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Meeting in a Box: Native American Heritage Month

Native American populations are made up of diverse tribes indigenous to North and South America. In the U.S., November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the culture and accomplishments of Native American people and educate people about issues that affect their communities. We have provided this Meeting in a Box as a diversity training resource for you to use to spark conversations with your employees about Native American history and heritage.

In this document, we provide

  • A timeline covering historical events related to the struggles and triumphs of Native American people.
  • A breakdown of the terms, “Native American” and “American Indian”
  • An outline of facts and figures of Native American populations
  • A section calling out and dispelling microaggressions and misconceptions about Native American people.

Click HERE to download a PDF version of the Native American Heritage Month Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and DiversityInc Best Practices subscribers.

1. Timeline

We recommend you start your employees’ cultural competence lesson on Native Americans by using this timeline, which lays out historical moments significant to Native American communities. Much of Native American history involves the hardships caused by colonization that still disenfranchise indigenous communities today. It is important to not just acknowledge this history but to also celebrate the successes Native American people have achieved and the important movements they have created.

Discussion Questions for Employees:

  • How accurate are your historic perceptions of American Indians? How has popular culture perpetuated stereotypes and misinformation? Discuss the dangers of stereotyping people and making assumptions in the workplace based on cultural misconceptions. Reference how stereotypes can force people to devalue their own contributions and bring less than their full selves to work each day.
  • What civil rights of American Indians have been impacted? In what ways has their activism strengthened the civil rights movement?Discuss the historic implications of systemic inequities and discrimination on a group. When people within a demographic are not a large percentage of the population, how can they and their advocates fight for equity?
  • What Native American barrier-breakers do you know of?

Download a copy of the timeline HERE.

2.Terminology: “American Indian” vs. “Native American”

Indigenous people identify themselves differently. Some prefer the term Native American and others prefer American Indian. Some use both terms interchangeably. People from tribes in Alaska often refer to themselves as Alaska Natives. The best way to refer to an indigenous person is by their tribe, if they know that information. Both Native American and American Indian are general terms, but different tribes have different cultures and customs. It is important to respect and honor the terms people use to identify themselves.

Discussion Questions for Employees:

  • How can there be power in a name? How can some terms be used to oppress and be reclaimed to empower?
  • How does our company allow people to self-identify? How does our company allow people to self-identify? How can we make sure we’re not checking general boxes to fill quotas, but rather acknowledge the true diversity of our employees?

3. Facts and Figures

There are 573 federally recognized Native American tribes in the U.S. After discussing the diverse history of these tribes and how they choose to self-identify, the next step is to look at the available data regarding this demographic. Working hard to empower indigenous communities and granting indigenous individuals more visibility within companies has the potential to have profound effects on our society and in our economy.

Discussion Questions for Employees:

  • How does the history Native American societies have faced affect today’s demographics? How do power and disadvantage play into these statistics? How can we acknowledge that our country’s colonialist history may be painful for some and move forward in a way that empowers and celebrates Native American people?

  •  It is clear Native Americans are largely underrepresented in many areas associated with social and economic privilege. How does our company compare with others on the DiversityInc lists in terms of its inclusion of Native American employees? How can we improve?

Download a copy of the facts and figures HERE.

4. Leader Profile: N. Bird Runningwater

We highlight the story of N. Bird Runningwater, director of the Native American and Indigenous Program at Sundance Institute and a member of Comcast NBCUniversal’s (No. 6 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) external Joint Diversity Advisory Council (JDC).

Discussion Questions for Employees:

  • How does our company help promote representation of Native Americans across the board in different areas of expertise? Do we give them “a seat at the table?” In what ways can we improve?

5. Microaggressions and Misconceptions

Microaggressions — subtle or seemingly lighthearted disparaging comments about someone’s identity — may seem insignificant when isolated but compound to create a toxic environment for employees. This section serves to call out prejudiced and offensive comments people make and dispel harmful myths about Native American people. It is crucial to discuss how your workplace handles microaggressions and hate speech.

Discussion Questions for Employees:

  • How can we build an atmosphere of inclusion for diverse people from different backgrounds? What are some stereotypes we need to dispel? How can we speak out against them? Have you ever heard anyone making prejudiced comments in the office? What are our policies on microaggressions and hate speech in the workplace?
  • What is the individual and the company’s role in curbing microaggressions and hateful speech against indigenous people? At what point should the company become involved? Does the company have a process for reporting discriminatory speech and actions that makes the person reporting it feel safe and validated? How can we improve?

Download a copy of the microaggressions and misconceptions sheet HERE.

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