Native Americans in Film and Music

As we watch the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and other film awards, there are many reasons to celebrate the inclusion of Natives in film this year. There are also many reminders of the lack of Native representation in the performing arts.

The 2021 season was particularly great for “Reservation Dogs.”  Being Native written, Native directed and featuring Native actors is groundbreaking in every sense of the word.  Ironically, one of the earliest Native American actors I can remember is Will Sampson (Muscogee) from Oklahoma in “One that Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975). Sterlin Harjo (Seminole Nation), the producer/director/writer of “Reservation Dogs” is also from Oklahoma, and that’s where the show is filmed.   

The film industry has undergone mountains of change since 1975, considering that the western movies of previous generations were often portrayed by non-Indians with painted bodies in a very archaic stereotype of warring, violent or uneducated characters. Think blue-eyed Burt Lancaster in the film “Apache” (1954) and other stars of that era, through to the mid-70’s with Iron Eyes Cody (of Italian descent) in the “Crying Indian” commercials.

Moving from the era of black-and-white films to digital streaming in one’s lifetime can be head-spinning, but here’s the big question: Has the industry done enough in films, music and other performing arts? Overall, the answer is probably no – and without the recent culture and diversity, equity and inclusion push, we might not have the current success of Native Americans in the industry we see today. It’s undeniable that actors like our ambassador Wes Studi (Cherokee), Tantoo Cardinal (Cree and Metis descent) and Taboo (Shoshone) from The Black Eyed Peas have carried the torch for newcomers Jana Schmieding (Lakota), Lane Factor (Caddo Nation) and Kiawentiio Tarbell (Mohawk). But are we really where we should be 50+ years later?

The lack of Native American representation in the entertainment industry is not altogether surprising. This is the case in every professional setting from journalists, attorneys and physicians to engineers, pro athletes and professors. There is also a lack of knowledge about Native people in general, due to adverse government policy and the colonialism that decimated the Native peoples of North America. (Recent census data puts the Native count at under two percent of the U.S. population.)

We will continue to see breakout movies and stars, and the upcoming movie “Killers of the Flower Moon” will introduce an era of American history that few know existed. It will also introduce Native talent like Lily Gladstone (Blackfeet) and Chance Rush (Hidatsa) to the big screen. Make no mistake, there have been a few Native actors, like Gary ‘Litefoot’ Davis (Cherokee) in “Indian in the Cupboard” (1990s) and House of Cards (2010) and Gil Birmingham (Comanche) in “Skins” and “Twilight” and now “Yellowstone.” Rarely through have we seen shows written, directed and acted by Native talent until now.

Native tribes and people are not a monolith. Indian Country is as complex, diverse and beautiful as our non-Native counterparts and colleagues. We constantly teeter on the lack of visibility, which is why a Native-written, performed and directed production is more important than ever. In many ways, Native Americans need to be ‘humanized’ so that we are not thought of as mythical stereotypes or athletic tropes. We are contributors to the economy both as global cultural citizens and your next-door neighbors. Our communities are rich with music, stories that are worthy of film, and entertainment about ‘reality’ or ‘nothing’ that can be a running sitcom for multiple seasons.

Native visibility in the film industry is important to our Tribal communities, our local peers, and culturally and globally. And even though the awards season might not end with a Native sweep, plenty of Indigenous people ‘see themselves’ in Native actors and that might be the most important thing that can happen.

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Your Gift of Winter Fuel Can Save a Life

While the New Year brings a chance to make changes in our lives, many in the Native community are still facing difficult choices – and a difficult winter. The long winters in the Northern Plains can dip to below zero temperatures and bitter cold can persist for 3 months of longer.  

Against incredible odds, such as 1 in 4 families facing food insecurity and over 90,000 Native people homeless, those living on the reservations have tried their best to prepare for what is expected to be another harsh season. But many Elders still need supplies to survive the winter – especially winter fuel – so a donation can help save lives. For some Elders, the Northern Plains Reservation Aid (NPRA) program of PWNA may be the only winter fuel or heating assistance they receive.

When it comes to a warm home, the choices are few – propane, electricity or gas – and very expensive, up to $400 a month to stay warm. Firewood is another favorite among Elders of the Northern Plains, but it too can be expensive – up to $300 for a single cord. Elders worry about running out of firewood and often lack the funds to purchase more.

This winter, your donation will help NPRA provide winter warmth and stop the cycle of tough choices like whether to buy food or medicine or heat. Please donate today with the gift of warmth. Don’t delay – winter is here!

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2021 Year in Review: Most Popular Blogs and Social Posts

Happy New Year! As we look ahead to 2022, we want to take a moment to reflect on the past year here at Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). 2021 brought prolonged pandemic challenges and a growing focus on the social injustices that affected many Native Americans and people of color. Thankfully, through the continued support of our generous donors, PWNA was able to continue delivering its programs that address inequities such as food and water, health care, education, emergency response, animal welfare and holiday support.  

PWNA also completed our 30th year of impacting lives through immediate and long-term relief from critical shortages and challenges facing so many tribes. We are grateful that we’ll be able to continue working with our reservation partners again this year.

It takes a village – our tribal partners, collaborators, donors, Board and staff – to carry out our mission and champion hope for a brighter future for Native Americans. We thank each one of you for making this possible.

We would like to share a glimpse of your top ten favorite blogs and social posts from 2021, which rally around racial justice, social justice, culture and history:

  1. Changing Indigenous Peoples’ Day to Columbus Day
  2. Martin Luther King Day and Native American Rights
  3. Noteworthy Native: Standing Bear
  4. Black History Month & Afro-Indigenous Americans
  5. Noteworthy Native: Chief Plenty Coups
  6. Native American Heritage Day
  7. Missing & Murdered Indian Women and Racial Justice
  8. Navajo Boxer Mariah Bahe
  9. 96-year-old Navajo Grandma Becomes Internet Hit
  10. Billy Mills, Olympic Gold and Advocate for Native Youth

Stay tuned all year for the latest updates about our programs and Native thought leadership!

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Indigenous Impact Challenge: Year-End Giving

As 2021 comes to a close and many of you are looking for where to direct your year-end giving, we ask that you consider Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA). Native communities, especially those geographically isolated, face disparities that most Americans do not. Some 23% of American Indian households experience food insecurity, and 29% live below the poverty line. Whether families are suffering with the loss of loved ones to COVID-19 or hunger and poverty, your support is needed more than ever before. PWNA’s Indigenous Impact Challenge is making it possible for donors to bring joy back to tribal citizens and communities.

The Indigenous Impact Challenge is a broad effort to raise support for Native American Elders and others struggling on the reservations across the Northern Plains and Southwest. Thanks to a special group of generous PWNA benefactors, every gift to honor and help Native Americans by Dec. 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000. This means that your donation will make twice the difference if you act this year.

PWNA and its programs offer many ways to make a difference:  

  • Southwest Reservation Aid (SWRA) and Northern Plains Reservation Aid (NPRA):
    • Deliver staple foods and Thanksgiving meals to senior centers
    • Support “Train the Trainer” classes that educate on foraging, food preservation and healthy cooking with local food sources and Indigenous recipes that pre-date diabetes
    • Help Elders through the winter with emergency boxes filled with nutritious food and other essentials
    • Bring winter warmth through firewood and winter fuel vouchers that cut the cost of propane and electric bills for Elders
    • Remember Elders and children with practical gifts during the holidays
  • The American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program:
    • Distributes backpacks and school supplies
    • Provides undergraduate and graduate scholarships and mentoring
    • Sends care packages to college students, as well as a holiday gift for their young family members
  • The Reservation Animal Rescue (RAR) program:
    • Subsidizes low-cost spay and neutering services
    • Supports partners treating strays for diseases that could be passed on to humans
    • Supplies essentials such as blankets, collars, leashes, and cleaning supplies

Through generous donations, this year PWNA has helped our reservation partners deliver more than 500,000 pounds of food to Elders, provide nearly 1,000 winter emergency boxes, distribute school supplies to over 15,000 students and supply over 16,000 pounds of pet food and supplies. With your help, PWNA can do so much more! We accept donations year-round, but the Indigenous Impact Challenge ends at the end of the day, December 31. Your donations are even tax-deductible – donate here. We thank you for your consideration and support this holiday season.

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Thank You and Giving for Christmas on the Reservations

American Indian Heritage Month and Giving Tuesday closed on a high note this year. So many of you put in the time to learn and share about Indigenous culture and issues and discover the truth about Native history. Your generosity for #GivingTuesday means Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) will now be able to bring warm clothing to nearly 1,300 people on the reservations this winter, removing the need to choose between food and warmth. As we all turn our attention toward the holiday season, we hope you will continue to remember Native Americans during this crucial time of year.  

Northern Plains Reservation Aid, a program of PWNA, helps our reservation partners boost engagement and hope during the holidays when families and children may be feeling more disenfranchisement than usual. Native Americans living on remote reservations of the Northern Plains struggle daily with geographic isolation, limited employment opportunities, and a harsh and resource-poor environment. Poverty is common and weighs heavily on the Elders, children, and families.

But good news, this is where you can make a big difference for the holidays. The children aren’t asking for much – a doll or stuffed animal, a ball and bat, or anything at all. We need your help to fill their stockings with toys and practical items such as activity books, toothbrushes and toothpaste, gloves and socks – or to fill Elder’s gift bags with items such as toiletries, socks, flashlights and blankets. It means so much just to know they were remembered. We also need help to provide sufficient food for a few reservation programs to host community meals, which will be served with safe distancing for COVID.

If you’re wondering how Native people celebrate Christmas, here’s a bit of history. Indigenous people were introduced to Christianity more than 400 years ago. The “story of Christmas and Christ’s birth fulfilled tribal prophecies” and its message was “consistent with stories handed down by their ancestors.” Today, Native Americans are celebrating in different ways. Many tribes have traditions such as Christmas carols in their own language, powwows, gift-giving and cooking Native traditional foods. It is a time to create memories with loved ones, reaffirm their Native cultures and connect with their communities.

This year, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and its new variants makes celebrating Christmas together less feasible for some Native families. Some will be unable to travel home to their reservations for the holidays. Large gatherings are still discouraged and there’s a sadness that many Elders have passed away during the pandemic, not to mention the year-round struggles.  

So, while many Americans will be warm and well-fed with their families over the holidays, many Native families will not. We’re hoping you will help us change this with a Christmas donation for Native communities.

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Giving Tuesday: Give the Gift of Winter Warmth

Some people look forward to winter for hot chocolate, toasty fires and wintry vacations. But for others, winter is a time of risk and increased hardship. Many Native American families are unprepared for the brutal cold that lays ahead, whether due to low income, poorly insulated reservation homes or health issues that make them more vulnerable. That’s why today – Giving Tuesday – we are asking you to donate and help us bring the gift of warmth to Native communities.

Reservation temperatures can be extreme, 15 degrees below zero combined with deep snow in Navajo communities such as Thoreau and Bylas, New Mexico. Frostbite can occur in 15 minutes. Winters in the Northern Plains are harsh as well and long lasting, from October through April.

Coming into the winter, about 40% of reservation housing is considered substandard, meaning inadequate cooling, heating, insulation, plumbing and kitchens. About 30% of the homes rely on wood for heat, and many Elders face concerns about running out. In addition, Tribal housing officials report that doubling up (taking in family and friends) to avoid them sleeping on the street or in cars is common in their communities.   

You can join us to make this winter different. Our goal is to provide Winter Preparedness Boxes to 1,280 Native Elders, men, women and children across the Southwest and Northern Plains. These blankets, coats, scarves and gloves can literally save lives.

#GivingTuesday is the perfect opportunity to show your generosity and care for our First Americans, a gift they will long remember. Make your gift today and be part of the largest giving day of the year!

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30 Ways You Can Celebrate American Indian Heritage Month

The first-ever presidential proclamation of a national Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a crucial step forward in celebrating the country’s diversity. However, we would be remiss to stop there. While Native Americans account for 7.1 million people in the U.S., these citizens are often overlooked. In fact, less than 1% of all U.S. charitable giving goes toward Native causes. Beyond that 1 in 3 Native Americans are living in poverty. This cannot and should not stand.

Native tribes have contributed vast amounts of culture and knowledge that impacts the lives of modern-day Americans. Did you know that sunglasses, mouthwash, syringes, rubber, anesthetics/topical pain relievers and much more were invented by Native Americans? Spreading awareness of these accomplishments can help improve the lives of Indigenous people in this country today.

Throughout the month of November, we are shining a light on the rich traditions and histories of our Native ancestors. It is a time of celebration and a time for action. Here at Partnership With Native Americans, we are celebrating American Indian Heritage Month (#AIHM) and sharing ways you can get involved and create impact throughout the month.

PWNA encourages everyone to observe #AIHM by shopping with Native-owned businesses to  help put money into tribal communities, asking employers to match your gift to Native nonprofits, pledging to be NativeAware, learning the real story of Thanksgiving, or donating a Thanksgiving meal or water to a Native Elder in need.  

Please check out our 30 calls to action in 30 days to learn more ways you can celebrate American Indian Heritage Month. Besides fostering participation, these actions serve as a roadmap to discovering truths about the First Americans. This month is an opportunity to educate yourself and others on the influence of Indigenous cultures on our society and to support Native causes by considering a donation. Keep in mind that AIHM ends in November, but these calls to action can be completed 365 days a year.

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Announcing Indigenous Career Readiness Program That Helps You Grow with Google

Bridging the digital divide in Indian Country means addressing not only the lack of cable infrastructure, hardware and internet access that has been documented, but also extending the digital skills for career readiness. For centuries, Native communities have fallen further behind in opportunities for economic development and livelihoods. Even before COVID, our communities were being left behind at a disproportionate rate.

That is why I am happy to announce PWNA’s Grow with Google Indigenous Career Readiness Program. We are thrilled to be recognized by Google as a trusted partner to Native communities. By 2025, we will train 10,000 Native students on the digital skills they need for college and career readiness, reaching approximately 50 colleges, both tribal and mainstream, and extending to vocational schools serving Native students. Google’s $1 million commitment puts financial resources behind the need for more access to digital skills to help support the next generation of professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders.

In addition to supporting career readiness, this initial investment by Google is part of their social aim to boost visibility, positive prominence, and mindfulness so that mainstream society is more #NativeAware. This commitment puts financial resources behind the need for more access to technology, college and career readiness, to help usher in the next generation of professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders.

Google has demonstrated their willingness to meet the students where they are – with all the tools they can bring to bear – to provide a best-in-service digital training program designed to increase technical proficiencies and employable skills for Indigenous students. This ‘digital toolbox’ is something that students will be able to build upon for future academic activities, jobs and internships, economic development and even community organizing. By participating, students will also be ensuring the Native workforce is well-equipped to be competitive and add valuable social capital to tribal communities.

In an era where visibility matters, we hope other potential partners will see Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) other Native-serving universities through the same lens of corporate social responsibility that HBCUs and HSIs (historically black and Hispanic) colleges have received.

Helping Native college students has always been a passion for me.  Advocating for accessibility, equity and opportunity in technology and beyond has become my life’s work, and I am grateful to have Google as a partner in that journey. My hope is that this initiative can create a cornerstone for future professionals, organizers and community members to build health, wealth and prosperity.

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Operation Thanksgiving Hope: Feeding Native Americans This Holiday Season

Most Americans cannot wait to celebrate Thanksgiving – from the savory taste of turkey and sweet smell of pumpkin pie to the time spent with loved ones we don’t see often. People across many cultures celebrate this day while blending in their own special customs and traditions. Unfortunately for Native Americans, this day of gathering and gratitude is bittersweet. It can be difficult to embrace the spirit of the holiday when the painful truth lingers in the back of our minds, especially as many live with hardship every single day.

The sugar-coated story teaches us that Thanksgiving commemorates a time when Puritans arrived on our shores and were warmly welcomed by the Wampanoag Tribe in 1621. This tribe showed them how to plant crops, forage for foods and survive in the ‘New World’. In exchange for the tribe’s hospitality, the fabricated story and images depict the Puritans and the Wampanoag celebrating side by side.

In actuality, the first official mention of a ‘Thanksgiving’ celebration occurred in 1637, after colonists brutally massacred an entire Pequot community and subsequently celebrated the victory. Despite its nefarious beginning, many Native Americans now observe the holiday along with the rest of the country – but any similarities stop at eating dinner with family.

Navajo Elders Betty and George receive their Thanksgiving meal. Tsaile, Apache County, AZ on the Navajo Nation

While the history of Thanksgiving is a fable, reservation life is very real. Deep poverty, soaring rates of joblessness, and lack of access to food and water are among the many challenges facing First Americans today. In 2021, up to 43% of Native children live in poverty. These are the descendants of Indigenous peoples who lived successfully off this land for thousands of years before colonization (and taught the settlers who came after them how to survive) – descendants now being subjected to the effects of unmet treaty obligations, imbalanced policies and decades of financial hardship.

Centuries of unjust living conditions, paired with the recent continued impact of COVID-19, will unfortunately leave many families without a Thanksgiving meal this year. PWNA’s Operation Thanksgiving Hope campaign is part of a massive effort to provide Thanksgiving meals to community members across reservations in the Northern Plains and Southwest. Our goal is to distribute healthy food for 6,500 people this year.  

Everyone deserves a warm meal on Thanksgiving Day, especially Native Americans. Our Native ancestors may not have had the chance to enjoy a ‘Thanksgiving’ meal with loved ones, but it’s on us to ensure that Native families can today. Please donate here.

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Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

No one can imagine all that Native Americans endured after the arrival of Christopher Columbus on these shores, largely because we do not talk honestly about it. Native communities continue to fight to protect their homes, their families and the only land they’d ever known. Rather than paying homage to someone whose legacy caused devastation for millions of Indigenous people, we believe in honoring those who proved to be resilient through it all – and celebrating their contributions to the U.S.

While long miscredited for discovering the ‘New World’, Christopher Columbus robbed Indigenous people of their foodways, languages and lifeways, and instead opened the door to a life of disease, genocide, land grabs and slavery.

This year, PWNA is encouraging everyone to sign our #NativeAware petition that supports House Bill 5473 to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day nationwide.  While we applaud President Biden’s proclamation of October 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day for 2021, we must demand a permanent change to this day every year.

A bill to change Columbus Day was first introduced in 1991. Since then, 14 states and more than 130 cities across the U.S. have already made the change, but we firmly believe more can be done. All signatures collected through the petition will be sent to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, on Oct. 20, 2021, in support of a demand for this necessary change.

Columbus Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1937 as part of an effort to incorporate heavily stigmatized Catholic Italians, such as Columbus, into American history. But enough is enough. For so many people, Columbus Day serves as a reminder of the pain and loss endured by Indigenous tribes and families – a pain passed down through the generations. It’s also inaccurate to say Columbus discovered a land that was already populated by millions of people for thousands of years.

Join our Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement today. Sign the petition and share it with your friends and loved ones to help permanently replace Columbus Day. Indigenous youth deserve to learn about the real U.S. history and take pride in Native American resilience. We can’t change the past or undo the harm, but we can make the future brighter for those who will come after us.

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