Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Statement on Native American Heritage Month
November 20, 2023
On behalf of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, we would like to recognize and honor Native American Heritage Month. This month provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the traditions, history, and achievements of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other affiliated Island communities. We gratefully acknowledge the people on whose ancestral homelands we gather, as well as the diverse and vibrant Native communities who make their home here today. For this month and others, we recognize Co-Vice Chairman Kevin Sharp and others’ continued work representing Leonard Peltier in his clemency petition and challenging the constitutionality of his conviction. In June 2023, Judge Sharp and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and actor, Steven Van Zandt met with several members of Congress to discuss Peltier’s case. On September 12, Peltier’s birthday, Judge Sharp was a featured speaker at the Free Leonard Peltier: 79th Birthday Rally at the White House, where hundreds of supporters and activists (including a group who caravanned from western South Dakota to Washington, D.C.) showed up in support of Peltier. On September 28, 2023, Judge Sharp also participated in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Student Law Society’s panel discussion which included Nick Tilsen, Founder and CEO of NDN Collective, and Holly Cook Macarro, a recognized Tribal advocate leading the federal strategy and outreach of Peltier’s clemency campaign. We at Sanford Heisler Sharp are committed to the fight to seek justice for Leonard Peltier.
This celebratory month began as American Indian Day. One of the earliest advocates was Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker, a member of the Seneca Nation, an anthropologist, historian, and founder of several American Indian rights organizations. Dr. Parker persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans,” which they did for three years. In 1914, another advocate, Reverend Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfoot Nation, began a 4,000-mile trek on horseback to Washington, D.C., petitioning for the approval for an “Indian Day.” The first American Indian Day was declared by New York on the second Saturday in May 1916. Other states celebrated on the fourth Friday of September. Today, several states have designated what is previously known as Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day (though this day continues to be observed, it has yet to get recognition as a national legal holiday). In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month,” and for each year since 1994, similar proclamations have been issued.
Let us recognize the contributions and progress that Indigenous communities have made in this country. The Biden administration has appointed over 80 Native Americans serving across the administration, in federal courts, and in dozens of Senate-confirmed positions. Most notably, the administration includes Deb Haaland, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior. The administration also formally recognized Indigenous knowledge as an important body of knowledge that contributes to the scientific, technical, social, and economic advancements of the US and our understanding of the natural world. Let us also honor and support the hundreds of Tribal Nations and their continued efforts for sovereignty. The Biden administration has partnered with Tribal
Nations to protect sacred and ancestral land. The administration established new national monuments protecting Tribal Nations’ sacred land in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada and has restored protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in New England and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.
This month also reminds us of the struggles and injustices Native communities have faced and continue to face. Throughout this country’s history, the federal government and European settlers have removed Indigenous people from their homelands, forced assimilation, and banned the use of Tribal languages, traditions, and sacred ceremonies. One issue that continues to impact Indigenous communities across the country is the rising trend of missing and murdered Indigenous women. In 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaskan Native women and girls. However, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System—a resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases—only logged 116 of those cases. These unsolved cases can be attributed to the lack of investigative resources available, the misclassification of Native women as other racial groups, the general distrust of federal and state government agencies among Indigenous communities, and the jurisdictional barriers between federal governments and Tribal Nations lack of full sovereignty, causing the inability of Tribal Nations to prosecute non-Indigenous people for crimes committed on Tribal land. As the first national public interest law firm with a dedicated practice group for survivors and victims, Sanford Heisler Sharp is committed to supporting and helping Indigenous survivors and victims who seek recourse.
As we continue to support Indigenous people, we encourage everyone to take a moment and learn about the cultures and heritages of the Indigenous communities whose land we are on and appreciate their resilience and perseverance—before and throughout America’s history. For the rest of November, let us celebrate the prosperity and progress within Indigenous communities by learning and engaging in activities to honor Native people.
Ways to Engage
- New York Office: Munsee Lenape and Mohican
- Washington DC Office: Piscataway and Nacotchtank (Anacostan)
- Baltimore Office: Piscataway and Susquehannock
- Nashville Office: ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), S’atsoyaha (Yuchi), and Shawandasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee)
- Palo Alto Office: Tamien Nation, Ohlone, Ramaytush, and Muwekma
- San Francisco Office: Ohlone, Ramaytush, and Muwekma
- San Diego Office: Kumeyaay/Kumiais
Books to Read:
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present: An intimate story about resilience in a transformative era that emphasizes how the story of American Indians, their language, their tradition, their families, and their very existence has continued to persevere despite the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival and a new generation of resistance.
There There: This novel follows twelve characters travelling to the Big Oakland Powwow, connecting them to each other in ways they might not realize. Among these characters is newly sober Jacquie Red Feather who is trying to make it back to her family, Dene Oxendene, working at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory, and Orvil, a fourteen-year-old about to perform a traditional dance for the first time.
Night of the Living Rez: A collection of twelve short stories which includes a boy who unearths a jar filled with an old curse, a man discovers a friend passed out in the woods, a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s, projecting her past onto her grandson, thinking he is her dead brother come back to life, and two friends who attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.
Warrior Girl Unearthed: Perry Firekeeper-Birch with her friends plans a heist to bring back the stolen artifacts and remains of the Warrior Girl and twelve other Anishinaabe ancestors back to her community.
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry: Gathered works from more than 160 poets representing nearly 100 indigenous nations, including poets Eleazar, Jake Skeets, Luci Tapahanso, Natalie Diaz, Layli Long Soldier, and Ray Young Bear.
TV Shows to Watch:
Rutherford Falls: A comedy centering on two best friends, Nathan Rutherford and Reagan Wells, whose relationship is tested when a crisis hits their small town. Reagan must juggle loyalty to her friend and to her people, the (fictional) Minishonka Nation.
Reservation Dogs: A coming-of-age comedy that follows four Indigenous teenagers in Oklahoma and their exploits. Filmed on location in Oklahoma, Reservation Dogs is a breakthrough in Indigenous representation on television, both in front of and behind the camera. Every writer, director and series regular on the show is Indigenous.
Dark Winds: Based on the novel series Leaphorn & Chee, this thriller follows Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and his deputy, Jim Chee, of the Tribal Police who solve a series of seemingly unrelated crimes and in the process battle against their own personal demons.
Echo: Upcoming Marvel series that centers around the origin story of Maya Lopez,a Native American woman, also known as Echo, who possess the ability to perfectly copy other people’s movements.
Trickster: A coming-of-age story that focuses on an Indigenous teen, Jared, struggling to keep his family above water while he begins seeing strange things like talking ravens, doppelgangers, and skin monsters.
Movies to See:
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked theWorld: This documentary examines the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history.
Slash/back: A native horror film, incorporating Inuit language and folklore, centers on a group of friends who discovers an alien invasion and attempts to save the day by utilizing makeshift weapons and horror movie knowledge.
Barking Water: A dying man, accompanied by his former lover, embarka on a road trip across Oklahoma to see his daughter and granddaughter in Wewoka, the capital of the Seminole Nation. Barking Water was named Best Drama film at the 2009 American Indian Film Festival.
Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools: A two-part documentary that focuses on the history and brutality of American boarding schools that forced assimilation onto native children by physically and sexually abusing them, taking them away from their families, and forcing them to learn and speak English.
Smoke Signals: Two friends, Thomas and Victor, embark on across-country journey to Phoenix to retrieve the ashes of Victor’s father, Arnold—the man who Victor resents and the man who Thomas finds a hero. Recognized as the first feature-length film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans to reach a wider audience in the US and abroad, this film is noted for its authenticity for casting Native American actors and filming on the location of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho.