A couple of friends of mine have received questions like, ‘Do you live in teepees?’ Even in the classroom, they think we’re extinct.
"Yes, there are, unfortunately...as Native Americans, we are the minorities of the minorities. We have the lowest enrolment and graduation rates. So being on campus, even though I haven’t personally experienced the stereotypes, I do have friends who have experienced them. It’s the whole teen pregnancy issue, having kids while in college. A couple of my friends do have kids, but they are in school and they’re getting their education and providing for their children. So they’re the lucky ones. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to school and provide a better life for themselves and their children. "There’s also the stereotype that Natives are alcoholics, drug users, and things like that. I know it’s still alive in our community, but it’s a very negative stereotype. Not every Native is like that, they’re not all drunks. We have some very brilliant people in our community, not just in my tribe, but across the United States and across Indian Country, who are trying to make things better for us."
There’s also the stereotype that Natives are alcoholics, drug users, and things like that. I know it’s still alive in our community, but it’s a very negative stereotype. Not every native is like that.
"A couple of friends of mine have received questions like, ‘Do you live in teepees?’ and stuff like that. They’re just uneducated. Even in the classroom, they think we’re extinct. They say, ‘Oh, you’re Native? We thought you all were dead.’ And we’re like: ‘No, we are still here, we have 567 federally recognised tribes and even more that aren’t federally recognised.’ Because our issues don’t pertain to them, they don’t pay attention, they don’t really care, so that’s the unfortunate thing. "They don’t really get it because how could you get it if you’re not interested in the culture or our history? That’s the impression I have gotten for a lot of people. And not just about our community, but the Hispanic and Latino community, the African-American community. At my school, the multicultural community, we are very in touch with each other. We go to each other’s events and we support one another. But what we have had a hard time with is bringing non-people of colour into our communities. I mean, we have a couple. But we haven’t been able to reach out to them and get them involved with us, which is tough."
How can you wear a headdress when you haven’t earned it? Especially if you’re not native, if it has nothing to do with your culture.
"Yes. There have been a couple instances where that’s happened and it’s been online and in the news. The tribes are very angry about it. Each tribe has their own unique designs. For [other people] to take them without permission and use them and sell them as their own when they don't belong is an issue...I know that some of the tribes have wanted to sue because of that. And I think they have a right to. "Oh, and don’t get me started on the headdresses! You know, that’s very — it’s an honour to receive a headdress and it’s usually only on the chiefs of the tribes, or maybe a warrior or something like that. So how can you wear a headdress when you haven’t earned it? Especially if you’re not Native, if it has nothing to do with your culture. It’s not like a fashionable headpiece or hat, something you can wear casually. Usually, they’re only worn at graduations, ceremonies, or powwows. You see the warriors wearing them when they lead all of the dancers at the beginning and at the end. If you’re not a warrior, you should not be wearing that! "It’s the same for Halloween. On my campus, I’ve seen it multiple times. They’ll be wearing 'Poca-hottie' costumes and I’m like: 'That is so disrespectful.’ Pocahontas is a historical figure. You can’t just dress up and try to be a Native American woman. We're not a costume."
It doesn’t happen on every reservation, but some tribes, they don’t have electricity, water, or infrastructure. They have nothing.
"I feel like they could definitely talk about it more. I don’t think they’ve been doing enough in that area. I’m hoping in the future, if and when Hillary is elected, that she will make more of an effort just like the Obama administration has to address Native American issues all over the country. For Hillary to come to our reservations and sit down and talk with us, or have us go to the White House — either one would be fine. Just so she can really see and hear the stories of the issues we face and come up with a strategic plan to remedy them."
"I have a top three. Violence against women is still an issue. The Violence Against Women Reauthorisation Act in 2013 has helped a lot, giving tribal communities the right to prosecute non-Native offenders on the reservation, because before we couldn’t do that. And actually, we had mostly non-Native, Caucasian men coming onto the reservations and terrorising the women sexually and with domestic violence. They were getting away with it for many years. We have many missing and murdered indigenous women — hundreds — and a lot of those cases are still unsolved. That’s an issue not just on the reservations, but everywhere.
You just can’t dress up and try to be a Native American woman. We're not a costume.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.