5 Ways to Honor and Respect Indigenous Colleagues as a Leader
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As we approach Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, October 10, it’s an opportune time for leaders to reflect on how to champion inclusion and support Indigenous colleagues. There has been increasing pressure on companies to drive change with their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in recent years. Often, Indigenous peoples are not included in this conversation. While other historically marginalized groups have made some progress in our workplaces over the years, Indigenous peoples remain underrepresented.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau , Indigenous persons make up 2%. Yet, according to the Great Place to Work Survey , Indigenous persons make up 0. 45% of the employees at the U.S. organizations surveyed. There is still much to be done in our workplaces to ensure that Indigenous peoples feel included, valued, and respected.
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 the Americas. As a child, I even learned the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” leaving Spain with his three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. We remember him as an explorer who discovered America.
This holiday has been scrutinized over the years for its celebration of a man who led violence against Indigenous peoples and oppression. Many cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with 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’s an important day to honor the past and the present of Indigenous peoples throughout the U.S. 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 distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced.” It is important to understand and use accurate terms in order to avoid stereotyping Indigenous peoples.
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 Indigenous peoples from the United States (Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Alaska Natives), but it can also serve as a specific descriptor (e.g. Native people, Native lands, Native traditions).” Never make assumptions, and always ask colleagues how they identify and what terms they prefer to use.
3. Avoid language that perpetuates stereotypes
Native American culture is often misunderstood and appropriated. Unknowingly, many of us use harmful terms that perpetuate stereotypes in everyday language. It perpetuates the myth that Indigenous peoples are monolithic cultures by using terms like “low man on a totem pole,” or “Indian princess” Indian-giver is another offensive term I have heard used often, along with having a pow-wow instead of a meeting, and using the term “spirit animal” when wanting to say you feel connected to someone. Do your research to find out the origins of these terms and other words that continue stereotype Indigenous peoples. Even though it may not be your intention, these terms can cause anger and hurt. You should do your research to understand why these terms are hurtful and avoid using them.
4. Understand the gender wage gap and how it impacts Indigenous women
Much has been reported on the gender pay gap. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 82 cents for every dollar men earn. This aggregate statistic does not reflect the impact that the gender pay gap has had on women of color. It is particularly harmful for Indigenous women.
In the U.S., Native American women are paid $0. 60 for every dollar white men earn. During the Covid-19 pandemic, three out of 10 Native American women were working on the frontlines as essential workers, helping our nation through this crisis. And yet the wide pay gap can cost a Native American woman up to $1 million over the course of a 40-year career. As leaders, it’s our job to make sure all of our employees are paid fairly and equitably, including Native American women working for or with us.
5. Ask your Indigenous employees how you can support them
As leaders, we often live in problem-solving mode. We are trained to solve every problem that comes up. Instead, let us listen and understand the needs of our Indigenous employees before we come up without their input. What do they think about working here? What can you do to support them? How can you invest in them and help them to advance their careers?
” It’s almost impossible to imagine what it’s like being a marginalized person. Resist the temptation to fix things, and instead listen to their stories,” explains Tony Bond of Great Place to Work.
Remember, Indigenous Peoples Day is more than a once-in-a-lifetime event. You can check the box to acknowledge the day on social media. This day is a reminder of the important work we must do to be more inclusive leaders. We must continue to educate and support our Indigenous colleagues at work.
I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.