Think of it like this:
Each Native Nation or Tribe is a Sovereign Nation. Meaning they have lands, culture, language or dialect, Creation Story, Ceremonies, Cultural Dos and Don’ts, and more.
It would be like saying Scottish culture and Italian culture are the same because they’re both in Europe. Nope.
When you lump all the thousands of Indigenous cultures in the Colonial United States as one culture, you are erasing us. It erases all of the multidimensional beings who exist and have existed as they are for thousands of years. There are 573 federally recognized tribes and tribes that live without federal validation or state support.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat it. There is power in language! When you ask us our nations and include that in our introductions, instead of just saying “Native American,” it speaks to everyone who hears you. Recognizing our culture is essential.
Why is it still used?
There is such a deficit nationwide, spanning generations when it comes to an understanding of the actual history of how the Colonial Government in power today came to be. I often have to START my diversity and inclusion training sessions with “Native people exist today, and we are not extinct.” The lack of education about US history is profound. Companies will often reach out to have me speak on “Native American Culture” without knowing there is no such thing.
Companies and individuals reach out often to have me educate them on “Native Culture.” Asking me to educate on “Native Culture” frequently tells me where their deficit is in understanding Indigenous peoples or our relationship to the US Government. It will often mean double the labor on my part, and honestly, some days, I want to walk away from that type of work.
So what do we say?
We put more energy and effort into being specific. If you don’t know someone’s nations, ask! If you are having someone educate on Indigenous people’s relationship to the US Government, say that… if you’re referring to a specific event or groups of people, say that! It is an erasure to lump everything into one term, and you owe us the respect of specifics. Help us to be made visible.
A quick Google search of “Native Culture,” and this is the nonsense that comes up.
This happens even on the national level! There have been people and organizers at national conferences that didn’t think to have local nations involved with cultural openings. When I am asked to open and give statements for marches and protests, I will only ever accept if the local tribes had been asked first but could not make it. I am a guest when in lands that are not my own. Please be intentional about including local nations and recognizing that as a priority.