Want to be an ally to Native people? Prairie Rose Seminole, a citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes of ND and descendant of the Sahnish/Arikara, Northern Cheyenne, and Lakota Nations chatted with Daily Kos about just that. Given that she is a leader in deconstructing colonial systems of oppression, Seminole is just about the perfect person to share some insight. The educator and advocate isn’t sugarcoating a thing in her Making Progress interview and frankly, that’s a good thing.
“Times get rough,” she told Daily Kos behind the scenes at Netroots Nation, the nation’s largest conference for progressives. “I feel like allies are so inspired to be with us because there’s this romanticism to be engaged with Native people and in solidarity with us, because we’re so earthy and spiritual and connected, which we are. I’m totally mythical, right? Mystical. Mythical, mystical.”
“And I want to share that love and beauty of my culture and my people and my land to others who come in,” she continued. “But I also warn people not to take away that spotlight, right? Use your spotlight and your shine to give us a voice and to bring us to those spaces in which we’re not represented.”
If you remember our Making Progress interview with Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, this sentiment will likely feel familiar to you. Basically: If you want to get involved and advocate on behalf of a community, don’t overstep. Listen. Learn. Understand that while helping others is great, it isn’t your opportunity to center yourself and make the experience about you.
It might be tempting for outsiders to jump into activism efforts with the best intentions when hot topics, like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests or voter suppression, hit mainstream media. But really being an ally, as Prairie Rose Seminole explains in her video interview below, is about uplifting Native voices and experiences. And it’s not just about the issues that hit national media, either.
You can check out the YouTube video and a full transcript below.
Question 1: What challenges do you face while organizing inside the Native community?
I think one of the challenges for me, as an organizer in the Native community is funding. Funding issues are a huge barrier, because we’re not getting necessarily travel funding to organize and educate Native voters on their right to vote or why they should vote or the issues that they should be caring about, but also that outside funding. And outside funding is a funny animal because we have these big-ticket funders that will come in for environmental rights or when we had a crisis recently that our right to vote was denied, right?
So we raised a lot of money for those hot button issues, right now crises, but for that long term voter engagement, that’s where we have a hard time getting funders to consistently engage with us for that long term voter engagement. And that really is where our power is, too. We can grow and build a base and scale Native vote when we’re consistently engaging Native voters.
So that’s, I think, the biggest barrier is those opportunities are very different for rural versus urban Natives and then the access to the networks and the funding sources they can get when it comes to organizing on big issues.
Question 2: What are the biggest challenges from outside the Native community?
We’ve been left out of the democratic process for so long, right? We were given citizenship whether we wanted it or not in 1924 and that secured our right to vote, but it was up to states to implement our right to vote and most states actually put up more barriers for us, so here we are decades later still fighting for our right to vote and our right to exist and our community is proving that we exist in our communities and people are tired. We face apathy. We still face this anger from not being able to participate in this process of democracy and so people are like “Why should I? “I don’t need to.” or “I’m so pissed off that I’m not going to.” or they don’t see the value of our vote.
That’s one of the most common pieces. That’s why I want to see more consistent voter engagement and education to say hey, we’re the most legislative people in the country from how our roads get funded, from how our hospitals get funded, to this pipeline of our people to prisons, right? Because of the federal crimes act.
There are so many layers, right, that we have to unpack for our community and so much opportunity for education. Those are hard positions to take forward because the community doesn’t want to hear it. We’re very apathetic in some places because we have been left out of the process and we feel that our voices don’t matter and building those relationships to show that they do matter don’t take just people on the street. It takes people in all those layers of government and non-profits and other institutions saying yes your voice matters and here’s why.
Question 3: What would you tell people who want to be your allies?
Oh gosh, that’s a big one. What would I tell people who want to be my allies? Stay with us. Times get rough. I feel like allies are so inspired to be with us because there’s this romanticism to be engaged with Native people and in solidarity with us, because we’re so earthy and spiritual and connected, which we are. I’m totally mythical, right? Mystical. Mythical, mystical. And I want to share that love and beauty of my culture and my people and my land to others who come in. But I also warn people not to take away that spotlight, right?
Use your spotlight and your shine to give us a voice and to bring us to those spaces in which we’re not represented, because those are the spaces that are often making decisions about us and have no filter or lens for justice for us, right? You could be the most progressive person there, but if you don’t know that we’re the most legislative people in the country, how are you gonna seek justice for us, right? Allies also need to be wary. I see a lot of allies shut down. As soon as their reputation gets a little bit of, I don’t know how to put this. Like tarnished? Like the stigma that comes with how you inherited the attitude and information about Native people and who we are getting on you, oftentimes people just kinda shut down or back away. I want you to question that.
Question why people have these mistruths about us, because once you start doing that, then we can start healing as a community and saying oh, we have this history where my people killed your people and here’s how we move forward together, right? It’s not necessarily like get over it, but it’s like an acknowledgment of a hard truth that allows us to move forward, because that’s oftentimes what people get mad about that allyship helping and working with us to a point where they take you down, too. And you just have to push back, fight with us, stand with us, and you know what? We’re all just gonna get dirty together, so let’s move forward together.
Bonus Question: What advice would you give your teenage self?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually. Hope I don’t cry. I think for me to my younger self, starting to connect the dots and to realize that there’s so much that we, that I blame myself for. How my family was, how my community was. And then I started to really unpack all of those dynamics and relate them to intergenerational trauma and relate them to how as Native people in our communities like we’re here by design.
There’s a whole structure put in place to deny us our humanness and our beingness and our access to the political systems, to financial systems, and to everything around us. Like our want to be successful, our desire to bring our gifts into our community however those gifts present themselves in our lives and we discourage ourselves because we don’t think we’re good enough. And I would tell my younger self, this is where you get the tears. But that you’re good enough.
And all this could’ve been done so much earlier if you just had that courage, right, to say this isn’t you. It’s that we’re here by design and the beautiful thing about that design is that we can change it and move forward and take our gifts and share it with the world.
Want to check out more from Making Progress? Awesome. Check out our exclusive interview with 2020 hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Iowa Democrat who is hoping to oust racist Steve King, or Pennsylvania State Rep. Summer Lee, who has some special advice for millennials that want to run for office.
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