Indigenous peoples are invited to participate in a nationwide survey designed to illuminate their experiences, highlight their priorities and document the systemic challenges they face, according to a press release sent out by the Native Organizers Alliance. The Indigenous Futures Survey is part of a collaborative Native-led effort to document Native community voices,  perspectives and opinions on critical issues impacting Indigenous people and their communities. 

This is the second Native-led, multi-year Indigenous Futures Survey (IFS). Organizers say the survey is the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted in Indian country. The inaugural survey, launched in 2020, yielded responses from over 6,460 participants, representing 401 tribes from all 50 states. The project is coordinated by a collaboration of Indigenous researchers and organizers including IllumiNative, the Native Organizers Alliance and Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity (RISE). 

Judith LeBlanc (Caddo) is the director of Native Organizers Alliance, an organization involved in the IFS project.  She says the 2020 survey was the first opportunity for Native peoples and communities to share the challenges they face with a national audience. “The results,” LeBlanc says, “gave us a platform to advocate for change at all levels of government.” The Native Organizers Alliance works to build the capacity of Native tribes, traditional societies and community groups through training and organizing. They also provide a forum for Native peoples to work in collaboration with non-Native national allies. LeBlanc says the data-informed advocacy made possible by the IFS is allowing Native peoples to take steps towards reclaiming their collective voice, becoming politically active, and organizing for meaningful change. 

Jonathon Freeman (Chichimeca), Co-Founder of Native Roots, a local Indigenous advocacy organization, told Shasta Scout that Indigenous-led research demonstrates the need for data collection processes to reflect the diverse ways that different communities see and experience the world. “But,” he says, “this information isn’t just going to benefit Native people. Ultimately it’s going to benefit all of us. Because we’re all in community together.”

Three reports developed from the 2020 survey have been widely shared across Indian country. The reports focus on Native youth, Native political activity, and  how COVID-19 has affected Native communities. Organizers say they are being used to hold the media, educators, and politicians (including Congress) accountable to the needs and priorities of Native people.

Key survey data points about Native political activity, top Native priorities, and the pandemic were shared with Shasta Scout by Jennifer Fairbanks, Communications Director of the Native Organizing Alliance. She said top priorities expressed in the 2020 IFS survey included access to quality healthcare, violence against Native women, children and LGBTQ+ individuals, improving mental health, caring for Tribal elders, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Native communities, and concerns about climate change. 

The survey showed compelling results related to political activity, indicating that Native people turn out at high rates at the ballot box, with seventy-seven percent of participants having voted in their last local, state or federal election. This despite ninety-seven of participants expressing distrust in the federal government and twenty-seven percent indicating that they had experienced barriers to voting. 

A question and response on the FAQ page for the Indigenous Futures Survey. 

Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), is the founder and executive director of IllumiNative, another survey collaborator. Hawk’s organization is dedicated to increasing the visibility of — and challenging the narrative about — Native peoples, particularly in the media and pop culture. She emphasizes that the data and research coming from the IFS are vital to Native wellbeing. “For so long,” she says, “we have been forgotten or worse, deliberately excluded from research and data collection.” 

Lack of data about the Indigenous communities, who have lived for millennia in what is now known as the United States of America, is a well-known issue that affects the health and well-being of Native people in a variety of complex and fundamental ways. Locally, events such as vigils held for Nick Patterson, an Indigenous man from the Pit River tribal community who has been missing for two years, have raised awareness about the lack of comprehensive and coordinated data on missing Native peoples. Those data gaps contribute to unusually high rates of unsolved missing persons cases among Native communities.

A sign listing names of missing Indigenous peoples was placed at the Nick Patterson vigil in 2021.

The director of the Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity (RISE) Center, Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip), says the broad lack of data on Indigenous communities has rendered Indigenous peoples silent and invisible for too long. Even research into bias, prejudice, and discrimination, she says, often omits Indigenous peoples. She says when research about Native people is included, it’s often obtained and interpreted by non-Native researchers. “Ultimately,” she says, ”this keeps people from understanding who we are and seeing us as fully human.” Fryberg’s organization is the sole manager for data collected by the survey. She says the IFS is of particular importance because it’s research for Indigenous Peoples and by Indigenous Peoples. “This work illuminates the diversity of Indigenous experiences,” she says, “and advances Indigenous well-being by … giving Indigenous communities control over our own stories.”  

The Indigenous Futures Survey takes approximately 20–30 minutes to complete. Survey respondents will be entered into a raffle for prizes as thanks for their participation. More information is offered on the IFS site. Native community members can take the survey here.

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