Reclaiming Native Truth: Changing the Narrative

Groundbreaking Research Reveals America’s Attitudes, Public Perceptions and Dominant Narratives about Native People and Native Issues, and Provides Opportunities for “Reclaiming Native Truth”

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) and Echo Hawk Consulting (EHC) today released groundbreaking research about attitudes toward and perceptions of Native Americans as part of a jointly-managed effort called Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions. The project also released two messaging guides based on the research findings and a narrative-change strategy framework that will be used to begin to change the false and misleading narratives about Native peoples. 

The project seeks to create a long-term, Native-led movement that positively transforms popular narratives and images of Native Americans. A two-year phase, launched in 2016, created a solid foundation of unprecedented public opinion research and data, building upon previous research efforts. It was funded by a $2.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and significant financial contributions from numerous other entities and individuals.

“Some incredible findings were unearthed through this research – many of which had long been experienced and assumed but not proven,” said Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President & CEO of First Nations. “The findings clearly validate the realities that so many Native people face in their day-to-day interactions in communities. They provide our project, and the larger movement, with a strong foundation upon which to move forward.” Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), President & CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting, shared, “This research informed how we could create a new narrative that would be effective in changing misperceptions. We formulated a new narrative, created by renowned Native American artists and storytellers,  that proved to change people’s understanding of Native people and issues.  We are excited to take this new narrative and our research findings and transition into a new phase of this project, harnessing the power of a movement of movements.”

FINDINGS

Highlights from the publicly available findings include:
 

  • Discrimination: Most Americans surveyed significantly understate the degree of discrimination against Native Americans. Only 34 percent of Americans believe that Native people face discrimination. At the same time, myths about the abundance of Indian gaming and free government benefits to Native Americans are widely held and fuel bias across diverse demographics and within institutions.
  • Narratives: The research found that people have limited personal experience with Native Americans but accept pervasive negative narratives that are erroneously set or reinforced by others, and that proximity shapes some perceptions. For instance, people who live near or work in Indian Country, especially in areas of great poverty, are likely to hold significant bias. Only 56% of survey respondents living in close proximity to Native communities believed the U.S. should do more to help Native Americans compared to 64% of respondents further removed.
  • Invisibility: Unsurprisingly, another key finding was that Native Americans are assigned to a romanticized past. However, one of the biggest barriers identified was the invisibility and erasure of Native Americans in all aspects of modern U.S. society. Respondents, including members of Congress and administrative officials, agree that invisibility, stereotypes and narratives set by others do impact policy.
  • Desire for Complete History: One of the key opportunities uncovered is that, across the research, people are well aware of the inaccurate historical lessons they have learned about Native Americans, and want more accurate education about both historical and contemporary Natives. This was reflected in national polling that indicated that 72 percent believe it is necessary to make significant changes to school curricula on Native American history and culture.

TESTING A NEW NARRATIVE

Narratives are broadly accepted, overarching stories that reinforce ideas, norms and expectations in society. Repeated over and over, through diverse platforms and channels, a narrative becomes the story people accept without question. Often a narrative reinforces the status quo and perpetuates unfair systems, structures and norms. The Reclaiming Native Truth project worked to identify and test a new accurate narrative that can support cultural shifts to advance social and policy change to support racial equity and justice for Native Americans and tribal nations.

  • 78% – Most Americans are generally open to hearing this narrative. A majority in this survey say they are interested in learning more about Native American cultures. Strong majorities support Native American positions on most issues — mascots excepted — without hearing the narratives.
  • 81% – The public reacts strongly to our narrative.
  • 88% – Nearly nine in 10 respondents find it credible.

One of the most significant outcomes of the project related to developing and testing a new strength-based narrative that incorporated messaging related to values, history and the visibility of Native peoples. The narrative was tested through an online survey conducted between April 27 and May 1, 2018, with 2,000 Americans over age 18. Majorities of Americans support the new narrative and find it credible. A 65 percent majority say they would be willing — 31 percent very willing — to share these ideas with others. More issue-specific narrative messages written around key issues — mascots, the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal sovereignty and pop culture depictions of Native Americans — find similar validation.  

Most noteworthy is the objective difference between those exposed to the new narrative (treated group) and those that were not (untreated “control” group). Large differences emerge among the half that read the new narrative, which gave them a framework for understanding information about key Native issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act, sovereignty, mascots and other issues. For example, 39 percent of Americans who were not exposed to the new narratives support a ban on Native American mascots. Among those who read the narratives, 53 percent support such a ban. 

“We are encouraged by the findings of the research and narrative message testing in this first phase,” said Vicky Stott, Program Officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “As a philanthropic partner to the project, we are committed to telling more authentic and complete stories about who we are as interconnected people living in America. This work has the potential to transform the way we understand and relate to one another and, ultimately, co-create a new story about our shared humanity.” 

THE NEXT PHASE

The next phase of work will focus on bringing the power of many movements — of organizations, tribes, grassroots leaders, non-Native allies, foundations — each of whom can adopt, adapt and disseminate the new shared narrative as part of their ongoing efforts and work, while leading implementation of their own priority strategies. An introduction to the narrative and messaging strategies are available as part of the Reclaiming Native Truth messaging guides at www.ReclaimingNativeTruth.com. The detailed research report and the Narrative-Change Strategy are also available online.

Potential allies, supporters and others can partcipate in the movement of movements. The network will contain a support and infrastructure function that will be determined jointly by core organizations working collaboratively on the initiative.  There will be many ways for allies to do their their part to shift the narrative, remove bias and barriers, and achieve the collective vision for the change that is sought: that Native peoples collectively author and powerfully lead a more equitable reality where they fully benefit from and contribute to both Native and American society. Interested partners are encouraged to download the messaging guides from www.ReclaimingNativeTruth.com

“The project provided us the critical opportunity to begin to assemble an incredible team of not only researchers, but other experts and thought leaders across Indian Country, and both Native and non-Native allies and professionals in the media, the arts, entertainment, politics and education, as well as others who have worked on successful racial narrative change projects,” noted Echo Hawk. “We have the new research foundation built, a cadre of willing and able experts at the ready, and we have the desire and ability to move this project into the next phases where we can begin to shift the narrative.” 

Roberts shared, “We have also sought and received input and feedback at every step in the project, from more than 180 stakeholders, including an incredible swath of Indian Country that came together in a new and different way to support these efforts. Their voices are reflected in this project and we are all committed to work together going forward. Native Americans and tribes have faced discrimination and bias at every level of society, institutionally, and within government. They have been held back from reaching their full potential by the negative stereotypes, damaging misperceptions and lack of awareness that prevail within education, the media, entertainment, popular culture, and among thought leaders. Changing that begins now.”

For more information visit: www.ReclaimingNativeTruth.com.

About First Nations Development Institute

For 38 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.firstnations.org.

About Echo Hawk Consulting
The mission of Echo Hawk Consulting is to help create new platforms, narratives, strategies and investment that can help catalyze transformational change for and by Native Americans. It partners with Native American, philanthropic and diverse multi-sector partners to move hearts and minds and drive institutional, policy and culture change. Founder Crystal Echo Hawk was recently recognized by the National Center for American Indian Economic Development as its 2018 “Native American Woman Business Owner of the Year.” For more information, visit www.echohawkconsulting.com.

Juneau's First Alaska Native Police Chief Hopes to Inspire

By ALEX MCCARTHY

Juneau Empire

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ Nearly a quarter-century later, Ed Mercer still remembers the night vividly.

It was near midnight on a January night in Sitka in 1994, and Mercer was in his second year working for the Sitka Police Department. He was driving near the harbor when the call came in: a baby had been found in a bathroom at the harbor.

Mercer was the closest officer and arrived on the scene first. There he found the harbor employee Kelly Warren, holding a small newborn in his arms.

``I think that was touching,'' Mercer recalled, ``and told me a lot about humanity.''

Mercer said there was certainly a negative light to be seen that night, but he saw the positive side of the story, of this man saving the baby from a dire situation.

A fire department responder arrived moments later and took over, but the instance still sticks with Mercer. That baby grew up to make headlines in southeast Alaska in 2012, when she returned to Sitka as a high school graduate with her adopted family. She had grown up and was succeeding in school in Florida, an article in the Daily Sitka Sentinel said.

Through 26 years of being in the police force in Sitka and Juneau, Mercer has encountered numerous examples of that kind of positive humanity in extreme scenarios. He's seen it as an officer in Sitka, and then in numerous positions with the Juneau Police Department since joining JPD in 2000.

Now, he's doing it as the department's chief of police, and his ascent to the position has come in historic fashion.

NOT TAKING IT LIGHTLY

Mercer, by all accounts, is JPD's first Alaska Native chief of police. Raised in Sitka, Mercer is of a Tlingit of the Coho clan of the Raven moiety.

The department was created in 1900, according to the department's website, and created the chief of police title in 1914. Since then, JPD Administrative Assistant Patti Rumfelt said, the department had 36 chiefs of police prior to Mercer. Spokespeople at JPD and at Native Corporations Sealaska and Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) can't recall a Native chief prior to Mercer.

``It is meaningful,'' Mercer said. ``I do get a lot of people, a lot of elders, a lot of the other Alaska Native people come up to me and say, `We're really proud of you for what you have accomplished and we appreciate that you represent us.' I don't take that lightly.''

Mercer made it clear that he knows he's representing the entire Juneau community and not just the Native population. According to census.gov, 11.8 percent of Juneau residents are Alaska Native or American Indian.

Mercer's promotion carries a great deal of meaning to leaders in the Native community. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl put Mercer's hiring in a nationwide context in a statement to the Empire.

``After 150 years of American jurisdiction in Alaska, we should celebrate the appointment of Ed Mercer as Juneau's first Alaska Native chief of police,'' Worl said. ``Implementation of the law and pursuit of justice should be color blind, but statistics and the almost daily reports in the media across the nation do not bear this out.''

Worl pointed out that Alaska Natives are disproportionately incarcerated in Alaska jails. According to PrisonPolicy.org, Alaska Natives/American Indians made up 38 percent of the state's prison population in the 2010 census, while Alaska Natives/American Indians make up 15 percent of the state's total population.

CCTHITA President Richard Peterson said in a statement to the Empire that those at his organization are excited and prideful that Mercer has worked his way up to the role of chief.

``There are approximately 7,000 of our tribal citizens who live in Juneau and it is encouraging to see that population reflected in our police force who is tasked with serving and protecting our community,'' Peterson said.

`IT COULD BE YOU'

Mercer views being police chief as a chance to be a role model, providing motivation for Alaska Native children and others who want to become leaders in the community.

``I think it's very important to be able to show, especially to an Alaska Native, that the sky's the limit,'' Mercer said. ``You go out and apply yourself and there's opportunity out there. It could be you.''

Long before he was atop JPD and even before he was an officer in Sitka, Mercer wanted to be a schoolteacher. He grew up in Sitka, pondering a career in the military before attending University of Alaska Fairbanks to study education.

After a couple years, Mercer decided he wanted to try something new. Growing up in Sitka, he knew there was a police training academy there. The opportunity to give back to a community, he said, encouraged him to enter the police force.

``I think my main reason for getting into it was I wanted to be a public servant and go out and serve people,'' Mercer said. ``I don't think that has left me to this point. Even as the chief of police, I'm out there being a public servant and serving people.''

In the early 1990s when Mercer was looking for a job, it was a competitive field that required him to compete against others for a position on a police force. Twenty-six years later, police departments around the country are struggling to fill their staffs. Mercer is currently working to fill JPD's staff, which is undermanned and losing a couple more officers this summer to retirement.

Being in this role, Mercer hopes, will show to young people that if they put the effort forth, they can go from a young kid in a small village to the chief of a capital city's police department.

``I like to think that it shows people a role model, that they could do the very same thing,'' Mercer said. ``They could take up and head a police department as long as they apply themself and go out and do it. It is meaningful.''

___

Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

Chaplains offer spiritual guidance to police force in Iowa

By ALEX BOISJOLIE
Sioux City Journal

Police chaplains serve as best friends and supporters of law enforcement.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) – Before being the spiritual pedestals for Sioux City Police Officers to lean on, chaplains Maj. Von Vandiver and Rev. Dan Rupp were in different lines of work.

Vandiver, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was a computer consultant before he and his wife, Linda, became ministers and led the Salvation Army of Siouxland.

“It was a natural disaster that got me to change. My wife was an insurance adjuster, and, in 1993, there was a flood in the Missouri River that devastated St. Louis,'' Vandiver, 59, said. “We got busy helping to respond to the flood. I was in Arnold, Missouri, and I will never forget this, this guy came in and he was totally destroyed by the flood. I talked to him and gave him a cup of water and a hot dog. I just sensed God saying to me, `You could do this the rest of your life.' I thought, `Wow, I think you are right.'''

Rupp, 51, a Sioux City Catholic priest, heard a similar voice early in his life but didn't listen until after he graduated Iowa State University with a degree in electrical engineering.   

“When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a priest but that was gone by second grade. I didn't know what I wanted to be, but not a priest. Then in high school, a little call was there but I didn't want anything to do with it,'' said Rupp, a Cherokee, Iowa, native. “I finally graduated college, and in college, you are always thinking about next year, next semester, next week. Then finally you sit down and you work. And I asked, `Could I see myself retiring as an engineer, yeah, I suppose I could. I liked my job, I enjoyed my work, good money. But should I retire as an engineer? Oh boy, no. Then the thought of being a priest came back, and I thought here I go again. But I realized, it is not a curse, it is a blessing. I was just uncooperative for a while.''

As Sioux City Police chaplains, Vandiver and Rupp are always on-call to tend to the needs of the members of the department, from personal struggles at home to job-related incidents, the Sioux City Journal reported .

“This can be anything from the death or serious injury of an officer to a traumatic incident or major call for service that would result in a critical incident debrief,'' Police Chief Rex Mueller said. “We rely on them for a lot of the same duties that a church would rely on a pastor. The fact that our chaplains are willing to take on this task for no compensation is a testament to their leadership and desire to help others.''

Vandiver has been a department chaplain since 2014. Rupp filled a recent opening, succeeding the Rev. Michael Erpelding, a Catholic priest, in October after Erpelding was reassigned to parishes outside Sioux City.

Von and Linda Vandiver have been leading the Salvation Army of Siouxland since 2008. He was offered the chaplain position after his involvement in an emergency preparedness group with the police department.

“I call it a ministry of presence,'' Vandiver said. “I've met most of the officers through a training class or whatever, they know I'm here. It's not somebody saying, ‘Go talk to the chaplain, now' or anything like that. I'm just going to be there if they need me.''

Rupp is a cleric for the Mater Dei Parish in Sioux City that includes the Immaculate Conception Parish and the Nativity Parish. He got in contact with the department through his hair stylist, whose husband in on the force.

“I have a great respect for our police officers,'' said Rupp, who noted he has not yet counseled an officer. “I'm happy to help any way I can.''

Vandiver said the most prominent occurrence his job was needed was with the unexpected death of natural causes of Sgt. Jay Fleckenstein in April 2015.

“The department took it hard, a 39-year-old just went home after work and just drops dead. That was tough for them,'' Vandiver recalled. “But in a strange way, I like doing funerals. As a minister, people are not really interested in spiritual things, but when you are confronted with death ... particularly an unexpected one _ I think people want to know is there a heaven, and not just, ‘Is this it?' I like, in a perverse way, to comfort them during those times.''

Both chaplains said the best way to strengthen a person in need is through listening.

“I always tell them, I don't give advice unless they specifically ask for that. I'm here to listen,'' Vandiver said.

“Of course, listen, listen, listen, is the most important thing'' Rupp interjected.

Vandiver continued, “(police officers) are a very closed group of people, they trust other officers and it's hard for them to share anything with somebody outside the organization. So I am just here to listen.''

The chaplains earn a badge and a jacket for their contribution to the department (even though Rupp hasn't received one yet, he laughed).

Mueller applauded their devotion to helping the department.

“Police officers deal with people in crisis and see horrible things on a daily basis. Having some spiritual guidance and leadership inside the police department is extremely important,'' the police chief said. “This gives our officers and staff a place to turn to when dealing with the many stresses that come with police work. Because of what is expected of us as we carry out our duties, we sometimes fail to appropriately deal with all of the trauma we experience. Since our chaplains are familiar to our officers, it can help open those lines of communication.''

Information from Sioux City Journal 

Photos courtesy Upstart Productions

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