We Are on Indigenous Land: A Letter from Michele Storms

We are on Indigenous land.

As we commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year, I invite all of us to understand more deeply than ever before that we live, work and play on the occupied territory of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Peoples' Day recognizes that Native peoples are the first inhabitants of what we now refer to as the Americas — peoples who have stewarded this land since time immemorial. This day is an opportunity for us to directly confront the truth of our country’s history.
Many of you have heard me say that the authors of the U.S. Constitution were complicit in the genocide of Indigenous peoples. Our government broke treaties with tribal nations; many laws and judicial rulings in the country throughout our history have limited the rights of Indigenous peoples and have contributed to painful social conditions, poverty, loss of cultural identity, generational harm and trauma.
If we as the ACLU — and as a society — are serious about the rights and freedoms granted to all under the Constitution, we must take a closer and deeper look at the many sanctioned acts of harm inflicted on Indigenous peoples. We must acknowledge our country’s history and, more importantly, we must work to make things right.
Erasure and Invisibility
The history of the Columbus Day holiday is one of many efforts to erase Indigenous peoples and make them invisible. Not only was this land “discovered” long before Columbus arrived, those three ships brought disease, disaster, and death to this land’s original inhabitants.
Throughout our country’s history, Indigenous peoples have experienced erasure — whether by law or societal actions. The removal of Indigenous children to residential boarding schools is one brutal example. For many decades, the U.S. federal government funded mission and boarding schools that robbed Indigenous children of their language, their culture, and their history. And they were abused. We know now, as the graves of precious children on boarding school sites in the U.S. and Canada make plain, that many children needlessly lost their lives to these abuses. Hundreds of families lost their babies, their futures. Residential Schools have had a severe intergenerational impact, affecting Indigenous peoples throughout this country.
Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the first Native American person (Pueblo of Laguna) to serve as a cabinet secretary, has called us to action. This summer, she announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which will provide a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.
Additionally, Native people born in this country did not even have the rights of citizenship until 1924, when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act. Until as recently as 1957, some states barred Native Americans from voting at all and there are still many barriers to the right to vote for Indigenous peoples in this country.
Indigenous peoples also do not have the full benefit of the protections of the law when crimes are committed against them. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl’s movement galvanized in response to the disproportionate number of women, girls, and two spirit individuals in Indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada who go missing or are murdered. 
An Urban Indian Health Institute report (PDF) compiled in 2016 from a survey of 71 U.S. cities highlighted the alarming, disproportionate and underreported rates at which Native American women are murdered or have gone missing.
The same report found that the U.S. Department of Justice database logged only a small fraction – 116 – of the 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls reported by the National Crime Information Center. The failure of our systems to respond to these statistics and protect the lives of Indigenous women and girls is a truly troubling form of this erasure.
Systemic equality and repair
Indigenous peoples are still here. Boldly, brilliantly and proudly, Indigenous peoples remain incredibly resilient, protecting and reclaiming their culture and traditions, and fighting for their rights. Despite attempts to erase their existence, Indigenous peoples are speaking up and asking us as allies and accomplices to stand with them to interrupt the continued harm of settler colonialism and genocide.
The ACLU has advanced a systemic equality agenda nationwide to address the deeply racist policies, practices, and attitudes that harm Black and Indigenous peoples and People of Color and have been woven into American society since our nation’s founding. This has led to unequal systems that perpetuate stark disadvantage to these groups across every area of life, from employment, education and housing to disparate policing, criminal sanctions, and overpopulation in the criminal legal and carceral systems.
I am not an Indigenous person. I am descended from those who were held in bondage in this country. I feel the pain of our historical crimes against People of Color. I believe in repair, in allyship, in solidarity, and in equity and belonging. We have work to do. Included here are resources to help you get started.  I ask you to not let this day pass unmarked, without reflection, and without action. We can do better by our Indigenous siblings, and in so doing, we make our state and country more just for all of us.