November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to reflect on and uplift the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples of this land, which pre-dates the United States.
The displacement of indigenous peoples during the settlement and expansion of the United States had a dramatic impact on their cultural, economic, and legal rights — to name just a few. Native American tribes were self-governed and independent long before the arrival of European colonizers, and tribes negotiated treaties with the federal government to exchange their land for funding of infrastructure, housing, and other fundamental needs.
But consider this: these centuries-old treaties between the U.S. and indigenous peoples—many of which were signed under duress or threat—haven’t even been totally fulfilled. According to research by the Navajo Water Project, for example, “Navajo are 67 times more likely than other Americans to live without running water or a toilet.”
One organization fighting to hold the government accountable to its legal obligation to Native Americans is the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). This dedicated team of advocates works across several areas to ensure Native American rights are protected and government promises are kept. And they’ve been making strides in this effort for 50 years nationwide.
Meet Native American Rights Fund: A Dedicated Team of Attorneys and Community Advocates
What is Native American Rights Fund?
Native American Rights Fund is a nonprofit legal organization focused on asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide.
The organization, founded in 1970 by John Echohawk (Pawnee) and the late David Getches, “has successfully asserted and defended the most important rights of Indians and tribes in hundreds of major cases, and has achieved significant results in such critical areas as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, and Indian education.”
Native American Rights Fund is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors composed of Native Americans from tribes throughout the country. The organization currently has a staff of 20 attorneys from Native American and non-native backgrounds. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, NARF also operates offices in Washington, DC, and Anchorage, AK.
What does Native American Rights Fund do?
Native American Rights Fund “provides legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide who might otherwise have gone without adequate representation.” Its attorneys take on cases “on the basis of their breadth and potential importance in setting precedents and establishing important principles of Indian law.” The organization has consulted with policy makers as well to help draft legislation. NARF also works on developing Indian law and educating the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues — including occasionally finding ways to elevate critical state or federal cases to the Supreme Court
Some more examples of what Native American Rights Fund does include:
- Protecting and establishing the inherent sovereignty of tribes
- Obtaining official tribal recognition for numerous Indian tribes
- Helping tribes continue their ancient traditions, by protecting their rights to hunt, fish and use the water on their lands
- Upholding Native American religious freedom
- Assuring the return of remains and burial goods from museums and historical societies for proper and dignified re-burial
- Protecting voting rights of Native Americans
- Promoting Native American human rights
- Holding governments accountable to Native Americans
Why support Native American Rights Fund?
One major reason: many of the legal battles NARF fights are related to agreements the United States government already made with Native American tribes, but hasn’t been held accountable to. With their advocacy, alongside other organizations working on Native American rights, NARF is able to secure crucial wins for some of the most essential civil and human rights that are still inconsistently granted or outright denied to Native Americans: Protection of land, water, and other natural resources from development and pollution. Voting rights. Housing.
Right now Native American Rights Fund is awaiting a ruling in their legal battle to block illegal permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline, for example (they filed the suit in September 2018).
Nonprofits like Native American Rights Fund are critical to providing support to tribes, organizations, and individuals that would have otherwise gone without it. And they’re major advocates in legal battles whose outcomes can affect multiple generations.
How to Support Native American Rights Fund
To support Native American Rights Fund:
- Donate directly
- Explore options for planned giving to support NARF more broadly
- Follow them on Facebook to stay up-to-date
- Shop and donate your cash back using Giving Assistant
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