Value Us: Stop Viewing Indigenous People as Disposable and Invisible | Opinion

Even as Indigenous or American Indian people are seen as mythical, inherently wise or magical, they are assumed to have no depth or individuality. It feels and often looks like we are viewed only in the present and in that specific moment to fill a void in someone's life. And then the person is discarded. Indigenous people must be valued.

American Indian origin stories are not known or shared in most public schools. The vast amount of people in America did not learn the true history of this country and may not have had to deal with the violence that history books leave out. A key part of that history is data on missing and Indigenous women that was uncollected for generations.

In Oregon in 2017, a state law passed requiring schools to include Native American history in school curricula. A similar bill was passed in North Dakota in 2021, which utilized the powerful word, "required," a concept not often heard in regards to teaching the truthful history of this country.

The work in Oregon and North Dakota is opening the door for bills that require more of their states, as was the case of the usage of the Mashantucket Pequot Mohegan Fund. In the near future, this fund in Connecticut will not only require Native American history be taught, but to acquire funds schools must abandon the usage of racist mascots and logos.

All of these bills have a common theme surrounding the simple idea that educators cannot teach history without including the history of Native Americans. There is a fine balance to reach when attempting to educate students on the struggles, battles, triumphs and culture of peoples who have systematically faced racism or who have been discriminated against.

That is the core of American history.

Often the educational lens in the U.S. focuses on the majority of the minority, Black American and even some Mexican American history over many other smaller groups of people, which in turn depicts Black American and Mexican American history as an afterthought and Native American history to fend for itself. This divisiveness demonstrates it is crucial to engage in pushing Native American history into the forefront.

California law has proven that not only does critical race theory demand courage but the struggle to teach Native American history does as well.

I am the product of colonization, genocide and the U.S. Government's Relocation Program. The Relocation Act of 1956, also known as Public Law 959, was an attempt to assimilate American Indian people under the guise of a voluntary vocational training program.

This law, which was functioning into the early 1980s, was intended to remove people from reservations and their traditional lands. Reportedly over 30,000 American Indian people relocated to urban areas and major cities as a result of this program. The goal was to alter our way of life, terminate us and remove us from our ancestral homelands so we could become contributing members of society.

I will not have the opportunity to say "back home" and allude to a place that is cleaner, calmer and closer to sacred sites of my tribes because the giant and ever growing city of Dallas is the only home I know—the city where I was born due to my family relocating and moving away from their homelands.

Programs such as these only pushed trauma deeper within individuals and further down bloodlines. Many first-generation relocation families had direct ties to other traumas that came along with being American Indian.

The atrocities that came with the residential schools are often seen by many American Indian people across the United States as policies of cultural genocide. Despite performative times of reckoning due to the recent apology of Pope Francis on behalf of the Catholic Church, the abuse, intergenerational trauma and cultural loss perpetrated by religious institutions is still felt.

Apologies will not erase the past but perhaps can aid in shedding some light on some parts of American history, as well as contemporary acts of bias and hate.

As a young adult at home in Dallas on vacation from college, I was waiting for a bus to my part-time job. As I waited along with an older man and several young men, the older man kept speaking to me in Spanish. I replied, "I don't speak Spanish." One young man translated for him.

A Native American dancer
A Native American dancer waits to participate in the National Western Stock Show Kick-Off Parade in Denver, Colo. on Jan. 10, 2019. JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images

The old man threw his hands up in the air in annoyance with my truth. I avoided eye contact and contemplated walking away but before I could, he whacked my shins with his cane. The young men laughed and told me he was saying that I was a liar and afraid to be Mexican.

My truth was met with violence.

As the founder and chair of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Texas Rematriate, my organization and I do all we can to combat the ongoing crises of a missing relative, mental health concerns, domestic violence, or cross-country travel of someone who recently fled a trafficking situation. These affect so many families and communities in this country and on this continent.

The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women is older than the United States, however, there is often no formal data available except some sacred information like names of relatives and documents such as missing persons reports, which can be accessed.

Reports such as the Urban Indian Health Institutes Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG) report of 2018, that until published were non-existent, state that murder was the third leading cause of death of American Indian and Alaskan Native women aged 10-24. It highlighted the gross lack of documentation in reports of missing persons. In 2016, 5,712 cases of MMIWG were reported though the U.S. Department of Justice's Federal missing person's database, however, only 116 of those were logged.

So many Indigenous or American Indian people are viewed as disposable and invisible. These horrific scenarios are not random or a coincidence. They are an extension of gender-based colonial violence that was felt seven generations ago and is presently still alive and well across Indian Country.

We will continue to fight to be seen and valued.

Great Grandmother Mary Lyons wrote in the poem, "Your Ancestors Live Within You" from her book Wisdom Lessons: "We carry our ancestors' DNA. We carry our ancestors' behaviors. We carry our ancestors' talents. We carry our ancestors' strength."

Jodi Voice Yellowfish is Muscogee Creek, Oglala Lakota and Cherokee and is the founder and chair for MMIW TX Rematriate (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), on the Steering Committee for Dallas Truth Racial Healing Transformation, a Siembre Fellow with Cara Mia Theater Company, a commissioner on the Arts and Culture Advisory Commission for the City of Dallas and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.