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As we approach Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, October 10, it is an opportune time for leaders to reflect on how to promote inclusion and support Indigenous colleagues. In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on companies to drive change through their diversity, equality and inclusion efforts. But often indigenous peoples are left out of this conversation. While other historically marginalized groups have made strides in our workplaces, indigenous peoples are still underrepresented.
According to the US Census Bureau, Indigenous peoples make up 2% of the US population. And yet according to a recent Great Place to Work survey, Indigenous peoples make up only 0.45% of employees at the US organizations surveyed. Our workplaces have a lot more work to do to ensure that Indigenous peoples are included, felt, valued, and included.
As leaders, here are five ways to work to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
1. Educate yourself
Growing up, I celebrated Columbus Day to commemorate the day Christopher Columbus landed in America. As a kid, I even learned the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” leaving Spain with his three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. We celebrated him as a heroic explorer who discovered America.
In recent decades, this holiday has attracted much attention to celebrate a man who led to violence and oppression against another group of individuals: indigenous peoples. In many cities and states, Columbus Day has been replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. President Joe Biden last year recognized it as a day to honor “our diverse history and the indigenous peoples who contribute to shaping this nation”. It is an important day to honor the past and present of indigenous peoples in the US while recognizing the impact of colonialism.
2. Understand what the term indigenous peoples means
Let’s start by understanding what the term indigenous peoples means. According to the World Bank“Indigenous peoples are diverse social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the land and natural resources where they live, occupy, or have been expelled.” By understanding and then using the correct terms, stereotyping of indigenous peoples can be avoided.
In the United States, American Indian, Native American, or Native are acceptable and often used interchangeably, as noted by the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum further clarifies that: the term native is often used “to describe Native Americans of the United States (Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Native Alaskans), but it can also serve as a specific descriptor (e.g., Native peoples, Native lands, Native traditions).” Never make assumptions and always ask colleagues how they identify and which terms they prefer to use.
3. Avoid language that perpetuates stereotypes
Native American culture is often misunderstood and appropriated. Many of us unconsciously use hurtful terms that perpetuate stereotypes in our everyday language. When we say things like ‘low man on the totem pole’, ‘Indian princess’ or ‘sitting in Indian style’, it continues to propagate the myth that indigenous peoples are a monolithic culture. indian giver is another abusive term I’ve often heard used, along with a pow-wow instead of a meeting, and the use of the term “spirit animal” when you want to say you feel connected to someone.
So start researching to understand the origins of these and other words that continue to stereotype indigenous peoples. While it may not be your intention, using these terms can cause pain and anger. Do the work to understand why this language is hurtful and don’t use terms you’re not sure about.
Related: Health-Food Business Taps into Its Native American Roots
4. Understand the gender pay gap and how it affects Indigenous women
Much has been reported about the gender pay gap. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 82 cents for every dollar men earn. Unfortunately, this aggregate statistic masks the significant impact the gender pay gap has on women of color. It has a particularly devastating impact on indigenous women.
In the US, Native American women paid $0.60 for every dollar white men earn. During the Covid-19 pandemic, three out of ten Native American women worked on the front lines as essential workers, helping our country through this crisis. And yet the large pay gap can be as much as . cost? $1 million over the course of a 40-year career. As leaders, it is our job to ensure that all our employees are paid fairly and equitably, including Native American women who work for or with us.
5. Ask your indigenous workers how you can support them
As leaders, we often live in a problem-solving mode. We are trained to troubleshoot and fix any problem we see. Instead, let’s stop and listen to understand the needs of our indigenous workers before coming up with solutions without their input. How do they like working here? What can you and your organization do to better support them? How can you help invest and advance in their career?
“Unless you’re part of the marginalized group, it’s nearly impossible to know what it’s like to be in their world. Resist the temptation to sort things out and listen to their stories instead,” explains Tony Bond from Great Place to Work.
Remember Indigenous Peoples Day is not a one time thing, check the box to just post on social media to recognize the day. This day is an important reminder of the work we must continue to do to be more inclusive leaders. We must continue to educate ourselves as allies and show support to Indigenous colleagues in our workplaces.
Related: Celebrate Native American Heritage Month by Meeting These 7 Amazing Female Business Leaders