the University of Oregon. Her research focuses on creating spaces to support Indigenous students and Indigenous self-determination in public schools, and preparing teachers to challenge colonialism in curriculum, policy, and practice. She is also dedicated to improving Indigenous education in the state of Oregon by serving on the American Indian/Alaska Native State Advisory Committee and collaborating with the Office of Indian Education o
A member of the Mohawk Tribe, Audra Simpson is a professor of anthropology at Columbia University. Simpson focuses on the politics of recognition, specifically the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk struggles in keeping their legal and cultural rights. Her book, Mohawk Interruptus
James Thomas Stevens
James Thomas Stevens (born 1966) is an American poet and academic. He is a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation an
Kim TallBear (born 1968) is a Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate professor at the University of Alberta, specializing in racial politics in science. Holding the first ever Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment, TallBear has published on DNA testing, race science and Indigenous identities, as well as on polyamory as a decolonization practice. TallBear is a citizen of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota, as well as a descendant from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma.
France Winddance Twine
France Winddance Twine is an American sociologist, documentary filmmaker, a visual artist and an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma. A native of Chicago, she is the granddaughter of Paul Twine, Sr., a Civil Rights activist and founding member of the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago, a Civil Rights organization that brought Irish, Italian, German, Polish and Black Catholics together to fight for racial justice. Dr. Twine is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara where she regularly teaches courses on race, gender and class inequality, sociology of the body, sociology of work, girlhood, assisted reproductive technologies and qualitative research methods.
Gerald Robert Vizenor (born 1934) is an American writer and scholar, and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation. Vizenor also taught for many years at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was Director of Native American Studies. With more than 30 books published, Vizenor is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico. After a stint in the military upon returning to the United States in 1953, Vizenor took advantage of G.I. Bill funding to complete his undergraduate degree at New York University. He followed this with postgraduate study at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he also undertook graduate teaching. After teaching at the university, between 1964 and 1968, Vizenor worked as a community advocate. During this time, he served as director of the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which brought him into close contact with numerous Native Americans from reservations. Vizenor began working as a staff reporter on the Minneapolis Tribune, quickly rising to become an editorial contributor. He investigated the case of Thomas James White Hawk, convicted of murder. Vizenor's perspective allowed him to raise difficult questions about the nature of justice in a society dealing with colonized peoples. His work was credited with enabling White Hawk to have his death sentence commuted.
Robert Allen Warrior
Robert Allen Warrior (born 1963) is a scholar and Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas. With Paul Chaat Smith, he co-authored Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. He is generally recognized, along with Craig Womack, as being one of the founders of American Indian literary nationalism. Warrior served as President of the American Studies Association from 2016 to 2017. He earned a bachelor's degree in speech communication from Pepperdine University, a master's degree in religion from Yale University, and a doctoral degree in systematic theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In 1999, Warrior taught at Cornell University. Warrior previously taught at Stanford University, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Illinois Chicago. He has served as president of the American Studies Association (ASA) and helped found the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). In 2018, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences inducted Warrior.
Robert A. Williams Jr.
Robert A. Williams Jr. is an American lawyer, author, and legal scholar. He works in the fields of federal Indian law, international law, indigenous peoples' rights, critical race, and post-colonial theory. Williams teaches at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law, serving as Regents Professor, E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and Faculty Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program. Williams is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe
Alfred Young Man
Alfred Young Man, Ph.D. or Kiyugimah (Eagle Chief) (born 1948) is a Cree artist, writer, educator, and an enrolled member of the Chippewa-Cree tribe located on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation, Montana. He is a former Department Head (2007–2010) of Indian Fine Arts at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan, and former Chair (1999–2007) of Native American Studies, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge and University of Regina.
About Academic Influence
Academic Influence is staffed by academics and data scientists working to provide an objective, non-gameable influence-based ranking for the people, schools, and disciplinary programs that make up higher education. They have engineered a unique ranking technology that employs machine learning to measure the impact of work produced by the world’s top academic influencers. The Influence Ranking™ engine brings to light the achievements of top institutions and top academics across the globe. The organization maintains an incredibly rich and varied website, with features to help readers explore the world of higher education.
Homepage Photo Credit: American Academy of Arts and Sciences
OP-ED: Indian Country’s Once-In-A-Seven-Generation Opportunity
by Dawson Her Many Horses
Her Many Horses is head of Native American Banking for Wells Fargo. The bank underwrote a historic $50 million commitment to address the unique economic, social, and environmental needs of Native Peoples, where Her Many Horses leads the initiative.
For centuries, tribal communities and individual Native Americans and their families have bobbed and weaved when confronted with severe conditions and immoral treatment. Some did more than survive; they thrived in the face of adversity. While COVID-19 highlighted harsh realities of the disparate treatment of Indian Country, it also surfaced a once-in-a-seven-generation’s opportunity to reimagine how Indian Country could position itself — not just for the immediate future but for decades and centuries to come.
This opinion provides an analysis of the challenges and opportunities for achieving economic resiliency in Indian Country, starting with three barriers to action: data gaps, the digital desert, and a fragmented capital landscape.
Unlike state governments or publicly held companies, Tribal governments, and the businesses they own, do not disclose financial information. In return, data and information that businesses with an interest in expanding into tribal communities would typically use to make investment decisions is not available for Indian Country. Revenue from businesses controlled by tribal governments (not tax revenue) provides the bulk of funding to tribal governments, which funds essential services such as housing, infrastructure, health care, education, elder care, and cultural and language preservation.
Digital solutions buoyed companies, communities, and economies that successfully leveraged them during the pandemic, which disproportionately impacted people and places on the other side of the digital divide. Businesses with a strong online presence outperformed those without. Expanding broadband access could enable a wave of technology entrepreneurship, build foundations for professional, academic, and social networks, and provide access to digital banking (reducing the number of unbanked tribal households and helping low-income households apply for government and nonprofit programs).
Fragmented Capital Landscape
Fragmentation of Indian Country’s capital landscape — featuring many different types of financial institutions with varying levels of presence and investment ranges and thresholds — is an obstacle to investment and development. This report exposes gaps that could provide opportunities for new capital providers (private equity, venture capital, digital, and neo-banks), once longstanding barriers to investment have been resolved.
The Opportunity Set
The decision-making framework presented in this report is intended to empower traditional and non-traditional stakeholders to effectively prioritize opportunities across tribal communities over the near and long term.
We designed 10 archetypes of tribal economies, aiming to surface common challenges and opportunities for promising inter- and intra-tribal partnerships while avoiding an overly simplistic approach. Starting with a broad universe of opportunities ranging from infrastructure and resources to manufacturing and construction, consumer goods marketing, and technology and other services, leaders can identify and prioritize a specific set of opportunities.
Building true economic resiliency in Indian Country demands new ways of thinking and responding. Tribes can start executing on high-priority, high-potential opportunities including bridging the digital divide. National banks can start partnering with other capital providers to provide funding and share technology. Governments at all levels (federal, state, and local) can establish public-private partnerships to build out projects. All of these constructive actions could have the cumulative impact of contributing to a more prosperous, vital, and economically resilient Indian Country.
We provide a three-phase analysis of opportunities for driving economic resiliency in Indian Country and prioritizing action through the lens of Tribal Nations.
Resiliency principles and key performance indicators (KPIs): Aligning on key themes and drivers of economic resiliency to lay groundwork for analysis.
Baseline and tribal archetypes: Evaluating the current state of Tribal Nations with a data-driven approach and grouping them into archetypes to simplify recommendations and opportunity prioritization.
Prioritization framework and identification of key opportunities: Providing a prioritization framework that can be adapted to a tribes’ circumstances and reviewing and highlighting key opportunities for economic resiliency with examples.
Our recommendations focus on enabling factors that support and drive economic resiliency by improving self-determination.
Lastly, we summarize conclusions and specific next steps for stakeholders (including tribes, National banks, and governments) to act on these recommendations.
Poems by T.W. Martindale
About the Author
T.W. Martindale is the daughter of Yona and Oginali and has two sons. She was born in Montgomery, Alabama and spent the majority of her life in Tennessee. Known as Sagwu Usdi, she is proud to say, “I am Cherokee by blood.” Ms. Martindale writes her poetry as a tribute to her ancestors who suffered indescribable hardships and abuse. She hopes that her readers will be blessed by her creative expressions and wishes them internal light and healing.
CRYSTAL TEAR DROPS
What do you, if I may ask, worry about in your “perfect” little world?
Grant me the pleasure of knowing this one thing
Is it for the safety of your family that you yearn?
Or is it your wish to possess that which you do not, but others have?
Come travel with me on a journey through another one's mind
Become one with me as I ponder the reason Yonah cried.
Can you open your heart to receive the unknown?
Or are you afraid of it Afraid to see the person you really are?
Come and see Hear the man, Yonah, as he cries.
Feel with me the heartache he feels for the pain of others from long ago.
IF you feel at all, you will feel as I feel.
Our spirits are ages past due for a release of feeling for others and our uncaring ways.
In his hand, he holds a book One he hopes will lead him home.
He is on a quest for his family and a people long ago.
As he reads, he begins to cry But Why?
Others walk by and see his tears Tears of sorrow, which can not be contained.
Those passing by can not understand these tears
The tears he sheds are crystal clear, for they are pure of heart.
They are shed in sadness for loved ones he has found.
Shed not only for them, but those that they knew.
Yonah is in search of his family but See what he has found.
He sees The Trail Of Tears shed by his family and those of their friends!
In his mind, he has walked with them hand in hand.
He has run with them for eternity, it seems, from those who oppressed and murdered them.
Have you yet to understand the reason for his tears?
Or are his thoughts so different from yours that you do not see?
Little does one understand the mind of another who is unlike them.
Many are those unwilling to identify with those who dare to be different.
I feel for each and every people who are or have ever been.
Do you care for others and the injustices they have born?
Are you able to cry with those who cry?
Have you ever cried for those who cried?
We need to learn to cry for those who longed to be free
Reach into your soul for the crystal tears you have long forgotten.
These are perfect drops, like Yonah's, and shed because of the cruelty of man.
Those who cried before him are the reason for the crystal tear drops that Yonah shed.
KISS THE WIND
Perception is a wonderful thing
So unfortunate are we to be caught in a web of loneliness.
Struggling in this uncaring snare, we yearn for a loving heart to call our own.
Speak into the wind for it will carry our cries to the right ears.
Is there an escape?
Perhaps, yes If only in the recesses of our minds.
Wait and listen Hear the one searching for you.
Reach out with your soul and touch another to embrace it ever so close.
Restless, empty hearts Stand still!
Listen to the sounds of silence as the wind softly kisses your skin.
Reach out, eyes closed… To touch another just like you.
They too need one to trust, to share themselves, not wanting to be alone.
Love is like the wind with many ways to go and so many stories yet to tell.
Speak then listen…Someone is waiting to hear and answer your pleas.
Open your arms to welcome the one calling for you.
Like a kiss in the wind, they’re feelings are there, carried by and through the wind.
Answer the heart that is YOUR heart
They too are alone and have need of someone they can trust with their love.
Reach out, hear and FEEL them speaking to you!
Softly, yet so loudly hear the voice say, “Just kiss the wind For I AM HERE.”
Gracefully and silently he moves through the night the wolf.
He is searching but for what he does not know.
There is something something special uniquely HIS.
It must be there, For it is just like him alone.
He cries a woeful, lonesome cry.
There is no answer just the echo of his pleas into the night.
He cries, ” Is someone there?
Someone who cares? One like me also alone?”
Listen! The silence roars!
Looking. Searching. Needing
A yearning need.
Stop! Look. Listen.
Yes. Yes. He hears it. His quiet companion.
It whispers in the darkness, ” Here I am. Here I am.
Do you see me? Do – you – see – me? Remember me? “
Gently and softly it caresses his senses “I am here.
Reach out to me. Sing to me. Feel me. Know me. Love me
Yes, I too have need of you.
Remember me? Someone alone just like you”.
” Where? Where are you? “,
The lone wolf cries.
” Here. Let me caress your face your soul.
Sing to me your soothing love song and I will bathe you with my presence.”
” Yes, yes, I remember.
We are not alone, you and me
And to you, I gladly sing my song of love and longing
My friend my lover, the moon, my quiet companion “.
WHISPERS IN THE WIND
My thoughts are forever restless. So endless.
Echoing questions come
rushing through my mind.
They are questions that refuse to be silenced!
So many in numbers. Yet they linger unanswered.
Many are the dreams
that continue unfulfilled.
Dreams that began so innocently. But still.
Perhaps a little selfish in nature.
A path seemingly for the purpose of self-fulfillment,
Thinking to establish who this person is. Such arrogance!
In the search, my eyes have finally opened.
They have opened to the significance of my journey.
In my conceited mind, I thought I knew, but did not.
It is of greater consequence than searching for one’s self.
Much greater. For it is to seek out truth!!
The truth and nothing else will put my mind at rest.
But this truth seems to be beyond my reach.
For to reach the truth, I must find the past,
And to find the past… I must reach the truth.
As my mind frantically grasps for it, I can feel it. Hear it
I hear truth whisper softly in the still of the night.
It touches my face and down into my soul.
Its answering pleas are written in the wind.
Yes, truth reaches out and soothes in a gentle caress.
It speaks with the voices of loved ones long since past.
I can hear many voices thought silenced long ago.
Just as I,these too refuse to be silenced.
They are the voices and shadows of families lost.
Lost.Seeking to be found by kindred blood.
Listen to the voices as they echo in the night!
Feel them as they are carried by the fingers of the wind.
Hear the lonely sounds of their anguish and pain!
They reach out in the dark silence of the night.
Reaching out to me..AND to you.
Torn from their homes and loved ones. They cry out!
“Here we are. Do you not feel our presence? Hear us!”
Yes.I hear them. and you can too.
Voices like whispers, will us to rest from our frenzied searching.
As we frantically sift through endless information, they wait.
Waiting..Waiting to show us where the true journey lies.
It is not merely a search for our OWN identities.
Granted.this is a truth that one must seek, but not just so.
We must reach into the past for those deserted and forgotten.
A journey that began as a search for me has changed directions.
But no! It has not changed its course altogether!
It has altered its path to become one with that of forgotten loved ones.
They have subtly merged their paths like a flowing mountain stream.
They seek to be reunited with those of us, their kindred blood.
Yes, this too is what I truly wish!
To finally find, not only me, but also all those I hold dear.
I have felt their sorrow AND their pain.
Where once they knew the freedom we so proudly boast,
This same liberty was quickly and ruthlessly stolen!
They cried out, but there was no one to hear and none who cared.
Their freedom, their lives- even their dignity was torn apart!
Even so, this merciless massacre of human worth may still be mended.
But not by apologies, nor by human platitudes can it be done.
This mending must be done by us, their surviving descendants.
Although the damage can not be totally repaired, we CAN ease their pain.
They call to us as voices whispering in the wind, to bring them home.
We must listen! We MUST for upon us they rest their hopes.
NOW is the time for us who love them to BRING THEM HOME!
Their echoing pleas can be heard if we will only listen!
Listen! Answer! Bring them home and give them rest.
They gave up their lives for the ones they loved.
And for these same people, we search our family ties.
Yes we too love them just as they loved before.
Our endeavors to bring the past to the present prove this is true.
Time for blind eyes to be opened no matter the tongue or nationality.
We must bring them home and give them rest.
We must listen. Listen to the whispers in the wind.
ENTER THE BUTTERFLY
An insignificant creature am I
I’ve nothing to boast but that I exist.
Thought quite unimportant, I can be more.
Come look upon my pitiful form and you will see
I am looked down upon and sneered at by some.
Totally overlooked by others, I’m of no consequence at all.
Oh, meaningless wretch that I am! This is my life.
One day at a time, step by step, inch by inch I WILL BE MORE!
Having so little to offer, but I offer ALL that I am.
Asking what I have to give, I answer, “I give you me.”
Not much am I now, but someday, somehow, I will be more.
Watch me. Tend to me. Nurture me, and you will see!
Slowly but surely, a day at a time I am changing.
I feel the growing pains come and retreat to my shell.
All who have laughed me to scorn believe to have proven their opinion of me.
But deep inside my haven, the metamorphosis begins
Having withdrawn for but a while, I only wait
In the world I have cocooned about myself, I am growing changing.
Taking on the life of a recluse, I know not how long I must wait.
But after the storm of mocking and scorn, I will emerge and….Enter The Butterfly!
Native American Participants Selected for Animation Lab
The LA Skins Fest recently announced they have selected the 8 participants for their Native American Animation Lab, a talent development program that aims to boost the careers of Native American in the field of animation.
“We have a talented community in need of exposure, access, and opportunity. This new endeavor will get more Native American voices in front of the right people who can develop their animation projects and build their animation careers.” stated Ian Skorodin (Choctaw), LA Skins Fest Founder.
The participants will take part in a five day curriculum that will have them meeting with executives from Universal Pictures, Cartoon Network Studios, Kung Fu Monkey Productions and many others. The lab will consist of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring to help each participant develop a project for the pitch panel at the end of the lab.
The five day total immersion lab will be mentored and guided by Writer/Producer Donick Cary (Simpsons/Parks and Recreation/Ap Bio). At the end of the program, each participant will pitch a panel of executives from the program’s corporate supporters.
The Lab was created to expand the amount of Native Americans working behind the camera, as a way to increase fair and accurate portrayals of Native Americans on television.
Its sponsors include: Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, Cartoon Network Studios, Sugarshack Animation, Women in Animation, and Otter Media brands, Crunchyroll, Fullscreen and Rooster Teeth.
For more information, visit laskinsfest.com
The 8 participants:
Ben-Alex Dupris is Mnicoujou Lakota, and also an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes where he grew up. Dupris creates work that pushes the boundaries of modernity and traditionalism in hopes of changing perspectives of Indigenous concepts without censorship. His directorial debut "Sweetheart Dancers" won Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film at Outfest 2019. He recently directed an American Masters "Masters in the Making" for PBS and Firelight Media about the artist Bunky Echo-Hawk that premiered at DOC NYC 2019. He is developing an animation series based on tribal legend stories that reflect the changing nature of Indigenous relationships to the earth in the 21st century.
Pasquale Encell and Steve Encell. Pasquale (Modoc) and his partner, Steve (Modoc), who is also his father, started a small animation team in Thailand. Steve served in the US Army and studied Agricultural Business at Cal Poly, and realized that the Native elders he knew were disappearing and soon they would be gone forever. Because of this, he decided to study with several medicine men and leaders before their knowledge disappeared. With his partner and son, Pasquale, they created Thunder Eagle Productions and chose animation as their main conduit of production. They have made several animated movies that have played in film festivals all over the world. They have won awards including Best Animated Film in the New Hope International Film Festival for their animated feature film Eagle Feather.
Jeanette Harrison is a director, writer, actor, and producer, who has spent most of her career in theater. For television, she co-wrote with Sharmila Devar a half-hour comedy about family and cultural identity, FEATHERS AND DOTS, DOTS AND FEATHERS. She created and was Head Writer for the webseries The Breakdown (3 seasons); and was a staff writer for the webseries Coach Dan. For SPASigma, she was Head Writer and 2nd Unit Director for their most recent documentary, and a staff writer on Personality Quotient (2018). In 2004 she co-founded the award-winning AlterTheater in the San Francisco Bay Area. At AlterTheater, she architected the ground-breaking AlterLab playwright residency program. She has shepherded more than 20 new plays to world premiere productions. A Native New Yorker, she is of Onondaga descent.
Chag Lowry is of Yurok, Maidu, and Achumawi ancestry from northern California. He is an author, filmmaker, and educator. His most recent publication is the graphic novel titled Soldiers Unknown with art by Rahsan Ekedal. This book was published by Great Oak Press and focuses on the Yurok Native American military experience in World War One. Mr. Lowry has a M.A. in Education and is currently writing a comic anthology titled Reflection.
Vladimir Perez (Taino) is a comedian from Brooklyn NY. As an actor he can be seen in network sitcoms that include Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Unicorn and the upcoming Disney+ show Diary of a Female President. As a writer, Vlad was honored to be a part of the LA SKINS FEST Native American TV writers Lab. Vlad is also a proud recipient of the Groundlings NBC/Universal Diversity scholarship 2018. Vlad’s sketch "Resting Gangster Face" was selected to be filmed for the 2017 IFC Showcase during the San Francisco Sketchfest. At UCB, Vlad hosted the LA Weekly Top Pick show The Hip Hop Source Awardz and performed improv on UCB Mess Hall team Fresh Kicks. He is a proud alumni of the CBS Diversity Showcase as a writer in 2016 and an actor in 2017. Vlad is currently working on an animation series based on a Taino super hero.
Sierra Revis (Yuchi) is a Graphic Designer currently working for the Native-owned marketing agency, Buffalo Nickel Creative based in Pawhuska, OK. Her design work on the Native Now and Indigenous People's Day campaigns was praised by audiences throughout Indian Country. Sierra has also put her video editing and animation skills to work on various documentary-style shorts for a state-wide campaign on commercial tobacco-use cessation and prevention among Native American tribes. A graduate of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology with a degree in Visual Communications, Sierra recently developed an animated language video and created the story board, illustrated the visuals and animated the components.
Jason Turner (Potawatomi and Kickapoo) is an accomplished filmmaker, producer, editor, and director. A music video he shot and directed won the Art at Work award in 2013 from the Arts Council of Kansas City (ArtsKC). Many of his films have screened at film festivals. His motion comic, The Iron Detective: Sentinel, won the Achievement in Animation award at the 2017 LA Skins Fest and streamed nationally on Xfinity Streampix. Those same shorts have screened at Planet Comicon in Kansas City. Jason has also served on Planet Comicon panels. For four years he ran the Kansas City 48 Hour Film Project (KC's branch of the 48 Hour Film Project). He is also a published comic book author. His comic book "Sentinel" can be found on Amazon and has been made into an animation short, The Iron Detective: Sentinel.
Reclaiming Native Truth: Changing the Narrative
Groundbreaking Research Reveals America’s Attitudes, Public Perceptions and Dominant Narratives about Native People and Native Issues, and Provides Opportunities for “Reclaiming Native Truth”
First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and Echo Hawk Consulting (EHC) today released groundbreaking research about attitudes toward and perceptions of Native Americans as part of a jointly-managed effort called Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions. The project also released two messaging guides based on the research findings and a narrative-change strategy framework that will be used to begin to change the false and misleading narratives about Native peoples.
The project seeks to create a long-term, Native-led movement that positively transforms popular narratives and images of Native Americans. A two-year phase, launched in 2016, created a solid foundation of unprecedented public opinion research and data, building upon previous research efforts. It was funded by a $2.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and significant financial contributions from numerous other entities and individuals.
“Some incredible findings were unearthed through this research – many of which had long been experienced and assumed but not proven,” said Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President & CEO of First Nations. “The findings clearly validate the realities that so many Native people face in their day-to-day interactions in communities. They provide our project, and the larger movement, with a strong foundation upon which to move forward.” Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), President & CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting, shared, “This research informed how we could create a new narrative that would be effective in changing misperceptions. We formulated a new narrative, created by renowned Native American artists and storytellers, that proved to change people’s understanding of Native people and issues. We are excited to take this new narrative and our research findings and transition into a new phase of this project, harnessing the power of a movement of movements.”
Highlights from the publicly available findings include:
- Discrimination: Most Americans surveyed significantly understate the degree of discrimination against Native Americans. Only 34 percent of Americans believe that Native people face discrimination. At the same time, myths about the abundance of Indian gaming and free government benefits to Native Americans are widely held and fuel bias across diverse demographics and within institutions.
- Narratives: The research found that people have limited personal experience with Native Americans but accept pervasive negative narratives that are erroneously set or reinforced by others, and that proximity shapes some perceptions. For instance, people who live near or work in Indian Country, especially in areas of great poverty, are likely to hold significant bias. Only 56% of survey respondents living in close proximity to Native communities believed the U.S. should do more to help Native Americans compared to 64% of respondents further removed.
- Invisibility: Unsurprisingly, another key finding was that Native Americans are assigned to a romanticized past. However, one of the biggest barriers identified was the invisibility and erasure of Native Americans in all aspects of modern U.S. society. Respondents, including members of Congress and administrative officials, agree that invisibility, stereotypes and narratives set by others do impact policy.
- Desire for Complete History: One of the key opportunities uncovered is that, across the research, people are well aware of the inaccurate historical lessons they have learned about Native Americans, and want more accurate education about both historical and contemporary Natives. This was reflected in national polling that indicated that 72 percent believe it is necessary to make significant changes to school curricula on Native American history and culture.
TESTING A NEW NARRATIVE
Narratives are broadly accepted, overarching stories that reinforce ideas, norms and expectations in society. Repeated over and over, through diverse platforms and channels, a narrative becomes the story people accept without question. Often a narrative reinforces the status quo and perpetuates unfair systems, structures and norms. The Reclaiming Native Truth project worked to identify and test a new accurate narrative that can support cultural shifts to advance social and policy change to support racial equity and justice for Native Americans and tribal nations.
- 78% – Most Americans are generally open to hearing this narrative. A majority in this survey say they are interested in learning more about Native American cultures. Strong majorities support Native American positions on most issues — mascots excepted — without hearing the narratives.
- 81% – The public reacts strongly to our narrative.
- 88% – Nearly nine in 10 respondents find it credible.
One of the most significant outcomes of the project related to developing and testing a new strength-based narrative that incorporated messaging related to values, history and the visibility of Native peoples. The narrative was tested through an online survey conducted between April 27 and May 1, 2018, with 2,000 Americans over age 18. Majorities of Americans support the new narrative and find it credible. A 65 percent majority say they would be willing — 31 percent very willing — to share these ideas with others. More issue-specific narrative messages written around key issues — mascots, the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal sovereignty and pop culture depictions of Native Americans — find similar validation.
Most noteworthy is the objective difference between those exposed to the new narrative (treated group) and those that were not (untreated “control” group). Large differences emerge among the half that read the new narrative, which gave them a framework for understanding information about key Native issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act, sovereignty, mascots and other issues. For example, 39 percent of Americans who were not exposed to the new narratives support a ban on Native American mascots. Among those who read the narratives, 53 percent support such a ban.
“We are encouraged by the findings of the research and narrative message testing in this first phase,” said Vicky Stott, Program Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “As a philanthropic partner to the project, we are committed to telling more authentic and complete stories about who we are as interconnected people living in America. This work has the potential to transform the way we understand and relate to one another and, ultimately, co-create a new story about our shared humanity.”
THE NEXT PHASE
The next phase of work will focus on bringing the power of many movements — of organizations, tribes, grassroots leaders, non-Native allies, foundations — each of whom can adopt, adapt and disseminate the new shared narrative as part of their ongoing efforts and work, while leading implementation of their own priority strategies. An introduction to the narrative and messaging strategies are available as part of the Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guides at www.ReclaimingNativeTruth.com. The detailed research report and the Narrative-Change Strategy are also available online.
Potential allies, supporters and others can partcipate in the movement of movements. The network will contain a support and infrastructure function that will be determined jointly by core organizations working collaboratively on the initiative. There will be many ways for allies to do their their part to shift the narrative, remove bias and barriers, and achieve the collective vision for the change that is sought: that Native peoples collectively author and powerfully lead a more equitable reality where they fully benefit from and contribute to both Native and American society. Interested partners are encouraged to download the messaging guides from www.ReclaimingNativeTruth.com.
“The project provided us the critical opportunity to begin to assemble an incredible team of not only researchers, but other experts and thought leaders across Indian Country, and both Native and non-Native allies and professionals in the media, the arts, entertainment, politics and education, as well as others who have worked on successful racial narrative change projects,” noted Echo Hawk. “We have the new research foundation built, a cadre of willing and able experts at the ready, and we have the desire and ability to move this project into the next phases where we can begin to shift the narrative.”
Roberts shared, “We have also sought and received input and feedback at every step in the project, from more than 180 stakeholders, including an incredible swath of Indian Country that came together in a new and different way to support these efforts. Their voices are reflected in this project and we are all committed to work together going forward. Native Americans and tribes have faced discrimination and bias at every level of society, institutionally, and within government. They have been held back from reaching their full potential by the negative stereotypes, damaging misperceptions and lack of awareness that prevail within education, the media, entertainment, popular culture, and among thought leaders. Changing that begins now.”
For more information visit: www.ReclaimingNativeTruth.com.
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 www.firstnations.org.
About Echo Hawk Consulting
The mission of Echo Hawk Consulting is to help create new platforms, narratives, strategies and investment that can help catalyze transformational change for and by Native Americans. It partners with Native American, philanthropic and diverse multi-sector partners to move hearts and minds and drive institutional, policy and culture change. Founder Crystal Echo Hawk was recently recognized by the National Center for American Indian Economic Development as its 2018 “Native American Woman Business Owner of the Year.” For more information, visit www.echohawkconsulting.com.
Juneau's First Alaska Native Police Chief Hopes to Inspire
By ALEX MCCARTHY
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Nearly a quarter-century later, Ed Mercer still remembers the night vividly.
It was near midnight on a January night in Sitka in 1994, and Mercer was in his second year working for the Sitka Police Department. He was driving near the harbor when the call came in: a baby had been found in a bathroom at the harbor.
Mercer was the closest officer and arrived on the scene first. There he found the harbor employee Kelly Warren, holding a small newborn in his arms.
``I think that was touching,'' Mercer recalled, ``and told me a lot about humanity.''
Mercer said there was certainly a negative light to be seen that night, but he saw the positive side of the story, of this man saving the baby from a dire situation.
A fire department responder arrived moments later and took over, but the instance still sticks with Mercer. That baby grew up to make headlines in southeast Alaska in 2012, when she returned to Sitka as a high school graduate with her adopted family. She had grown up and was succeeding in school in Florida, an article in the Daily Sitka Sentinel said.
Through 26 years of being in the police force in Sitka and Juneau, Mercer has encountered numerous examples of that kind of positive humanity in extreme scenarios. He's seen it as an officer in Sitka, and then in numerous positions with the Juneau Police Department since joining JPD in 2000.
Now, he's doing it as the department's chief of police, and his ascent to the position has come in historic fashion.
NOT TAKING IT LIGHTLY
Mercer, by all accounts, is JPD's first Alaska Native chief of police. Raised in Sitka, Mercer is of a Tlingit of the Coho clan of the Raven moiety.
The department was created in 1900, according to the department's website, and created the chief of police title in 1914. Since then, JPD Administrative Assistant Patti Rumfelt said, the department had 36 chiefs of police prior to Mercer. Spokespeople at JPD and at Native Corporations Sealaska and Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) can't recall a Native chief prior to Mercer.
``It is meaningful,'' Mercer said. ``I do get a lot of people, a lot of elders, a lot of the other Alaska Native people come up to me and say, `We're really proud of you for what you have accomplished and we appreciate that you represent us.' I don't take that lightly.''
Mercer made it clear that he knows he's representing the entire Juneau community and not just the Native population. According to census.gov, 11.8 percent of Juneau residents are Alaska Native or American Indian.
Mercer's promotion carries a great deal of meaning to leaders in the Native community. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl put Mercer's hiring in a nationwide context in a statement to the Empire.
``After 150 years of American jurisdiction in Alaska, we should celebrate the appointment of Ed Mercer as Juneau's first Alaska Native chief of police,'' Worl said. ``Implementation of the law and pursuit of justice should be color blind, but statistics and the almost daily reports in the media across the nation do not bear this out.''
Worl pointed out that Alaska Natives are disproportionately incarcerated in Alaska jails. According to PrisonPolicy.org, Alaska Natives/American Indians made up 38 percent of the state's prison population in the 2010 census, while Alaska Natives/American Indians make up 15 percent of the state's total population.
CCTHITA President Richard Peterson said in a statement to the Empire that those at his organization are excited and prideful that Mercer has worked his way up to the role of chief.
``There are approximately 7,000 of our tribal citizens who live in Juneau and it is encouraging to see that population reflected in our police force who is tasked with serving and protecting our community,'' Peterson said.
`IT COULD BE YOU'
Mercer views being police chief as a chance to be a role model, providing motivation for Alaska Native children and others who want to become leaders in the community.
``I think it's very important to be able to show, especially to an Alaska Native, that the sky's the limit,'' Mercer said. ``You go out and apply yourself and there's opportunity out there. It could be you.''
Long before he was atop JPD and even before he was an officer in Sitka, Mercer wanted to be a schoolteacher. He grew up in Sitka, pondering a career in the military before attending University of Alaska Fairbanks to study education.
After a couple years, Mercer decided he wanted to try something new. Growing up in Sitka, he knew there was a police training academy there. The opportunity to give back to a community, he said, encouraged him to enter the police force.
``I think my main reason for getting into it was I wanted to be a public servant and go out and serve people,'' Mercer said. ``I don't think that has left me to this point. Even as the chief of police, I'm out there being a public servant and serving people.''
In the early 1990s when Mercer was looking for a job, it was a competitive field that required him to compete against others for a position on a police force. Twenty-six years later, police departments around the country are struggling to fill their staffs. Mercer is currently working to fill JPD's staff, which is undermanned and losing a couple more officers this summer to retirement.
Being in this role, Mercer hopes, will show to young people that if they put the effort forth, they can go from a young kid in a small village to the chief of a capital city's police department.
``I like to think that it shows people a role model, that they could do the very same thing,'' Mercer said. ``They could take up and head a police department as long as they apply themself and go out and do it. It is meaningful.''
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com