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How to Support Tribal People - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
How to Support Tribal People
A friend asked me about ways to support tribal people. Here are some thoughts ...


* Get in the loop! Read news from Native American sources. Watch for tribal newsfeeds, open groups, blogs, etc. on whatever services you frequent online. Tell friends that this interests you, so they will pass on what they find. Similarly, write and talk about native issues yourself. They deserve more attention than they get.

* This is a list of general ways you can help tribes to survive. Explore some Native American organizations you might like to support.

* The best way to support the culture itself is through language nests. These are programs that teach heritage languages to young children. Save a language, save a culture. Here is a handbook on running a language nest. You can help just by passing the word that this thing exists! Running Strong is an organization that supports various language and culture programs. You can also donate to individual language nests in your area. Try searching "language nest" plus your state or the name of a local tribe. If you know even fragments of a tribal language, use it -- the more it's used, the better its chance of survival. One that I use regularly is mitakuye oyasin ("all my relations") from Lakota.

* Education tends to be low in tribal communities. Consider opportunities like American Indian Education Fund or American Indian College Fund.

* Another good approach is supporting traditional crafts and practices. Buy from native owned and operated businesses when you can. Some places offer classes in historic skills, such as the Native American Cultural Center.  If you have native friends willing to teach, learn their crafts and teach them some of yours -- reciprocity helps.

* Similarly, promote the development of tribal businesses. Unemployment on reservations routinely runs 80-90% so people desperately need to create jobs. Here is a handbook on one program for developing tribal businesses. This page focuses on women's businesses.

* Watch for tribal projects on crowdfunding sites, and let people know you're interested so they'll tell you about anything they find too. Projects have included restaurants, snacks, playgrounds, and more. I got in on the Potlatch project, a bilingual English/Lushootseed card game that teaches native economics.

* Some reservations have one or more charities to cover unmet needs. This is because reservations are the poorest counties in America. Here's one for "my" reservation, Pine Ridge. I have some very distant kin-by-marriage there, and we visited it once when I was younger. Check to see who is in your area.

* The housing situation is usually abysmal, so help is needed. Favor sustainable building as good for the Earth and congruent with traditional practices. For instance, you can make a lovely roundhouse with adobe or rammed earth, which suits the floor plan of many historic dwellings from tipis to hogans; straw bale is nice for private or public longhouses. For reservations in cold areas, heat assistance is crucial for survival, as people routinely freeze to death in the winter. Northern Plains Reservation Aid is one option, or check your local needs.

* Food is another huge need. Reservations may or may not have a private food pantry. Some organizations serve a region, such as Conscious Alliance. Most food available on reservations is just plain fatal, which is an act of genocide. Therefore, look for sources that supply fresh fruits and vegetables, support gardening or farming initiatives, and/or promote traditional foods.

* The government is obliged to provide health care for tribal members, but generally does not. The Association of American Indian Physicians works on everything from subsidizing education for tribal health workers to providing programs for patients. If you are a health worker yourself, see below about volunteering on a reservation.

* Some approaches to tribal support are more creative, like Real Rent. If you want to do something similar, just look up which tribe used to live where you now live, see if they have a charity, and set up a regular donation.

* Choose books, music, and other cultural or historic materials from tribal publishers or academic publishers with high reliability. Here are some lists:

http://www.atalm.org/node/87

https://www.nativeweb.org/resources/literature/book_sellers_publishing/

http://www.nativeculturelinks.com/indian_books.html

https://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pclist.asp

https://www.npr.org/2017/04/02/522223987/with-this-publisher-native-american-superheroes-fly-high

https://www.nativeculturelinks.com/music.html

* If you are a writer, artist, or other creative person then include Native American characters among the diversity you represent. First, do your homework! Choose a specific tribe (or intertribal mix) or pick a location and look up which tribe(s) lived there. Use that to find the probable details for your character's culture. Include current issues of interest to indigenous people. Here are some tips on writing tribal characters. For art, try to find a faceclaim image of someone from the same tribe as your character. For examples from my own work, "All These Things Woven Into Something" shows a powwow with intertribal activity, and "Come Closer in Kinship" introduces Kenzie to the Rocky Boy's Reservation of the Chippewa-Cree. If you draw inspiration from tribal sources, it is polite to give back by donating some of your profits to them and/or supporting their interests. That's a key difference between cultural exchange and misappropriation.

* Attend powwows and other cultural events. These are good opportunities to buy authentic goods and services from tribal members. You can enjoy examples of many cultures through things like dance, music, food, and regalia. Watch for the "blanket dance" when everyone is welcome to come throw money on the blanket; it usually goes to the Drum, a group of drummers who provide the powwow music, but sometimes another recipient will be named. It is polite to throw down money at four different times, once at each cardinal point as you make each round; four is a sacred number in most tribes. Crazy Crow lists powwows and also things like survival skill courses.

* Volunteer on a reservation. Many local ones have opportunities, so check yours. Here is Pine Ridge again.

* From Fallon+Clarien: Make more native friends.  Many struggle with loneliness and/or depression, so it helps to have outside friends.

Those are some of my ideas and practices. What else can you think of?

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