1. Why do you think Native Americans are so seldom discussed in the context of diversity?
2. If you were an HR manager, what special strategies might you adopt to recruit more Native Americans to apply for positions in your organization?
Diversity conversations seldom include Native Americans. There is even disagreement over how these individuals should be identified. But whether we use the terms ?American Indian? or ?Native American,? or refer to their tribal affiliation (Cherokees are the largest, with more than 800,000 mem- bers), the prevailing perception is that Native Americans are a relatively homogeneous group. But while different tribes each have their own issues and are actually quite heterogeneous, there are some issues that face all Native Americans.
According to current census data, there are 5.2 million Native Americans living in the United States (including American Indians and Alaska Natives), and this number is projected to grow to 8.6 million by 2050. The largest Native American populations are in Oklahoma and California, but another nine states each have more than 100,000 Native American residents. Furthermore, with a median age of 29 (compared to 37 for the general population), Native Americans will become increasingly important for the workforce.
Since 1871, American Indians have been considered wards of the U.S. government, and, although we are now more sensitive to the history of how the U.S. government treated Native Americans, images of ?cowboys and Indians? are still part of society?as reflected in recent debates over using names and images associated with their culture as names, mascots, and logos for sports teams. And while relations between the U.S. government and Native Americans have certainly improved, conflicts are still often solved by actions of the U.S. military or are referred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a non-Indian Federal organization.
As a result, diversity initiatives aimed at Native Americans face unique challenges. One grows out of the
tension between assimilation and the desire to maintain a strong Native American and tribal identity. This drives discussions over the role of tribal courts and tribal gov- ernments relative to issues of child custody, sentencing guidelines, and general policies aimed at ?mainstreaming? Native American children. Another challenge stems from the fact that for many Native Americans, there is no clear defini- tion of religion?religious beliefs are part of their way of life and cannot be separated. Consequently, it is not clear what protections are afforded to Native Americans under the First Amendment, or what religious rights they have (although in one case employees at Oglala Lakota College are granted 5 days of leave for their Sun Dance ceremony).
Native Americans face many of the same challenges confronting other minority groups, including stereotypes, prejudice, and bias, as well as the relative lack of quality education, poverty, early parenthood, and substance abuse. But while all Civil Rights legislation applies to Native Americans (Native Americans were granted citizenship rights in 1924), few cases have been brought on behalf of Native Americans. In fact, it was only in 1997 that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice first enforced the education statues on behalf of Native Americans by ordering a Utah school district to build a new high school in a remote community populated mostly by Navajo and Paiute tribe members.
Diversity efforts targeted at Native Americans deserve more attention because Native Americans have a great deal to offer modern business. Native Americans are much more likely to be bilingual when compared with the general population?over 70 percent of the Navajo nation is bilingual, for instance. Even though the second language involved is often a tribal language, these statistics suggest that Native Americans have strong language skills. They also appear to have strong entrepreneurial skills: There are now more than 400 tribal gaming casinos, operated across 30 states, generating $15.5 billion dollars in annual revenues. It therefore seems clear that Native Americans represent a growing yet vastly underutilized group of employees who have a strong cultural tradition combined with strong entre- preneurial skills. They clearly deserve more attention as the target of diversity initiatives.