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EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows Message on National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month 2021

During National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, we celebrate the rich and diverse cultures of more than seven million American Indians and Alaska Natives. We also acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by these first Americans and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our nation. This includes honoring the vibrancy, importance, and strength of more than 570 Native tribes, their languages, traditions, values, and cultural practices.

The contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our nation, culture, and society. Indigenous people have served, and continue to serve, in the United States Armed Forces with distinction and honor and have one of the highest rates of military service of any group according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But at the same time, American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to quality health care and affordable housing. And according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, those communities have been experiencing some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in the United States.

Yet, these nations and communities endure. When he addressed the National Conference of American Indians earlier this year, President Biden acknowledged the United States’ “long and painful legacy of broken promises” to Native Americans and committed to “write a new and better chapter in the history of our nation-to-nation relationship.”

The EEOC will be a partner in that effort, working with Tribal Nations to identify ways to make real one of the founding principles of the United States – the promise of equal opportunity for all. While that promise has not yet been realized, it is not forgotten, and it is at the center of everything we do at the EEOC.

One of the Commission’s priorities is to explore ways in which we can collaborate and strengthen the EEOC’s relationships with Tribal Nations, including the development of the EEOC’s first Tribal Consultation Process. Once finalized, this process will help ensure Tribal Nations and the EEOC engage in meaningful discussions around policies with Tribal implications. We also have continued our partnership with the Tribal Employment Rights Organizations (TEROs) and the Council for Tribal Employment Rights (CTER) and recently established an EEOC-TERO joint committee to ensure we can achieve our common goals of addressing and eliminating unlawful employment discrimination.

In addition, through the Commission’s enforcement and litigation programs, we continue to represent the interests of Native American workers. In fiscal year 2020, the EEOC received hundreds of charges filed by individuals who identify as Native American and, in the past, the Commission has successfully litigated and settled several cases – recovering millions of dollars for Native American employees who have been subjected to egregious racial and national origin harassment and other discriminatory treatment. The EEOC will continue to vigorously combat unlawful employment discrimination in fulfillment of its commitment to equal opportunity for all and in furtherance of the vision for a new chapter in our national legacy – one of partnership and promises kept.

In celebration of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, let us honor the first Americans, treasure their unique traditions and history, and remember that the present offers a renewed opportunity to ensure American Indians and Alaska Natives enjoy dignity, prosperity, and self-determination.