You Wanted to Know: How Can I Help American Indians?

Question:  How can I help American Indians?


It can be very frustrating for nonnative people to know how best to reach out to Indians or to help address the problems in Indian country. Sometimes it seems safer and easier not to teach about Indians, not to learn more and more deeply about Indians, and not to advocate for change. But Edmund Burke had it right: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’

(Credits:  Treuer, Anton (2012-05-01). Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, published by Borealis Books.)

I believe most thinking people, people with any sense of justice, are moved by the disparities in quality of life and the human suffering that exists in many parts of Indian country.  It is positive when people are moved and ask the question, “How can I help?”  I think it is important to take action on the impulse to help AND to take action in an informed, humble way.

It does not seem that it should be difficult to become more informed, but the author (Treuer) is right. In regards to learning more about our treatment of American Indian people, it can seem safer not to learn more. It is a difficult history and can challenges some closely held beliefs about the foundation of our country. It may seem easier to look away – but being informed about American Indian people, the history of their struggle, and what their current efforts are to change conditions is important to being an effective helper.

I mentioned humility is important in helping. I have sometimes seen well-intended, but uninformed or arrogant efforts to help cause problems for the very people who were supposed to be helped. It is also important that help is provided in a manner that supports the dignity of the people receiving it. The attitude brought to helping makes a difference.

I have had the privilege of living and working in Indian country for many years, learning from strong and resilient people who suffer the effects of poverty. I have learned that the poverty that exists in Indian country is the result of colonization and a history of abhorrent federal policies. It has been a blessing to be exposed to the rich and beautiful culture that continues to hold people strong and connected to one another. It has also been important for me to learn that American Indian people already know what solutions are needed to move their communities along. I understand that my role, and the role of all of us at NRC, is to listen to those community-based solutions and support the initiatives with the resources people lack. We approach the help we provide in an informed, respectful, and humble manner.

So, if the last question in this series – How can I help American Indians? – has struck you, don’t resist the tug. Learn what your role is in the solution. 

Contest - Everything You Wanted to Know book coverSuggested Ways You Can Help

1. Treaties, history, federal policies, BIA or Indian Affairs, federal recognition, tribal sovereignty, labor laws, voting, stereotypes, and prejudice.
2. Native American authors, contributions, Veterans, success stories, news documentaries, and reservation profiles.
3. Living conditions where we work such as disparities in Indian country, food deserts, nutrition, traditional foods, diabetes, healthy living, education, and housing.

  • Talk about what you have learned.
  • Follow media focused on Native concerns, such as Indian Country Today.
  • Challenge stereotypes, and respect and appreciate those you want to help.
  • Advocate for change in oppressive policies toward American Indians.
  • Learn about nonprofit services in Indian country and find one you care about.
  • Look for ways to be part of the solution in your home community.
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