This year, a number of cities across the country added their name to a growing list of cities, states, and universities opting to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of the less honorable Columbus Day—including Stevens Point, WI. While we should applaud and celebrate this movement, it’s important to remember that we are far from creating an equitable nation where Indigenous people are not only honored, but also acknowledged and included in important conversations and policy decisions.
Wisconsin, the home to eleven federally recognized tribes, has a great distance to go in reversing the impact of federal policies that have left far too many Native American children and families living in poverty, with poor health conditions, and unable to succeed educationally or economically. Though symbolic wins are important, needed, and should be celebrated, we must not lose sight of the inequities that plague our state. We must continue to challenge ourselves on a daily basis to do better—to understand and listen to communities of color better, to create better policy, and to do the hard-work it requires to create equity.
Next week, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) will embark upon Wisconsin and host it’s 74th Annual Convention and Marketplace. NCAI is the “oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interest of tribal government and communities.” The organization advocates for policies that will protect and serve Native people—they work on a wide range of issues including health, economic development, voting rights, and tribal sovereignty. Their annual convention will welcome hundreds of tribal leaders and Native people to Milwaukee, where they will convene and strategize on ways to move “Indian Country” forward.
I challenge elected officials, policymakers, advocates, non-profit partners, and citizens to learn a little more about organizations like NCAI. Indigenous people and communities of color need people standing with them more than one day a year—we need people to listen, engage, and include us in policymaking decisions 365 days a year.