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A Message from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows on National Native American Heritage Month 2022

Every November, we commemorate National Native American Heritage Month by recognizing the legacy and rich history of the first Americans. We celebrate the diverse cultures, languages, and traditions of more than 570 Tribes. We honor their invaluable contributions to our nation, both past and present, and reaffirm our respect for Tribal sovereignty and self-determination.  

This year, we witnessed the first Native American woman go to space: Nicole “Duke” Victoria Aunapu Mann. Ms. Mann, a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, is the first indigenous woman in orbit and first female commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission. As a child, Ms. Mann did not dream of a career involving stars and space, noting that “in my mind at that time, it was not in the realm of possibilities."  Yet, she obtained degrees in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and Stanford University before earning her wings as a Navy aviator and ultimately a NASA astronaut.

When asked about the historic mission, Ms. Mann responded, “[I hope it] will inspire young Native American children to follow their dreams and realize that some of those barriers that are there or used to be there are being broken down."Ms. Mann’s achievements lift up hope for young girls and boys to dream big and envision new possibilities and job opportunities for themselves.

At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), we are committed to doing our part to ensure the next generation of workers thrive and benefit from equal opportunities in the workplace – whatever their dreams. Through the Commission’s Youth@Work initiative, we hope to educate young workers about their rights in the workplace and to help employers create positive work experiences for young adults. This year, as part of our Tribal Programs’ efforts, we plan to work with our Tribal partners to identify the best way to reach Native American youth and inform them about workplace civil rights laws. 

The Commission continues to explore ways to collaborate and strengthen the EEOC’s relationships with Tribal Nations. We continue to partner with the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) of over 60 Tribes. The TEROs work closely with the EEOC to advance equal opportunity in the workplace. In addition, this past year we established a joint EEOC/TERO committee to serve as a resource and provide feedback to the agency on Tribal matters. We also launched a new Tribal Programs webpage which contains important information on Tribal matters, including the agency’s Tribal Consultation Process and Action Plan, as well as a short video describing the relationship between Tribal organizations and the EEOC.   

As we emerge from the pandemic and our nation makes major investments in our infrastructure and economic recovery, ensuring equal opportunity at work is especially critical. In addition, the historic investments in Indian Country open up opportunities for economic advancement for Tribal nations, especially in the construction industry. The EEOC is working to ensure that discrimination does not limit those opportunities for Native Americans.

Unfortunately, as our litigation and enforcement efforts have made clear, construction is an industry that has seen particular problems of unlawful harassment of Native Americans and other persons of color. As one example, this past summer the Commission announced a  $1.75 million-dollar settlement to compensate sixteen (16) male oil pipeline workers, some of whom were Native American, for the egregious harassment and retaliation that they endured on a daily basis.

The Commission also held a hearing on the construction industry and heard from a wide range of witnesses about pervasive harassment and discrimination that workers of color and women face in this industry. However, at the same time, we also recognize that responsible employers in the industry offer good-paying jobs and training opportunities, which could be invaluable in Indian country. One witness, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, described the importance of pathways to prosperity for Native Americans, through active recruitment, apprenticeships, mentorships, and job placements. Access to good jobs is critical for economic mobility and generational transformation.

In celebration of National Native American Heritage Month, let us honor the first Americans by continuing to partner with Tribal nations to deliver on the promise of equal opportunity for all. And let us work tirelessly to break down barriers and inspire the next generation to follow their dreams and aim for the stars.


Charlotte A. Burrows (she/her/hers)