Responding to the Threat of Native American Racial Discrimination

Native American Worker

The public face of racial discrimination is usually an African American, or possibly Latino. However, members of any minority can face bias and prejudice at work and in their day-to-day lives. Tribal members, and others who identify as Native Americans, face their own unique threat of Native American racial discrimination. But there are ways to respond to the threat against the nation's First Peoples.

In this blog post, I will review the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s poll regarding racial discrimination among minorities and a publicized panel discussion hosted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health regarding Native American Racial Discrimination. I will identify unique challenges faced by native employees and will provide options for those facing discrimination at work.

Native Americans Are An Underrepresented Racial Minority

In conversations about race relations in America, the risks faced by African Americans often take center stage. Sometimes, the loud voices of groups like Black Lives Matter can drown out the perspectives of smaller minority groups, including Native Americans. Stephanie Fryberg, associate professor of psychology and American Indian studies at the University of Washington, told NPR:

"Native people are generally omitted from discussions of discrimination. . . We have been rendered invisible in so many domains. . . the perception is that we've vanished or there is the negative stereotype that we are helpless, dependents or wards of the government. That is just not my experience."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's racial discrimination poll makes an exception to that invisibility. In breaking down the statistics by racial minority, the poll, and a series of articles explaining the data, gave voice to a variety of racial groups, including Native Americans. The study included 342 adult Native Americans, asking questions about everything from police interaction and housing to workplace discrimination. It evaluated discrimination on the societal and community level, and asked people about their personal experiences, shedding light on the frequency of Native American racial discrimination.

1/3 of Native Americans Report Workplace Discrimination

Native American's relative rarity (as compared to other racial minorities) doesn't stop them from being the target of workplace harassment and discrimination. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's poll, one third of all workers surveyed in the category report having personally experienced Native American racial discrimination when it came to pay or promotions. Over 30% said they had experienced discrimination when applying for jobs. More broadly, 39% of Native Americans surveyed reported personally experiencing offensive comments, racial slurs, and negative assumptions about their race.

Living In Majority-Native Areas Makes Discrimination Worse

Native Americans (including "Indians", Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian residents) make up less than 2% of the nation's workforce. However, their populations tend to gather in particular geographical regions because of national treaties, which established reservations with the various tribes. NPR's review of the RWJF poll shows that areas with large populations of indigenous people have bigger problems with Native American racial discrimination than more blended communities. In majority-Native areas, poll participants were significantly more likely to experience workplace discrimination (54% compared to 22% in non-majority areas), and in their interactions with police officers (55% compared to 16%). This may be because the stereotypes associated with the First Peoples are more widely known in areas with higher populations.

Responding to the Threat of Native American Racial Discrimination

Native Americans may perceive government institutions including the police as working against them. But national Civil Rights laws, including Title VII protect all American workers. When faced with the threat of Native American racial discrimination, indigenous workers have the right to file complaints, internally, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or in federal court. They may be entitled to relief if they experience discrimination in:

  • Applying for jobs or promotions
  • Assignment of tasks, shifts, or responsibilities
  • Payment of wages
  • Addressing workplace harassment by coworkers

Whenever a person's race enters into an employment decision, whether that race be white, black, or Native American, that person has the right under Title VII to be compensated for those lost employment opportunities.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our employment discrimination attorneys understand the risks faced by Native American workers. We know what Native American racial discrimination looks like, and how to make it stop. We will help you assess the strength of your case and explore your options in and out of court. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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