Today begins Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people to our country.
First, we acknowledge that Washington, D.C., sits on the ancestral lands of Nacotchtank/Anacostan/Piscataway people. Today and every day, we honor this legacy and hope you will do the same.
In 2020, the number of people who identified as Native American and Alaska Native (AI/AN) alone and in combination with another race was 9.7 million, up from 5.2 million in 2010, according to this CNN article. This growth means continued significant influence in this country, particularly during elections.
Despite gaining citizenship status in 1924, American Indian and Alaska Native people did not gain the right to vote until the 1970s. Since then, AI/AN communities have been hard at work organizing and registering voters, which lead to highly influential voter turnout in critical states and expanded political representation. For example:
- According to The Brookings Institution, 61% of Native American voters reported voting for a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2018, which is significantly higher than white voters. This trend continued in 2020, where 60% of Native American voters supported President Biden.
- In 2020, a record 6 Native Americans were elected to Congress, which was led significantly by grassroots, community focused efforts, according to Brookings. “When asked what was the primary motivation for their voting decision, 26% of Native American respondents said it was to ‘support and represent the Native American/American Indian community’ which was higher than other racial and ethnic groups,” the report found.
Despite this important role in our current democracy, the Native American community continues to face significant voting suppression laws and increased rates of violence, particularly gender-based violence, in their community. So, what can you do this month to honor and support American Indian and Alaska Native communities? Here are you calls to action:
- Learn more about the Indigenous peoples’ lands you currently occupy.
- Support the bipartisan Native American Voting Rights Act, which was introduced in the House in August 2021 and was included as part of the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.
- Explore the history, arts, and cultures of Indigenous communities across the Americas. Here are some suggestions.
- Share, comment, and like our Native American Heritage Month content on social media this month.
We know that justice for all is achievable, but first we must acknowledge, learn about, and–most importantly–honor the true history of this land and her native people.
Manager, Communications & Advocacy
YWCA National Capital Area