At an international conference I attended this year, a Caucasian male speaker who has traveled the nation and world extensively, had this to say, “Go anyplace in the world and ask anybody about America; they’ll bring up names like Taylor Swift or Rex Tillerson and so forth; there is zero consciousness of indigenous people of America, and if there is, it’s been shaped by popular media and institutions that support the misrepresentations.”
In 2017, research was undertaken and co-led by two Native organizations, First Nations Development Institute and EchoHawk Consulting, to help determine what the American population knows or doesn’t know about indigenous peoples of the continental United States. It was the first time that research and information of this nature was being brought together in one study. Reclaiming Native Truth was released in June of this year. Key findings are not surprising and reveal bias and stereotypes that keep Native Americans invisible, and limit indigenous peoples’ ability to celebrate contemporary cultural identity and attain racial equity.
The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation supports the efforts of Reclaiming Native Truth (RNT). For the past ten years, through our mission and programming, NACF has engaged artists and organizations who are addressing Native truth, social issues, and cultural values through compelling work. NACF is committed to working with RNT stakeholders and others to more intentionally address some of the key findings in the report, in particular related to pop culture and the arts. NACF has organized two panels in October at the Philanthropy Northwest and Grantmakers in the Arts upcoming philanthropy conferences in which RNT will be presented along with the work of Native artists.
Language from the report states that “shifting the narrative about Native Peoples demands that we fully understand current public perceptions and the dominant narratives that pervade American society. These narratives, or stories, create people’s overarching perception of Native Americans and inform their interpretation of new facts and experiences. We have a historic opportunity to understand and transform public perceptions of Tribal Nations and Native Peoples across society.” Efforts will be organized in education, policy and practice, media and journalism, pop culture and arts, and philanthropy.
There have been discussions, research and writing, and work for many decades from across the spectrum of continental Native America, Hawai`i and Alaska that address accurate Native history and counter Settler-Nation myths. Many Native institutions and organizations have provided insight in their respective areas of work and addressed important topics at their conferences, but there has not been a comprehensive effort to assess current beliefs about continental Native America from the broader public until now.
We believe that the power of arts and cultures to change hearts and minds should not be diminished or undervalued. Guided by core Native values, arts and cultures are a dual force for reclaiming Native truth, reconciling the past, and enacting a more resilient future.
T. Lulani Arquette, President & CEO
Native Arts and Cultures Foundation