NCAI President Brian Cladoosby: Meeting Hate with a Call to Action

Bowman Performance Consulting supports a peaceful, inclusive, empowered, and diverse existence on Mother Earth. Enjoy this call to action by NCAI President Brian Cladoosby: Meeting Hate with a Call to Action.


August 24, 2017


We are now 12 days removed from the appalling and tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I am still struggling to process what transpired there and what it means for me as a Native person, an American, and a national leader representing a community of color in one of the most diverse countries on earth. I, too, am still coming to grips with the distressing response of our nation’s highest public official and others in government and the media, who morally equate the hatred and aggression of those bent on dividing our country with those who choose to stand against them in order to protect the core values of love, tolerance, community, and mutual respect by which most Americans live their lives.

Recent events in Charlottesville and elsewhere remind us of just how fragile the fabric that holds this country together has become. The political rhetoric that has come to infest our public discourse in recent years has emboldened the forces of racism and division to crawl from beneath the rocks under which they have long hid to proudly reassert their bigoted view of the world, their fellow man, what it means to be an American, and what makes this country great.

This groundswell of bigotry that all Americans observe daily on their TVs and smart phones – and that people of color personally experience – takes many forms. Intolerant attitudes. Hurtful words. And, increasingly, devastating violence. I think about the crime of hate perpetrated against Heather Heyer, who lost her life when she was crushed by a vehicle driven by a white supremacist in the hometown of Thomas Jefferson. I also think about the crime of hate perpetrated against Quinault Indian Nation member Jimmy Smith-Kramer, an innocent young father of two who recently lost his life in Washington state in the same fashion at the hands of a driver who reportedly screamed racial slurs and war whoops during the attack.

Jimmy Smith-Kramer’s story reminds us all that crimes of hate against people of color simply because they are people of color is not, nor ever has been, simply a “whites versus blacks” issue. Every one of the tribal nations across this country can lay painful claim to tribal histories strewn with various incidents of hate crimes against their ancestors for no other reason than they were Indigenous to the land, different than, or just in the way. And virtually every citizen of those nations today can lay claim to a family member or friend who has personally been the victim of race-based violence.

That, ultimately, is what the battle over the monuments of hate like the one in Charlottesville is all about – making this deplorable treatment of all peoples of color a thing of the past, once and for all. It’s about what we value as a nation, today, and what values will guide us in creating an America rooted first and foremost in equality. An America where your lot in life and how you are viewed and treated by your fellow Americans are not determined by the color of your skin, your faith, your dress, or your sexual orientation.

Having served as Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community for three decades and President of the National Congress of American Indians for the past four years has taught me that creating this America depends on one thing and one thing only: respect. Respect for one another, our differences, and the invaluable contributions we all make as Americans – including the First Americans, the tribal nations to which we belong, and the tribal governments that daily serve and strengthen tribal and surrounding communities.

But respect is not happenstance. It cannot be left to fate or wishful thinking. It is borne only of a genuine commitment and sustained action to learn from one another, to learn about and understand one another – especially those who may look, worship, and love different than you.

The long, unending process of building that respect must take place in our schools, where the complex history of America – and the histories of all of those peoples who compose it – must be taught in an inclusive, culturally appropriate, and factually accurate fashion. The teaching of that complex history, for one, must convey the fact that America, despite its long-held fables, was not “discovered” by white men. It was built around hundreds upon hundreds of long thriving tribal societies that continue to exercise their inherent rights as sovereign governments today, persevering in the face of centuries of mistreatment, marginalization, and genocide.

Building that respect also takes place at our family dinner tables, at our workplaces, on our streets, in our grocery store check-out lines, and on social media. Every such interaction is an opportunity to teach and to learn, to choose unity and tolerance over division and intolerance. And we must seize on every such opportunity.

Building that respect also takes place in the halls of Congress, the offices of the White House, the chambers of state legislatures, and the meeting rooms of county and municipal governments. We call on all elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels: back up your encouraging rhetoric with bold, forward-thinking laws and policies designed to hold the forces of racism and division fully accountable for their crimes against humanity and community. Send an unequivocal message that their values are not this country’s values. And fervently and consistently enforce those laws and policies without exception.

In sum, building that respect demands the active involvement of each and every one of us. We all have an obligation to act in every facet of our personal and professional lives to build our understanding of and respect for all of our fellow Americans, and to call out and condemn those – even friends, family members, and close colleagues – who out of ignorance, fear, or self-interest have chosen that other, darker path. If the last two weeks have taught us anything, it is that indifference and inaction serve as a breeding ground for the divisions we see ripping at the fabric of this great country. We should never forget the past, for it informs who we are and should be today. But we must own the future that we seek to create for our children, our grandchildren, our American brothers and sisters, and our generations yet to come by starting today. We each must do our part to heal our nation so that we can move forward as a nation. We have no more time to waste. There are no excuses for further indecision. The time to act is now.