100 Ways to Support—Not Appropriate From—Native People
Don't even think about calling anyone/anything your spirit animal.
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images.
Natives have been so cancelled out of the American conversation that people don’t even know where to begin to include us. “What do we call you? ... American Indian? Native American? Do you guys still live in tipis?” These questions are still asked today—and they will continue to be asked unless we put together some kind of list, a collection of do’s and don’ts, and share it widely... Wait. Hang on a tick. What do we have here?
November is Native American Heritage Month, when the U.S. is supposed to celebrate Natives and our contributions to the world. In recognition of the season, let’s start with 100 ways you and yours can be allies toward to the Indigenous peoples of this continent—our ancestral land.
1. Stop using the word "powwow" when you plan your office meetings. Conference rooms are not where powwows take place (even if you serve frybread). Powwows are celebrations of our Indigenous cultures, which include dance (in regalia, not “costumes”), food, art, music, etc., and they take place in designated locations that can typically accommodate hundreds of people, not just a few dozen office staff.
2. Stop saying say there are "too many chiefs and not enough Indians."
3. If somebody says, “My great grandma was a Cherokee princess,” ask them who the king and queen were. (FYI: There’s no such thing as a Cherokee king, queen, princess, etc.)
4. No, just because you say your great, great, great grandma was allegedly Cherokee does not permit you to wear a headdress. In fact: Unless you are a Native who has earned the right to wear one, don't wear headdresses. Ever.
5. Don’t say someone has gone “off the reservation.” The term comes from a time when Natives were forbidden from leaving the boundaries of a delineated area. It was also the United States’ first travel ban. Sound familiar?
6. Change the narrative on “Indian givers.” We aren’t the ones who reneged on agreements.
7. Never use the word “squaw.” It’s profane. It comes from the Algonquin word “shunksqaw,” which means “woman.” White men truncated it to describe what they desired in order to objectify Native women. So please stop using it.
8. Not every Native can/does ride a horse. Don’t assume we do just because Hollywood, more often than not, has us pulling up on a horse rather than a Honda.
9. And, no, we don’t live in tipis. Please stop asking. Also, please stop purchasing those cheap, fake fucking tipis at Target for your kids.
10. Do not speak with smug entitlement on issues that affect Native communities just because you claim to be a quarter Indian or whatever. For example, do not tell a Native that racist mascots aren’t racist because you are allegedly Cherokee and you, yourself, don’t find them offensive. Instead, listen to us when we tell you what is and what isn’t offensive.
11. Contrary to what movies will tell you, we don’t need rescuing. Tell Kevin Costner: Dances With Wolves and other Hollywood westerns perpetuate the white savior narrative. Instead, watch films written, directed, and/or produced by Natives.
12. Do not tag your Indigenous friends in all the racist, triggering content you come across. If a post includes redface, nasty caricatures, or even the acerbic Twitter troll attacking Natives, it’s most likely offensive.
13. Also, quit telling us to “get over it.” Too often when we bring up the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee Massacre, for example, we’re berated—“It’s in the past. Move on, already!” Yet when it’s a massacre of predominantly white people it’s, “We will always remember,” or, “We will never forget.” Why do we have to “get over it” when you get to “always remember”?
14. Share Native voices. Please and thank you.
15. Expose your children to as many Indigenous activities as you can. The more children are exposed to the truth of a people, the less they will be affected by stereotypes.
16. Don’t allow schools to dress your kid up as an Indian. Playing Indian is always racist, and. my traditional regalia is not a costume.
17. Quit trying to tell me how my history went. Listen. Don’t explain our culture to us. Let us tell our own stories.
18. Don’t correct the way people choose to identify. Native American, Indian, American Indian, Indigenous, or our tribal names—it’s our choice.
19. Don’t ask us what our Indian name is. For example: “Him: What’s your Indian name?” Me: “Simon.” Him: “No, I mean, what’s your real Indian name?” Me: “I’m Oglala and my name is Simon.”
20. Use your privilege and platform to speak out regularly against the oppression of Natives. Create and empower more allies to do the same. For example, if you have a following or are in a position of authority, use it to illuminate issues in Indian country, and most certainly, maybe most importantly, pass the flippin’ mic to a Native.
21. Stop supporting brands like Urban Outfitters. They profit off of our culture and traditions. Instead, support Native-owned businesses. You can purchase better quality Native clothing, jewelry, etc., while at the same time support actual creative Natives.
22. If you invite Native elders into your spaces, treat them with the respect that we do. Let them eat first, let them have your seat, listen to them. They are not props.
23. Loudly speak out against Indian mascots. They are the commodification and dehumanization of Natives and have been empirically proven to harm the mental health and stability of kids.
24. Even if you have a friend who says he or she doesn’t have a problem with a racist slur, it doesn’t make the racist slur any less of a racist slur. Remind your friend that their sentiments toward a slur does not change its definition.
25. Recognize that DNA does not equate to culture. Ancestry.com and 23andMe, for example, are in the business of biotechnology, not culture. Culture is the community, not your spit.
26. You can't look at someone and “see” if they are Native or not.
27. Don't vote for politicians who support oppressive policies and agendas.
28. Help elect and vote for Native candidates on the ballot. We need more representation at all levels of government—from local to state to national.
29. Stand up to your racist uncle/aunt/parents/grandparents when they use anti-Native slurs.
30. Read up on how the Thanksgiving narrative as you know it is largely bullshit.
31. Speak out against Columbus Day. Columbus was a murderer and a rapist who set into motion one of the world's worst genocides.
32. Don’t dress up as an Indian on Halloween. If you see a non-Native person playing Indian, i.e. wearing “war paint” and donning a faux–feather headdress, ask the person, “Would you dress up as an Indian in a room full of Indians? Then why would you think it’s OK any other time?”
33. Push for inclusion of Native American history in schools, especially the histories of local tribes.
34. Every racial diversity list, like the ones your company uses to tout its inclusivity, that excludes Natives is an incomplete diversity list. When this happens, speak up; ask them why Natives have been excluded—and maybe why none have been hired.
35. Know how many tribes and nations are in your state and what tribes and nations are local to your specific area. Learn about them. You’re on their land.
36. Not every Native was born on (or is from) a reservation. More than 70 percent live in big cities.
37. Speaking of, don't visit a reservation for one week/one month/one year and assume you know everything about the struggles and problems of the people that live there all the time.
38. Don’t come to powwows and touch anyone’s regalia or take photos without asking.
39. Stop buying “sage wands” at grocery stores. Sage, for traditional purposes, is not to be purchased. Sage, or “smudging,” as we call it, is meant to bless and cleanse a person or place. Purchasing some hippie sage wand diminishes its sacred meaning.
40. None of our medicines are to be sold for profit. Please don’t purchase any and call out those who attempt to sell them.
41. I know it’s tempting, but even if your grandma told you so (or you just got your 23AndMe results back), if you are distantly related to someone who was Native, we don't immediately need to know.
42. Read books by Indigenous writers like Vine Deloria Jr., Louise Erdrich, and N. Scott Momaday. Please don't read fiction by white authors and think you know anything about Native culture.
43. Stop using (and stop your friends from using) the Bering Strait Theory to justify aggressive land theft. This theory (emphasis on theory) suggests Natives crossed a land bridge, but the latest research continues to debunk this antiquated theory.
44. When someone says, “America is a land of immigrants,” for fuck’s sake, inform them that America is a land of immigrants...and Indigenous peoples and slaves who were brought here against their will.
45. Remind your friends/family/foes that English is a foreign language. Lakota, Ojibwe, Diné, Cherokee, Choctaw, Osage, etc. are the languages of the land. English is from where? Yep. England.
46. Stop touching our hair if it's long. Stop questioning our hair if it's short.
47. Stop referring to early Europeans as “pilgrims” and “settlers.” They were invaders, colonizers, and terrorists.
48. Please do not dictate, talk over, or suppress actual Indigenous voices during an important dialogue on Native issues and topics.
49. Your western university degree does not always equal factual knowledge about us, nor does your settler professor have authority in our oral histories. Our elders do.
50. You don’t have to travel to another continent to find oppression. Ask a Native.
51. Understand that not all Natives agree on all subjects, just as white people don't.
52. Be a good listener—put your ego aside.
53. If you’re a fellow person of color, let’s not play the "oppression Olympics." Just because we inform people that Natives, per capita, are more likely to die at the hands of police than any other demographic that is not us playing “oppression Olympics.” It’s a fact that should be included in the discussion of discrimination.
54. Understand that “Native American” is a very generalized term. Each and every tribe has their own customs and ways.
55. Your family hasn’t “always fought for this country” or owned your family farm. You’re on stolen land.
56. We are not defined by our blood quantum. Although separate, sovereign tribal nations determine who is and isn’t a part of their nation/tribe based on a person’s traceable family and lineage, blood quantum is a colonial construct. Today, non-Natives use the one-drop rule (a small percentage of Indigenous blood) to claim Indigenous heritage. One day, people didn’t even want to be around us. Now, they desperately claim to be us. Weird.
57. If someone (most often, white people) tries to charge you to participate in a “Native American ceremony,” don’t go! Also, call them out. There’s never an entry fee to attend our ceremonies. Ever.
58. Type in #NativeTwitter. This hashtag is where you can find Native users, perspectives, events, and so on.
59. Also, look up #MMIW (murdered and missing Indigenous women). Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women of any other demographic.
60. Quit assuming I’m not a real Native because I live in a fucking house. I like electricity and WiFi, too.
61. Look for and hang out at your local Indian center. There’s one in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis...this list goes on! You may learn a thing or two. When you show up, be humble, learn, and just listen. An elder once told me: The Creator gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.
62. Please do not claim to be Native just to get a job or scholarship. That’s fucked up.
63. Don't say "Native American culture." There are hundreds of tribes, each with unique cultures, languages, foods, ceremonies, etc. Not all Native tribes and nations are the same.
64. Don't even think about calling anyone/anything your spirit animal.
65. Don’t tell me what I should be honored by. Let me tell you how to honor me.
66. Just because you lead your local Wiccan circle does not mean you understand 500 years of genocide. First, worshipping the gods and spirits of nature, which is a tenet of Wicca, is not directly comparable to Indigenous spiritualities, and second, please do not compare the Salem Witch Trials to the genocide of Native Americans. That’s not cool.
67. Don’t assume we go to college for free. A Native can’t simply walk into Harvard, say, “Hi! I’m a Native American,” and get a free ride. Just ask my credit report.
68. Before you make jokey comments about jock stereotypes, recognize that privileged prep-school, East Coast white boys did not invent lacrosse. The Iroquois did.
69. Hire. More. Natives!
70. Are you a student? A professor? When applicable, advocate for or add more Native content, voices, etc. to your syllabi.
71. Not all Natives are rich from casinos. (Again: I’m in so much debt.)
72. Don't claim Cherokee if the Cherokee don't claim you.
73. Don’t say “circle the wagons.” That’s racist. Natives weren’t the threat—land- and gold-horny white people were.
74. Dear journalists, stop saying that the Orlando Nightclub Shooting is the “worst massacre in U.S. history.” Look up the Wounded Knee Massacre, Bear River Massacre, Sand Creek Massacre, etc. Headlines should not come at the expense of history.
75. It’s worth remembering that reservations were first established as prison camps, and Hitler was inspired by them. America doesn’t want you to know that one.
76. No, Native Americans are not all drunks. Jeezus. Please stop assuming that.
77. Folks always want to come to a Native community to “learn our ways.” I’m like, “It would be much more helpful if you just check your people.” But if you do visit a reservation, don’t go for self-enlightenment. Go because you genuinely want to learn something.
78. No, you cannot give yourself a “spirit name” at a summer camp. Please stop that.
79. Yeah, the Boy Scouts of America know nothing about being Native. Also, they perpetuate racist behavior, i.e. redface, headdresses, fake Indian names, etc. Don’t allow your kids to participate in the fetishizing of Native cultures and traditions.
80. On that note, painting stripes on your face doesn’t make it “war paint.” Stop doing that and saying that.
81. Don’t ask me why I’m studying my Indigenous ancestral language instead of Spanish or Chinese or whatever. I study my peoples’ language because it was once outlawed, and yep, I have the right to study whatever I want.
82. Avoid big banks, like Wells Fargo and Chase, that bankroll environmentally destructive oil and gas developments and also violate Native treaty rights. Support your local public banking effort to prevent money going to these colossal institutions. Divest!
83. Not every smoking pipe is a peace pipe, so let’s take “peace pipe” out of your vocabulary.
84. Yes, we pay taxes. State and federal. Please don’t assume we live tax-free.
85. You’re not “part Indian.” You either are, or you are not.
86. Not all Natives practice their people’s spirituality. Some are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist. Some are agnostic, atheist. Please don’t assume all Natives are spiritual and believe in a deity or spirits.
87. Going camping with your pals whilst pounding booze in Patagonia jackets isn’t a “vision quest.” Please just go camping. No need to call it a “vision quest.”
88. There are Indigenous people in the U.S. There are Indigenous people in Mexico. There are Indigenous people in Canada. Natives did not approve of the white man’s borders creating the three countries that make up this continent. Remember that.
89. Heteronormativity and archetypal gender roles are post-colonial. Homosexuality is considered medicine in many Native communities. Look up “two-spirit.”
90. I don’t want to hear about how you watched a PBS special, have you question me about it, and then pretend you know more than me. I am walking, breathing, and living this life.
91. Treaty rights are not “special rights.” They are agreements between one separate sovereign nation and another (and most have been broken, unfortunately).
92. Natives, per capita, serve in the U.S. military more than any other racial demographic. Just a fact allies should know.
93. Stop using the words, "tribes,” “tribe,” and “tribalism" as hip words for interest groups or groups of shared interest. This usage undermines the political, legal and social unique status of tribes.
94. If your girlfriend or wife is Native, don’t call her “Pocahontas.” Ever. Pocahontas was a child and victim of rape. She only married that white guy to protect her family from murder, mutilation, and enslavement.
95. No, we do not get reparations from the U.S. government, and please do not assume that if you somehow get enrolled into a tribe you’ll get a monthly check from the feds. You won’t.
96. Peyote is not recreational, it’s medicinal, it’s spiritual, and no, we can’t just give you some.
97. No, we don’t all commune with animals. I cannot even get my fucking dog to sit. Please stop asking.
98. If you can help it, please stop asking us if we can date “outside of our race.” Yes, we are allowed to date anyone we want, but we also realize we are the smallest racial minority in our ancestral land, and many of us do feel an obligation to make more Native babies. #NativeBabies
99. Stop saying “Native Americans believed...” We believe. We survived. Being a better ally is about getting to know who we are and who we are not. We are not mascots. We are not mere relics of the past. We are writers, doctors, business owners, your classmate, neighbor. We are still here.
100. The title of this list could also be, “100 Basic Ways to be a Decent Human.” So, please just be a decent human being. Don’t be an ass.
Simon Moya-Smith is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and Chicano writer and reporter. His new book, Your Spirit Animal Is a Jackass, will be available in 2019. Follow him on Twitter @SimonMoyaSmith.