Racial Slurs Have No Place in Football

The leaves are changing. The scent of pumpkin spice lattes is in the air. In short, it’s football season. And like millions of my fellow Americans, I love football.

But I’m also American Indian.

So for me, football season also means hearing a racial slur all the time. It’s used by sports teams around the country — and by Washington, D.C.’s National Football League team in particular.

You may know that franchise as the Redskins. I refer to it as the R-word.

Natives have been calling on sports teams to do away with the slur for 50 years, along with other mocking mascots and racist caricatures of Natives employed by teams of all kinds. Professional outfits should know better, but so should schools and communities.

So I celebrated recently, along with much of Indian Country, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act into law. It banned the state’s public schools from using the R-word to name sports teams. Schools in four California counties will soon have to rebrand their buildings, logos, uniforms, and mascots.

“We cannot change history or erase the past,” said Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, president of Native Education Raising Dedicated Students. “But today, as Native students, we shall celebrate this step in the right direction of improving our educational experiences.”

I agree. Now if we can just convince our nation’s leaders to do the same.

My hope faded, though, when I heard Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush use the R-word not once, not twice, but three times during an interview in October. Then there’s GOP candidate Donald Trump, who proclaimed that Indians are “extremely proud” of the term.


For Native children, the R-word and its associated mascots are demeaning and disparaging, eroding their self-confidence and self-image. Unsurprisingly, peer-reviewed studies have suggested that racist mascots can hurt the performance of Native students.

It’s an additional mockery for an already suffering group of young people whose second-leading cause of death is suicide. And it’s an added insult to people whose treaty rights are still being violated, even today.

Native Americans are regularly confronted with attempts to turn our sacred religious lands over to corporations for profit. In Oak Flat, Arizona, some 2,400 acres of national forest land — protected since 1955 as Apache sacred land — is being handed over to Resolution Copper, a British-Australian mining conglomerate.

Meanwhile Natives continue to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, which would funnel oil mined from tar sands nearly 1,800 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico through multiple sovereign Indian territories. The U.S. government never negotiated with the tribes when charting the pipeline, despite the impact it will have on their lands.

And in spite of long-standing poverty, gross health disparities between Natives and non-Natives, and ongoing discrimination, federal funding for Indian health care, housing, and education programs remains paltry.

Most people have the good sense not to use the R-word to our faces. So why would you plaster it across a stadium?

Dropping the R-word alone won’t solve these deep crises in Indian Country. But it’s a crucial step toward restoring the equity, dignity, and democracy taken from the first people of this land.

At the very least, it’ll let us all get back to enjoying football — without the nasty reminder that the rights of American Indians still aren’t fully recognized.

Judith Le Blanc is the Director of the Native Organizers Alliance and an enrolled member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma.
Distributed by OtherWords.org

Indian People’s Action Conducts Youth Training

The Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), a network of grassroots Indian groups, is only as strong as its local affiliates. In Montana, we’re proud to have Indian People’s Action (IPA) in the NOA!

IPA has a long history of grassroots organizing in Montana with significant victories over the past two years on voting rights, health care, and addressing injustice in the judicial and prison systems.

Michaelynn Hawk, executive director of IPA said, “This year, IPA set the goal of expanding our leadership to include more young activists because in Indian Country, a large percentage of the population is below the age of 30 years old.”

The KTVQ.com website carried a news story on the July 24-26 youth training.

“The weekends are a time to kick back and relax for many people, but this Friday through Sunday, the Indian People’s Action convenes in Billings to work through serious issues.” And the article concluded with, “The organization aims to increase what it calls ‘the movement building capacity of Indian Country in Montana’.”

And that’s just what they did! Young people came from the Crow, Northern Cheyenne Reservations, as well as from Missoula. The participants engaged in in-depth sessions on environmental issues, criminal justice, health care and organizing Native-style. One of the participants said in the group evaluation, “I wish the training was longer.”

Lita Pepion, an IPA board member, said, “It is important to have events like this to continue our tradition of passing on knowledge from old to young (and vice versa),” She also said, “ Whatever we do today will impact the next seven generations and our work helps to assure future generations will have improved access to social, racial and economic justice as all people, regardless of ethnic background or any other identifier, should have.”

The IPA board of directors participated with great enthusiasm because they believe in the future work in Montana Indian Country. As one board member said, “We want them armed with the knowledge, skills, connections and ability to begin working toward social justice in whatever issue they are passionate about.”

Indian People’s Action is also an affiliate of the Alliance for a Just Society.

“Feeding Ourselves” Connects Native American Health Disparities and Federal Policies

In 1940, diabetes among Native Americans was almost unknown. The disease began appearing in the 1950s and expanded until during the 1960s it became a common condition. Today, nearly every Native American is involved either personally with diabetes, or has family and friends with diabetes,

According to a new report released today, Diabetes has been called the new smallpox.

“Researchers point to dramatic changes in the traditional diet of Native Americans, the rise in sedentary lifestyles, poverty, loss of culture, trauma and other factors as contributing to this epidemic,” according to the report.

The Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), a project of the Alliance for a Just Society, contributed work and research to Feeding Ourselves: Food access, health disparities, and the pathways to healthy Native American communities.” The extensive report, released today, examines food access in Native American communities and health disparities.

The report analyzes the impacts of federal policies that forcibly separated Native people from their historical lands and traditional sources of food. Those policies are manifesting in Native American health disparities today.

“Separation from healthy foods has been one of the most pernicious health problems we endure,” according to the report.

More than 80 percent of Native American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Indian Health Clinic Reporting System. Four-year-old Native American children have twice the obesity of their white counterparts, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study.

The report found that most of tribal lands are in food deserts, areas that lack access to healthy food. It detailed the historical and economic factors that have broken down the Native American food system.”

In the report, Judith Le Blanc, national coordinator for the Native Organizers Alliance, of the Alliance for a Just Society, shares:

“With technical support, tribal governments, service entities and local organizers can build significant community support for basic policy changes. Public education framed by Native traditions can be created to foster an understanding of the long history of healthier environments captured in our histories. To achieve an all-around healthier environment that includes community communication, commitment and continuing access to decision makers, we need a resourced organizing infrastructure of local activists that has a role far beyond funding cycles and tribal and local elections.”

“Feeding Ourselves” was commissioned by the American Heart Association (AHA) and Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AHA.

The report is report’s authors include Crystal Echo Hawk of Echo Hawk Consulting; Janie Hipp, Director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law; Wilson Pipestem, founder, Pipestem Law and Ietan Consulting

Alliance for a Just Society worked on the report through the Praxis Project’s Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE) Program Indian Country technical assistance partner.

Native Organizers: Building a Grassroots Movement in Indian Country

Thirty organizers and activists from across Indian Country came together in Seattle in June for a special training opportunity hosted by the Native Organizers Alliance: the annual intensive four-day Native Organizing Training.

Grassroots organizing is both an art and a science. In Indian Country, the art of organizing is reflected in the Native-led action against oil drilling in the Arctic by the ‘Kayaktivists’ in the “Paddle in Seattle”, and the round dance flash mobs of Idle No More.

In four days our aim was to study the science of organizing – Native style, in keeping with our traditions and with our history.

In our jam-packed, daylong sessions, we explored ways to build Native organizers’ skills to meet the unique challenges of organizing in Native communities, on reservations, and in urban and rural centers. We shared lessons, best practices and examined the techniques for building a stronger grassroots movement for social change in Indian Country.

In the end some participants said we needed another day, and most agreed we needed more breaks and time to digest the information. Good advice for next year’s Native Organizing Training!

While exploring the nuts and bolts of outreach, leadership development, strategy and tactics, the participants worked to find the unique, yet critical elements of community engagement that flow from Indian Country’s history and traditions.

After four intensive days together, it is clear that here is so much more to learn about how to deepen our understanding of Native community organizing.

This is just the beginning! The future of Indian Country rests on growing a broad infrastructure of Native organizers and activists who facilitate campaigns that get at the root causes of the lack of jobs, healthy communities and protect treaty rights, sovereignty and Mother Earth from destruction.

The training provided an opportunity to share stories of the tremendous challenges our communities face and our vision and passion for bringing about structural change that will help Native communities not only survive, but also thrive.

The participants were hungry for more opportunity to go deeper into the challenges they face on the ground. Next year’s sessions will need to provide that opportunity in various ways.

Some participants asked that we now consider regional trainings that go beyond Native Organizing 101, to tackle more real life, complicated strategic challenges in Indian Country.

Some suggested segments focused on political empowerment related to advocacy, voter engagement and lobbying. In their written evaluations most said that the most important part of the experience was getting together with others who share a common outlook on movement building in Indian Country.

Especially impressive were the younger participants,coming from cutting edge Indian Country experiences. For instance, one of the activists is a part of the occupation to protect sacred Apache land from uranium mining in Oak Flat, AZ. Another was a Native radio talk show host, and one young man will be headed to the White House for the Native youth gathering in the next week.

One woman representing the “AIM generation” (radicalized in the 1970s) is a traditional Dine organizer. She has been fighting for decades for compensation from the coal and uranium mining companies for the contamination of Navajo land, water and air. She felt uplifted by the energy of the young organizers in the room, who are just beginning the fight for justice in their communities.

One of the most popular sessions of the training was on power mapping. David Bender, the community organizer for the American Indian Center of Chicago, said learning how to map the potential allies and likely opponents in an organizing campaign will help him prepare both his leaders and grassroots members to think and engage more strategically in their work.

At the end of fast-paced week, participants – whether they work in small villages in Alaska, on the Navajo or Hopi Reservations, or in the heart of Chicago, Portland or Billings – went home inspired by the knowledge that they are a part of something bigger. Our hope is that the participants will continue to work together with support from the Native Organizers Alliance to amplify a stronger Native voice on key issues at the national level.

One young participant said, “Nothing is more important for organizers than having a collective with so many common experiences. I see myself working closely with my fellow students and the trainers as we go forward.”

The sheer demand for this training says something powerful about the groundswell of the grassroots upsurge in Indian Country: in a few short weeks, more than 130 people submitted applications for the 30 available slots.

Now the work will continue at home and at the Native Organizers Alliance. Some of the participants will help organize local Native trainings in Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota. One participant even volunteered to become a Native Organizers Alliance trainer.

On the national level, we are organizing a national advisory board and growing a circle of partner organizations that we will provide with trainings, and technical support such as research and joint fundraising to keep grassroots organizing moving in Indian Country.

Personally, it was inspiring to hear the journeys so many have taken to carry on and preserve – despite many difficulties – our history, cultures, and future. It is extremely important in our communities to widen the circle of those who can take action that will in many ways help our people to heal with pride and commitment to our common struggle.

I was also struck by the heightened awareness of the need for unity in Indian Country. There is so much more that unites us than divides us. The unity that exists between those who organize on the Rez, in rural areas or urban centers, and those who continue the struggle for tribal recognition, serves as the key to building alliances with the vast cross section of people in the U.S. – those who can and must be a part of the movement for justice in Indian Country.

The curriculum, preparation, and training, was a collaborative effort and would not have been possible without Ozawa Bineshi Albert (former organizer for the Center for Community Change and Native American Voters Alliance in New Mexico) and Donavon Hawk (activist and leader from Montana), my co-facilitators.

With much love and respect to all who participated in the 2015 Native Organizing Training. A new circle of movement building in Indian Country has begun, thank you!

For more information on the Native Organizers Alliance: http://www.nativeorganizing.org/

Native Americans in Philanthropy: Innovation and Inspiration

When you bring more than 200 Natives and their allies together to exchange information and ideas on what’s going on in Indian Country it’s bound to be a gathering that is full of wisdom and good-humored teasing, Indian style!

That’s how the Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) celebrated their 25th anniversary at Mystic Lake Hotel in Minnesota recently. Tribal and community leaders, Native and non-Native philanthropic and nonprofit professionals, spent three days sharing best practices and networking on how to support healthy Native communities through philanthropy.

Although conditions in Indian Country are difficult on many fronts, we, as a community are innovating ways to meet the needs of our communities while at the same time tackling root causes.

The life experience of the keynote speaker, Dr. Kathy Annette, executive director of the Blandin Foundation and member of the White Earth Nation, captures the story of Indian Country today. She is the only graduate of the Red Lake Reservation school system to become a physician.

Dr. Annette, in her moving keynote, spoke of how we are compelled to navigate systems that are not aware of our community’s traditions or even existence.

“Natives and People of Color are underrepresented in philanthropy. Natives need to be at the table,” she said.

An array of workshops covered topics from how to engage effectively with foundations, to Native models of assessment in meeting grant requirements to dispelling myths about urban Indians.

In the workshop, Making the Invisible Visible – Urban Indian America, Janeen Comenote, of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, talked about the lack of clear data on urban Indian communities and little academic research. Under President Ronald Reagan, she discovered, funding ended for urban Indian centers which were established earlier by the Federal government, just as Indians were becoming more concentrated in cities.

“Our community knows what it needs to thrive,” said Comenote. “We need a federal urban Indian policy.” She spoke of the need for Natives and policymakers at every level of government to create forums for civic engagement, consultation, and vetting initiatives in order to bridge the divide between tribal and urban Indian populations.

The NAP conference helped me understand the importance of meaningful and culturally appropriate relationships between foundations and Indian County – and the growing impact of tribal philanthropy.

Funding needs to target locally based projects that address the disparities and barriers we experience in every area of life, economic, social and political. Foundations need to take into account that Indian Country needs an infrastructure of tribal and service providers and grassroots organizers who advocate for basic federal policy shifts to close the disparities.

The organizing needed must be premised on the power of our traditions through combining the telling the stories of our community, assessing the real conditions and using community awareness to guide the policy changes.

The solutions to the problems Native communities, urban, rural or reservation are in our communities, we need the resources to generate the civic engagement that will make it possible.

Judith LeBlanc is the National Coordinator for the Native Organizers Alliance and Senior Organizer at the Alliance for a Just Society.