Changing Public Perception.

Photo courtesy First Nations Development Institute. Reclaiming Native Truth, a Native-led two-year research project, aims to improve mainstream perceptions of Native Americans.

Photo courtesy First Nations Development Institute.
Reclaiming Native Truth.

Changing public perception tends to be a Herculean task, and certainly will be in this case, battling a whole history of lies, distortions, and stereotypes. There’s also the massive problem of a complete lack of education. In the U.S., history which is taught is strictly white-washed, and it too is full of lies and distortions. The average person in uStates doesn’t know one accurate thing about Indigenous peoples.

A $2.5 million Native-led research project, announced this morning, will spend two years studying mainstream perception of Native Americans and developing long-term strategic campaigns to address the public’s misperceptions.

Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions is a joint project between the First Nations Development Institute and Echo Hawk Consulting, with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“Native Americans and their communities are blocked from reaching their full potential by harmful stereotypes, misperceptions, and lack of awareness,” said Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), president and CEO of the First Nations Development Institute and co-director of Reclaiming Native Truth, in a press release Tuesday morning.

Leading the project will be a 20-person committee of some of Indian country’s most well-known and well-respected experts. More than half of the committee spots have been confirmed, including:

Cheryl Crazy Bull (Sicangu Lakota), president, American Indian College Fund

Ray Halbritter (Oneida), Oneida Indian Nation representative and CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises

Jacqueline Pata (Tlingit), executive director, National Congress of American Indians

Sara Kastelic (Alutiiq), executive director, National Indian Child Welfare Association

Dr. Adrienne Keene (Cherokee), scholar, writer, blogger, and activist

Judith LeBlanc (Caddo), director, Native Organizers Alliance

Denisa Livingston (Navajo), community health advocate, Diné Community Advocacy Alliance

Nichole Maher (Tlingit), board vice-chair, National Urban Indian Family Coalition, and president, Northwest Health Foundation

Erik Stegman (Assiniboine), executive director, Center for Native American Youth

Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock), editor of TrahantReports

Nick Tilsen (Oglala Lakota), executive director, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation

“Over the next two years, this project is focused on understanding the true extent of society’s negative and inaccurate perceptions of Native Americans and finding the best means of overcoming them,” said Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), president and CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting and co-director of Reclaiming Native Truth.

Specific goals of the project include improving portrayal of Natives in media, ensuring Native participation in government, addressing grant-funding inequalities and including accurate Native history in public school history courses.

If you’re one of the many people who don’t know much about Indigenous peoples, that’s easily remedied. Most Nations/Tribes have their own websites, which are full of information, and there’s a whole lot of Native journalism going on. Just a few good sites to read on a regular basis: Indian Country Today Media Network,, Native News Online, Indian Country News, and Native Voice One. There’s no shame in ignorance, as long as there’s an attempt to learn.



  1. stellatree says

    Thanks for taking the time and energy to bring these resources to my attention. I want to acknowledge the work you do!

  2. kestrel says

    Adding these to my bookmarks. I may not have much time for FTB now! LOL!

    Public perception really needs to change. We had some acquaintances who came to our area and went to Taos Pueblo, expecting to be let in free because their perception was that “everything they have was given to them for free” including things like personally owned trucks and cars, houses etc. They were offended at being charged an entrance fee for the parking and the tour so they didn’t go in and after shouting insults at the Taoseños made the huge mistake of then coming to our house to bitch and complain. Man, did we ever pin their ears back… They were even further offended (this time by us) and have never spoken to us again. But how bizarre, to think that all indigenous people have been given everything they have by the government… for free… when at the same time they see the indigenous people out working in the community. Like, actual jobs! Do they think they are just working at a job as an undercover and they aren’t paid? Really, really weird.

  3. Patricia Phillips says

    This is interesting. I have a lot of thoughts about this, just based on my own sliver of personal experience.

    My experience is all anecdata -- casual observations over the years from comments on ‘mainstream’ media sites (ie, those that don’t originate in or focus on Indigenous communities). There is a lot of ignorance combined with hostility towards Native Americans.

    Well to step back a bit -- I jokingly describe it as “America loves dead Indians and hates the living ones”. To back up a bit -- it first occurred to me years ago reading one of Anishnaabe author’s Jim Northrup’s books. In it he recounted some stories of the ugly racism surrounding the struggles of MN tribes to uphold treaty fishing rights. I can’t recall his name (Grant?) but some former Vikings coach was really big in an anti-Treaty organization on the one hand, and on the other he had written about wanting to be an Indian as a kid, to live the life of being one with nature and hunting and fishing. It struck me as a weird disconnect -- on the one hand he lurrrrrrrrrved Indians -- a romantic “NDNs are 1 with Nature” notion, and on the other fought living Indians against doing what he loved to do -- hunt and fish. How to square that circle? It occurred to me that people like that coach love a certain image of Indians, and those Indians either never existed or are long dead. In either case, the no-longer-existing Indians do not pose any sort of inconvenience to an American (while living Indians can). Second, there are many Americans who seem to want to declare themselves as the ‘real Indians’ -- only they are the true Americans and love this land, and dealing with any living Indians interferes with that fantasy (if even only a little). Somehow, in their minds, it diminishes their Americanness. And they get angry and defensive.

    To get back to internet comments -- commenters love to run down Indians. They go on and on about how all Indians get government $ and they resent it. (well I don’t get any!) They go on and on about how Indians are all alcoholics.(For the record, while many communities are severely impacted with problems of substance abuse -- as are many rural nonIndian communities -- no, we are not all alcoholics). They bring up odd historical arguments that have nothing to do with the subject of an article -- a popular one I see centered on denial of genocide is “INdians killed each other too!” Well, so did Europeans. That is no excuse for genocide, nor is it any excuse for refusing to uphold any legal rights today, but it is a cherished bon mot of commenters I have seen variations on many times. Once I saw one commenter whine about how Indians kept slaves too and therefor deserved no respect. Considering how common various slavery practices have been around practically they entire planet (and still are in some places -- even in the US there are cases of it today) we better um, what…respect no one? Give up fighting for rights? I don’t really know where the commenter was going there, other than the fact s/he was an ass.

    My favorites (meaning it drives me batshit) are commenters who try to undermine or straight up deny the indigenous-ness of Indians in the Americas (and therefor undermine the recognition of native rights and governments). There is the group that clings to the Solutrean story (last articles I read had discounted that theory) and so somehow Whites are the real American Natives and mean old Indians are interlopers. More popular in my experience is the old “everyone is an immigrant even Indians as we all came from Africa”. While it is true Homo sapiens evolved in Africa (as to date all fossil finds and archaeology points to) that does not mean there are no Native cultures outside Africa. In terms of developing unique cultures and languages over millenia, referring to a culture as ‘indigenous’ does not mean ‘evolved from an earlier life form right on that spot’.

    All of this then is used to support the notions that Indians just need to assimilate (as though forced assimilation programs haven’t been around for centuries and are well known to have very negative affects). The commenters whine that treaties are old documents and should no longer be recognized (never mind their cherished Constitution is older than most treaties, and they don’t advocate throwing that out, and that courts still recognize treaties albeit often in a halfhearted way at times). They seem oddly unaware that right from the founding of the US dealing with tribal governments has been part of the law -- even tho’ rife with dishonesty, theft and acts of genocide that is still there. They really think dissolving tribal governments and privatizing Indian land will be best for us and force us to assimilate. Never mind this has been tried (Dawes Act, Termination, Relocation) and has proved disastrous. They don’t understand tribes have governments and we are citizens of those governments -- they see anything to do with Indians (like ICWA, tribal jurisdiction in any criminal cases, exercising off-rez treaty rights, etc etc) as special race-based privileges rather than rights exercised by sovereign governments. This is a concept that I have noticed a lot of Americans have a hard time grasping, or refuse to listen to (it would upset their other prejudices).

    So, this new organization has a tough and interesting task ahead of them -- the ignorance is vast and the prejudices run very deep.

  4. says

    Patricia, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

    People love the Indian in concept, the noble savage, the primitive mystic, people lost in time. People do not love Indians as actual people who are a part of this world every bit as much as they are. As soon as Indians intrude on their conciousness, we need to do what’s right, and become white.

    Lately, I’m sick to death of people making disparaging comments about how Indigenous people all over are preventing good things from happening, like pipelines, and dams, and all the rest. I only have one thing to say about that: if those things are so damn good, why are they always being placed on Native land, or poised to wipe out Native land? You want you dam? Great, aim it to wipe out *your* fucking land. You want your pipeline? Great, you put it back where it was going to go in the first place, off Native land.

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