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Social Equity

Kelly mentioned “social equity” in her blog topic on Chaske Spencer and Native Americans Giving Back, and it got me to thinking, just what is social equity?  Well, there are many broad definitions and there are many focused definitions.  And although the definitions vary slightly based on the field of study or the context of topic being discussed, the theme remains the same:

Social equity “implies fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs.”

Social equity - President Obama - Social JusticeSo, how does social equity apply to Native Americans? Well, to begin with, many Native Americans do not have fair access to these things. There is a disparity that extends into Indian country and the results are terrible – without open and fair access to these things, the conditions of poverty are aggravated.  And this is not something that happened recently, or as a result of an inability to try.

I have seen firsthand the courage and determination and steadfast adherence to a plan to “make things better” for a family or community, yet that plan falls short for reasons as simple as lack of resources. This lack can be insufficient funds for a community project such as a garden where hoses, tools and other equipment are needed to raise healthy natural food for a community. Or, it can be loss of hope in the face of incredible and extreme hardship… lack of money for heat in the winter, or food to feed the family, or transportation to get to work or take the kids to Head Start in the morning.

When I think about equity, I don’t think of equality (which is important too), but rather, I think of fairness.   In an attempt to clearly define social equity, it was stated:

“To be clear, ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ are terms that are often used interchangeably, and to a large extent, they have similar meanings. The difference is one of nuance:  while equality can be converted into a mathematical measure in which equal parts are identical in size or number, equity is a more flexible measure allowing for equivalency while not demanding sameness.”

I like this facet of the definition because we are not all the same. We do not have same cultural or religious beliefs, yet we all deserve the fairness that social equity implies. Nobody should be left out of this life. We should all have fair access to food, shelter, education. We should all have open participation in what is happening in our community and the opportunity to meet our own fundamental needs.

But, this is not the case for all of us. Native Americans have been dealing with issues of social inequity  for decades, as we navigated treaties that were unfair and continuously altered to benefit the growing non-Native American population of the United States. This was the case with my tribe and our original homelands.  We were sent to live on a tiny reservation along the Minnesota River, until the U.S. decided to waive their obligations to the 1851 treaty and ultimately kicked the Sisseton and Wahpeton out of Minnesota.

Social Equity - Admit one, admit allMy point is this: The lack of social equity is really everybody’s problem. We are all a part of this complex mess of how to be fair and how to allow all the citizens of the U.S. fair access to everything that they need in life. And I’m not talking about the latest cell phone or a tablet to watch Netflix movies on while they wait for their plane to Florida for vacation. I’m talking about fair access to basic human needs such as food, clean water, education, adequate housing and the ability to forge their own livelihood and contribute to decisions that affect their community. I’m talking about the opportunity to create projects in a community that bring sustainable impact for everyone in that community. I’m talking about the opportunity to learn and to attend college so that communities can have Native American doctors, nurses, electricians, architects, community developers and business people.

Social equity is about ensuring and creating equal access to basic needs and opportunity so that individuals and families can share in a reasonable quality of life.

I remember a little Sisseton Wahpeton boy that was hungry at school because he missed breakfast. And I remember how that little boy was sent to the principal’s office that same morning, where he ate a bowl of cereal and had a small juice, because the teacher and the principal knew the boy was hungry and they simply wanted to help.

Social Equity - Murray Lee - cropped, sized 1That little boy was me…and I will always remember that. And it’s not that I was hungry because my parents didn’t care or because they didn’t love me, but rather, we simply didn’t have the resources or the access to them. We did the best we could, and sometimes that meant falling just a little bit short. Sometimes you just need help from those that are able and willing to reach out.

We can all play a part in ensuring Native Americans have fair access to the things we should all enjoy as citizens of the United States and as human beings. And whether you donate money to make life better for the people that National Relief Charities serves, or you donate material goods and services, or you simply donate your voice to create awareness of the issue, it all helps. Whatever you do makes a difference.

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Native Americans Giving Back: Chaske Spencer

Inspiring a belief in a brighter future and shining a light on a path to change is no small undertaking but one Native American celebrity has taken it on:  Chaske Spencer.

Lakota Sioux, Chaske Spencer (pronounced Chess-kay) was born in Oklahoma and grew up on reservations in Montana and Idaho. Breaking the mold by being both musician and athlete, Chaske is skilled in singing, playing bass and drum and Native American dancing, as well as football, track and horseback riding.

With a strong interest in photography, Chaske first imagined his career behind the camera but soon found himself in front of the camera acting. As a teen, Chaske acted at the Lewiston Civic Theatre. He later studied theatre at Montana School of the Arts and Lewis & Clark State College, and worked with acting coaches like David Gideon and Ed Kovens. Moving to New York City to fuel his acting career, Chaske played Dracula off-Broadway and various roles in The Roundabout and The Public Theatre.

It was in New York that casting director Rene Haynes discovered Chaske and cast him in his first feature film, “Skins” (2002). This led to the actor’s lead roles in “Dreamkeeper” and “Into the West” by Steven Speilberg. Haynes also cast Chaske in the role for which he is best known, Sam Uley of the werewolf pack in “The Twilight Saga.” His latest film is “Winter in the Blood” (2013).

Chaske Spencer, pub. at

Chaske Spencer, pub. at

A social activist, Chaske is passionate about making a difference. He speaks and supports fundraisers for nonprofits such as the Osage Nation Foundation and the National Museum of the American Indian. Chaske is especially focused on reducing poverty and creating sustainable communities. To this end, Chaske is teaming with producer Ted Kurdyla and his manager on a documentary and a feature film through his production company, Urban Dream.

Chaske supports United Global Shift in working for a shift from survival and scarcity to possibility and peace, and a shift of power away from government and to the people. Their “Be the Shift” projects focus on environment, employment and entrepreneurship, health and education, empowering people to create sustainable, lasting change in their communities.

A spokesperson for the “Native Vote” campaign” in 2012, Chaske sees a first step in creating a shift for Native Americans is exercising the right to vote and electing legislators who understand the need for empowerment and change. Only 2 of 5 Native Americans eligible to vote are registered. Chaske also teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama on the “Let’s Move! Indian Country” campaign to promote healthier lifestyles among Native families and communities.

Like Chaske, part of NRC’s mission is supporting long-term solutions as a way forward to a brighter future. Our sustainability projects focus on health and nutrition, including projects like Let’s Move! and enhanced gardening projects, youth development and environmental emergency preparedness. Last year we tilled gardens, built raised garden beds for Elders, supported garden training, and taught healthy cooking, food service and food safety for 234 people from the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations. We also provided college readiness training for 362 Native students from the Navajo Nation and surrounding pueblos.

If we have one wish going forward into 2015, it would be social equity for all. We congratulate Chaske Spencer for his insight and care in working to create lasting change and social equity for Native Americans and other cultures.


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Native Americans Giving Back: Graham Greene

Not every Native American is sought out for Indian roles, mainstream movie roles and cable TV roles, or recognized for all and awarded for most, but here’s one who is: Graham Greene.

Born in 1952 on Six Nations reserve #40 in Oshweken, Ontario, Canada, Graham Greene is Oneida. His reservation, formally known as the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, is home to Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora peoples who unified under the Great Tree of Peace during the American Revolution, making them one of the largest bands in Canada with more than 25,000 members.

Perhaps best known for his Academy Award nomination for best supporting role in Dances with Wolves (1990), Greene had Native roles in movies such as “Thunderheart,” “The Last of His Tribe,” and his debut film “Running Brave.” Greene also had roles in mainstream films such as “Twilight: New Moon,” “The Green Mile,” “Maverick,” and “Die Hard With a Vengeance.” Starting out as an audio tech for rock bands, Graham graduated from The Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto in 1974.

Graham Greene, pub. at

Graham Greene, pub. at

Loved by millions, Graham received two Gemini Awards for “Best Performance” in a  Youth Program or Series (1994) and in a Pre-School Program or Series (1998). He received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for arts and culture (1997), a Grammy for best spoken word album for children, “Listen to the Storyteller” (1999), and the Earle Grey Lifetime Achievement Award (of the Canadian Gemini Awards) for his body of work on television (2004). He currently plays Malachi Strand in the A&E TV series, “Longmire.”

In 2008, Graham was awarded an honorary law degree by Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario for his contributions to society – and there are many, in addition to his craft as an actor.

Recognizing the gift of resilience and the value of connection, Graham donated a voiceover for the YMCA awareness campaign on nurturing the “potential of youth.” With Thanksgiving upon us, Graham urges all of us to stop and give thanks for the young people around us – children, students, grandchildren – and for Indian nations surviving another hard year.

Like Graham, NRC respects the potential of all youth and their right to social equity. Last year, NRC provided school supplies for more than 25,000 Native American children in K-12 schools. We supported literacy programs for nearly 17,000 Native youth, distributed TOMs shoes, and supported community-wide Thanksgivings meals for more than 10,000 Native youth, families and Elders on 49 reservations.

NRC appreciates Graham Greene for being a light for youth, for inspiring audiences, and for paving the way for indigenous hopefuls who aspire to an acting career.

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Always Remember: Native History Affects Tribes Today

Many events throughout time are milestones in history yet anything but positive for Native American tribes. This video, “Always Remember,” developed by the Herbert Brothers, speaks to the roots of the strained relationship between the 1,000+ Native American tribes and the United States.

In their desire to tell a story unknown to most Americans, yet central to the indigenous people in this country, the Herbert Brothers mark a few significant points in time:

  • 1823 – The law disregards tribal sovereignty. In Johnson v. Macintosh, the first in the infamous Marshall Trilogy, the Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes could not convey land to private parties without the approval of the federal government. At the time, the federal government’s interpretation was that tribes were not set up as sovereign nations.
  • 1824 – The BIA is born. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun created the BIA without authority of Congress and appointed Thomas L. McKenny as superintendent.
  • 1830 – Indian lands are imperiled. The Indian Removal Act was passed and authorized President Andrew Jackson to negotiate with tribes to give up their land in the east for land in the west. These negotiations, which were not really negotiations at all, resulted in forced removal of tribes from east to west.
  • 1831-1832 – The Marshall Trilogy takes more. In the second and third parts of the Marshall Trilogy (The Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia, and Worcester v. Georgia), the Supreme Court ruled states cannot negotiate a treaty with the tribes – that tribes are sovereign and only the federal government can sign a treaty – and that state laws did not extend into Indian country because they were incompatible with the treaties, the Constitution and laws giving effect to the treaties. This gave the U.S. all the power needed to control the treaties and the tribes, and by the end of 1831, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was placed under the department of the Secretary of War.
  • 1831-1838 – Many trails of tears ensue. Individual states ignored legislation meant to protect the tribes from illegal maneuvering to usurp the land they occupied and had occupied for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. And this occurred all over the United States as a result of the damaging precedents set by the Marshall lawsuits.
  • 1926:  The failure of U.S. Indian policy is clear. It has been studied, reported and long recognized that the current day poverty among Native Americans is a result of the foregoing laws and policies toward the tribes. But, it wasn’t until 1926 that Secretary of Interior Herman Work recognized U.S. Indian policy had been a failure and commissioned a study on Indian conditions and the effectiveness of the federal administration.
  • 1928:  Indian policy evaluation changes little. The Merriam Report (real title “The Problem of Indian Administration”) opens with this statement: “An overwhelming majority of the Indians are poor, even extremely poor. And, they are not adjusted to the economic and social system of the dominant white culture.” It took 857 pages to tell any person that the Indian policy was not working.

POW-MIA RecognitionThe Merriam Report was the most comprehensive (and only) study to date about the effectiveness of U.S. Indian policy, yet the same issues affect tribes today. Issues like suicide and poverty are affecting over a million Native Americans at this very moment – a direct result of decades of failed policies and generations of mistreatment toward the tribes.

All the while, tribes have continued to be good citizens, to proudly serve as Code Talkers and veterans, and to maintain the highest rate of military service of any ethnic group in the U.S.

So, as we recognize this Veterans Day, and these points in history, we also urge you as the video does to remember does to remember Native Americans. It is important also to remember that the past, even the distant past, is directly linked to what is happening for the tribes today.

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Native Americans Giving Back: Martha Redbone

Not every singer has a voice for blending her upbringing with an echo of mountain holler and values distilled in the South since before America was founded, but one does:  Martha Redbone.

Raised on Appalachian folk music and Piedmont blues, Martha Redbone grew up on Clinch Mountain (in Virginia), in Harlan County, KY and in Brooklyn, NY. Choctaw-Shawnee, Redbone is an unchained talent and sought after collaborator. Establishing her career in London and New York City, she has worked with legends such as Walter “Junie” Morrison (of Ohio Players and P-Funk fame) and Shola Ama (British Grammy winner).

Redbone’s music was strongly influenced by the downhome blues of fellow Kentuckians Jim Ford and Jackie DeShannon – long before her forebears Buffy Sainte-Marie and Rita Coolidge brought Indigenous concerns to rock and roll in the 1970s.

Perhaps best known for “The Garden of Love – The Songs of William Blake,” Martha recorded that album in Nashville. In it, she sets to song the poetry of William Blake, calling up old-timey, rustic Americana, with underpinnings of folk and roots music and acoustic blues, offering up “visions of coal mines, simple living and ancestors living at one with the land.”

While prior releases “Home of the Brave” and “Skintalk” (now part of the permanent collection of contemporary Native music at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)) also explore rhythm and blues, “The Garden of Love” is considered Martha at her best, focusing on vocals and allowing her deep communion with the spirits of her ancestors. Raising her son, losing a mother and aunt, and facing other trials during the writing of this album, it was a 5-year work of art giving voice to these turbulent times. Lyrics like “C’mon, brothers and sisters, and get yourselves back to some semblance of The Garden” give comfort and meaning and appeal to plain folks hungering for a simple truth. It was voted one of the best albums of 2012.

Yet Martha’s contributions don’t stop there. She talks on indigenous rights, the role of arts in politics, and Native identity at universities, and she talks on motivation at reservation grade schools. After the infamous Red Lake shootings, Martha donated 100 “Skintalk” albums to the tribal youth council. For being an exemplary ambassador to Native and African youth for the National HIV/AIDs Partnership, she was recognized by the U.N. with a Red Ribbon Award.

Martha Redbone, pub. by NPR at

Martha Redbone, pub. by NPR at

Currently featured as a popular artist in NMAI’s exhibit, “Up Where We Belong,” Martha holds a Traditional Music Workshop annually in the United Houma Nation (LA), teaching children the music of her Choctaw and Cherokee heritage and integrating the tribe’s Houma-French language. And after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged Houma communities along the Gulf Coast, Martha single-handled generated publicity to raise awareness about the forgotten Gulf tribes, generating over $30,000. She also performed with Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Bonnie Raitt to help raise over $130,000 for the Clyde Bellecourt Scholarship Fund (allowing full-tuition for 12 Native students who have overcome adversity). Finally, as indigenous affairs consultant and creative advisor to the “Man Up Campaign,” she helps eradicate violence against women and girls.

Like Martha, National Relief Charities was there providing disaster relief for the Houma after Katrina and Gustava and Ike. We too are furthering college scholarships for motivated Native American students and supporting programs focused on domestic violence. Last year alone, we helped domestic violence programs on the reservations assist nearly 2,500 participants. National Relief Charities acknowledges Martha Redbone for steadfastly supporting causes she believes in and bringing leadership to Indian country.

“Native Americans Giving Back” is a blog series that features Native American celebrities who are giving back to Indian country and supporting the same types of causes NRC supports. The series will run periodically through year-end 2014 and feature topics from all of NRC’s regular blog writers.

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Native Americans Giving Back: Adam Beach

One man has witnessed first-hand many of the same struggles Native Youth face today, and has found a way to give back, and to give hope:  Adam Beach.

Perhaps best known for his role as Victor in the film, “Smoke Signals,” Adam Beach is an actor, producer and composer. An inspiration to many, Beach is a strong voice for Native American actors, a group underrepresented in the entertainment industry. And, he understands first-hand many of the desperate and depressing issues facing many Native Americans today.

Photo Caption:  Adam Beach, pub. at

Photo Caption: Adam Beach, pub. at

Born Saulteaux on the Dog Creek First Nation Reserve in Canada, Beach witnessed many challenges on the reservation such as poverty, sexual abuse, alcoholism – social challenges that exist in many communities on and off the reservations. In addition, when Adam was eight, both of his parents died – his mother killed by a drunk driver when she was eight months pregnant and his father accidentally drowned only months later. After this, Adam moved to Winnipeg to live with his aunt and uncle and joined the high school theatre group to have fun with his friends. When they decided to move, Adam remained and began seriously to consider acting as a career. With more than 60 Adam Beach films and TV programs dating back to 1990, his choice paid off.

Yet, it is Adam’s off-screen work that is making the biggest difference in the lives of Native Americans. He started the Adam Beach Film Institute to provide resources and training to Aboriginal youth who are interested in pursuing a career within the film industry. He also launched the Adam Beach Foundation to:

“…enhance the awareness of suicide, for the prevention of suicide and also to provide different opportunities to distract the younger generation from losing hope, from thinking that they have nowhere to go or have no ideas to put together.”

Like Adam, National Relief Charities is committed to helping Native Americans address suicide prevention, realize health and hope and live a better tomorrow. In 2013, NRC supported reservation programs for suicide prevention, domestic violence, behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, as well as youth camps, boys and girls clubs, and other programs working to support and inspire Native American youth and families toward healthy and hopeful lifestyles on the reservations.

 “Native Americans Giving Back” is a blog series that features Native American celebrities who are giving back to Indian country and supporting the same types of causes NRC supports. The series will run periodically through year-end 2014 and feature topics from all of NRC’s regular blog writers.

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Native Americans Giving Back: Buffy Sainte-Marie

When it comes to the United States, it is mostly understood that Native Americans were here first. Before it was recorded by the likes of Elvis, Barbara Streisand and Cher, Until It’s Time for You to Go was recorded first by a Native American: Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Cree singer-songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie, was breaking ground in the 1960s while the rest of the North American counter-culture was just beginning to wake up. According to her website, the start of Sainte-Marie’s career put her in a unique place “after the beatniks and before the hippies.” Touring colleges, reservations and concert halls throughout the 1960s, Sainte-Marie won acclaim but also undoubtedly shattered audience expectations of Native Americans. She was probably the first Native American many people experienced apart from television or film.

Even after being blacklisted by the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, Buffy Sainte-Marie continued to gain fame internationally. She could be seen supporting grassroots and activist causes like the American Indian Movement, all the while winning an Academy Award and Golden Globe for her song, Up Where We Belong.

Buffy Sainte-Marie, pub. at

Buffy Sainte-Marie, pub. at

It was 1969 when Buffy focused her activist passion into education. Establishing the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education, her aim was to raise self-identify and self-esteem in generations of Indian children by integrating accurate, enriching information about Native cultures into their learning. Though the Foundation and her Cradleboard project, Buffy also provides cross-cultural training among students and teachers internationally to promote an understanding of Native cultures. Two of the students Buffy sponsored went on to become tribal college presidents who are helping other students reach their full potential. By 1975, her passion spilled over into a five-year run on Sesame Street.

Over the course of her 52-year career, Buffy has earned and continues to earn numerous awards for music, education and the arts. Yet, at the forefront of all this was creating opportunity and improving recognition for Native Americans – a passion that earned her a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Indian College Fund.

Like Buffy, our American Indian Education Foundation (AIEF) shares a commitment to education and strives to create opportunity for Native youth. We believe that education is a key to the long-term challenges facing Indian country. In addition to providing scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students attending universities, tribal colleges, and vocational or technical schools, AIEF partners with Native-serving schools to support retention. Only about 20% of Native Americans who start college complete their first year, but through these partnerships, 95% of AIEF scholarship students complete freshmen year.

On this day and in thinking about Native Americans giving back, we would like to recognize Buffy Sainte-Marie for enriching the lives of Native Americans through education and non-Natives through cultural education. Her work supports not only Native American youth but also tribal futures, as well as AIEF students, partners and donors, and all who care about education.

“Native Americans Giving Back” is a blog series that features Native American celebrities who are giving back to Indian country and supporting the same types of causes NRC supports. The series will run periodically through year-end 2014 and feature topics from all of NRC’s regular blog writers.



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Native Americans Giving Back: Wes Studi

“Why don’t Native Americans help each other? We hear this question often. The answer is, they do… wealthy tribes assist other tribes, Indian gaming creates new jobs, tribes partner in sustainability projects… But, we want to bring this closer to home for our readers. NRC is launching the “Native Americans Giving Back” series to feature Native American celebrities who are philanthropists and humanitarians that care about the same causes we do – and the series starts now with our first celeb:  Wes Studi.

Credited with changing the stereotype of Native Americans in film through more than 80 diverse and nontraditional roles, Wes Studi is perhaps best known for The Last of the Mohicans, Dances With Wolves, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Geronimo: An American Legend, We Shall Remain, and Avatar, as well as TV series Streets of Laredo, The Mentalist and Hell on Wheels. An acclaimed actor, musician, author and winner of several First Americans in the Arts awards and the Santa Fe Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, Studi wa also inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers in 2013. Eldest son of a ranch hand, he was born in Oklahoma and spoke only Cherokee until he was 5 years old. Although he attended and graduated from an Indian boarding school, he never forgot his Native tongue.

It is fair to say that Wes started giving back publicly when he joined the U.S. Army and asked to serve in Vietnam. At one point in the Mekong Delta, he was nearly killed by friendly fire. After an honorable discharge, Wes became a political advocate for Native Americans, joining the American Indian Movement (AIM) and supporting the Wounded Knee occupation that brought global attention to the policies and conditions forced upon Native Americans in the U.S. Embracing ever more seriously his desire to be a vehicle for positive change, he then worked for the Cherokee Nation and helped start the Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper that is still published today. Recognizing the importance of cultural ties, Wes also taught the Cherokee language at Northeastern University in Tahlequah, OK. In 1983, he began acting at The American Indian Theatre Company in Tulsa, viewing it as a healthy outlet for his feelings.

Wes Studi, pub. at

Wes Studi, pub. at

When we look at Wes Studi, the humanitarian, he is actively giving back to Native communities through the use of his natural talents. This begins with actively encouraging next-gen filmmakers and actors through mentoring and apprenticeship programs. It continues with regularly contributing to nutrition and health concerns similar to those NRC supports. For instance, Wes uses his acting talent to help organizations get critical messages to tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In a PSA for the CDC’s Traditional Foods Project, Wes encouraged reclaiming traditional foods as a way of bringing balance to diabetes in Native American cultures. In a PSA for the I.H.S., Wes spoke about flu prevention and treatment and the need for flu vaccines. Did you know the risk of H1N1 flu is four times higher for Native Americans? Wes also supports the Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation, a Canadian charity focused on developing youth as future leaders in First Nation communities.

We congratulate Wes Studi for his success as a Native American actor and as a humanitarian in support of Native American peoples, cultures and causes. And, we hope this first topic has been enlightening for our readers. If you’re a fan of Adam Beach, Martha Redbone or Buffy Sainte-Marie, Graham Greene or Jana Mashonee, or Chaske Spencer and Kiowa Gordon of Twilight fame, stay tuned for more!!

“Native Americans Giving Back” is a blog series that features Native American celebrities who are giving back to Indian country and supporting the same types of causes NRC supports. The series will run periodically through year-end 2014 and feature topics from all of NRC’s regular blog writers.

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An Interview with Dana Lone Hill

“It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story,” but sometimes a single voice can tell a story too.  Native American author Dana Lone Hill is one of those voices and now is your chance to win an autographed copy of her new book, “Pointing With Lips.” Hurry, the contest ends October 16! For rules of entry and how to win, check out our Thousand Voices book contest page.

A powerful voice from Indian country, Dana Lone Hill recently released her first novel, “Pointing With Lips,” which is set on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Dana granted us an interview to share with readers everywhere. This Lakota author is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Our Q&A follows.

Pub. by CreateSpace,

Pub. by CreateSpace,, in your words, what is the book about?Dana, in your words, what is the book about?

1. Dana, in your words, what is the book about?
Everyday life on the rez. Everyday struggles. Everyday laughter. Most media is about sadness. We as Indians get through the struggle with laughter. I want people to see that’s who we are, not the romanticized people of Hollywood or the pitiful stories the media portrays us as, but real people.

2.  In an email you shared with me, “my heart wrote [the book].” Why do you say that?
First, when I wrote the book, I was incarcerated and awaiting sentencing. I thought to myself, “I’ve done these things, been a writer, and got my voice out there. I am known reservation-wide.” Yet, I was sitting in jail, and thinking, “I’m not going down like this. This is not who I am as a Lakota woman. I have so much I am capable of because I am a Lakota woman and came up around strong Lakota women.” I knew that as soon as I hit freedom, I was going to get my voice out there, and I have.

Second, the family in the book is not my family specifically. They are a family I made up and love. They exist in my heart.

3.  How much of the book is based on real life experience?
It’s all fiction. A few things in the book are real-life experiences, similarities to certain people or certain stories but not a lot.

Some parts of it are not sugarcoated; they are things that need to be out there so people understand they happen in this day and age. For example, the story about alcoholism is out there already. However, what is not out there is how It impacts 100% of the reservation. Somehow, some way, everyone is impacted (either someone died, went to prison, or is sick from it). No one raises their hand to say they were impacted by abuse connected to alcohol. Things like that have repercussions for the rest of your life. I wanted to touch base on the children, what happens to them because of the alcoholism, because they are our children, “wakanyeja” (gift from God).

4.  What are the most important Lakota aspects you bring into the book?
I think some of the things are that we never forget where we came from and how grateful we are to still be here.

We have to know our history in order to move forward. Our Elders tell us all the time what happened to them or their Elders. We can’t forget our history or get over it. It’s about going forward from it. We’re still here. My kids hear that every day.

I also included in the book a lot of real-life historical points, such as the Black Hills gold issue, the beginning of the AIM Wounded Knee occupation, and the boarding school issue. These things are significant in Lakota history and today.

5.  Are there aspects specific to life on Pine Ridge you hope people will “get”?
I hope they realize what a wonderful people we are. I am not Sincere – the main character. A lot of people confuse me with her (the smiles, the quips), but she is fictional and stronger than I am. Maybe Sincere is who I would want to be.

6.  What is your favorite part of the book?
My favorite part is when the family has their cookout, as dramatic as it was. They had a lot of drama. And I’ve been to cookouts like that.

Another favorite part would be Sincere’s realization of what she needs to do.

7.  What was the hardest part of the book for you to write, and why?
The hardest part to write was Sincere’s flashback of when she was a little girl at a party. Although what happened to Sincere didn’t happen to me, I remember being at parties and feeling fear. I took a week off from writing that part.

8.  How different would this book be for Native American and non-Native readers?
Native Americans from back home and from other reservations are supportive, because I’m not hiding anything about life on the rez. I might exaggerate a little bit but I’m not hiding anything.

Non-Native reviews are good too in the sense of understanding what we go through on a daily basis. These readers learn more about how we live and that we know how to live in a poor world.

By writing the book, my dream came true. One message I hope people get is that we know how to live when we are poor, so let’s use that same hustle to move us forward. Jayson Brave Heart first brought up the hustle to me.

9.  What do you most want readers to know about you?
Above all else, I am a mom with four children (three sons and a daughter).

I also want people to know that hundreds of people stay on the reservation and try to make it a better place. I have cousins and friends there and nothing but respect for them. They are wonderful people and the most supportive of everybody.

10.  What suggestions do you have for other first-time novelists on or off the reservation?
Just never give up!!

I used to write when no one read me. I wrote for myself. I had a blog and slowly people started reading it. I wrote on napkins and anything I could get ahold of just to keep going.

Dana Lone Hill

Dana Lone Hill

*** Books by Dana Lone Hill:
Dana’s book, “Pointing With Lips,” is available at You can also purchase it at the Sioux Nation Shopping Center in South Dakota, telephone 605-867-5183.
A sequel to “Pointing With Lips” is coming out around Christmas this year.
“Hangover Soup” is a compilation of short stories co-authored by Dana and Jayson Brave Heart. It is coming out in 2015.

*** Author’s Bio:  Dana Lone Hill is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation. Her award-winning weekly column, “Rez in The City,” chronicles life off the reservation and in urban America. Dana currently lives in Red Wing, MN. Be sure to check out her blog and follow her on Twitter at @justarezchick.

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$554M Navajo Settlement: A Win but Not a Windfall

On May 29, 2014, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council voted to accept a $554 million settlement from the U.S. government for claims dating back to 1946 – starting the clock on a 120-day process of payment earmarked for September. It is and is not surprising that it has taken until yesterday for this news to hit the mainstream media, even though the tribe held a signing ceremony that published on YouTube on June 6, 2014. This kind of delay seems sadly common when it comes to news about Indian country. I hope this latest news will inspire the media to keep a closer watch on the tribes, as there is much positive change in the works today.

With the news now widespread, the Navajo Nation has made history in winning the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history. We all need to remember, of course, that the $554 million is not a windfall but rather an attempt to offset tribal losses incurred due to federal mismanagement of tribal trust lands and leases. These leases involved farming, grazing, oil and gas development, mining and housing. Back in 2006 when this claim was first filed, the total loss to the Navajo Nation was valued at more than $900 million.

The Navajo Nation has since taken on significant responsibility for the leasing of nearly 14 million acres of its tribal lands and has a process in place should further disputes arise with the federal government. This is another positive step toward tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

President Shelly has stated there will be no spending plan but rather a 5-year Navajo investment plan. The tribe is creating an official investment committee (aka task force) to explore their best alternatives and options for investment. As of the 2010 Census, the Navajo Reservation had 300,048 tribal members inhabiting their 27,000 acres of tribal trust land. There is no shortage of options for investment. Challenges abound with housing, water, roads, electricity and other utilities, and general infrastructure, as well as a shortage of jobs and poverty ranging from 40-50%.

Andrew Sandler, a tribal attorney for the Navajo Nation, echoed the investment sentiment, saying some tribal members suggest the Navajo settlement funds be used for business development or put aside for future generations. The first investment committee meeting is reportedly scheduled for October.  We know from experience that such planning and implementation will take a while, as will seeing the fruits of the investments, but we look forward to seeing what the settlement becomes.

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