Native Peoples 101: Approaches to Working With and For Tribal Nations

In December, the council community gathered virtually for the Federation of State Humanities Councils’ final Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) Webinar of the year, which centered on working with and for Native communities. Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy), educator, children’s book author, and multi-award winning museum professional; Connecticut Humanities Executive Director Jason Mancini; and Federation Board member endawnis Spears (Diné/ Ojibwe/ Chickasaw/ Choctaw), noted that this work begins with a conversation about language and terminology. 

“We know that the power to name is very important, and that oftentimes titles and names in the English language are a reflection of power, so we want to acknowledge that and provide some context,” said Spears. 

From “Native American” and “American Indian” to “Alaska Native” and “Native Hawaiian,” no generalized term is exactly right, explained panelists, given that these terms originate in English. An important part of this process, Newell said, is identifying vocabulary that stems from stereotypes, misrepresents Native history, and causes harm: “When you come across them, discuss these terms, question them–whose words are they? What perspective do they convey?” 

We invite you to watch the webinar here (passcode: !6StES3q).

Description: Standing Rock. Mascots. Land acknowledgments. #landback. Tribal nations and tribal matters surround us every day. As humanities councils continue to move toward equity and access, how can councils better engage, support, and connect with the tribal nations and Indigenous communities in whose homelands we live and work? Akomawt Educational Initiative, an Indigenous organization co-founded by Jason Mancini (Connecticut Humanities Council), endawnis Spears (Federation of State Humanities Councils Board), and Chis Newell have been working in public humanities spaces and helping reshape how our organizations understand tribal communities, governments, and processes.