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The struggle for equal rights

The struggle for equal rights is something that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had in common with Native leaders. What is their legacy today?
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This week we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. 

Dr. King was a social activist who played a key role in the fight for civil rights. He wanted equality and human rights for all economically disadvantaged people.

He led boycotts against injustice… he led the March on Washington in 1963 and he did it all through peaceful protests.

This is a day for stories about the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

In the 1960s that same movement inspired Native Americans in Minneapolis and Cleveland to form what became the American Indian Movement.

In the Pacific Northwest the tactics of Dr. King found their way into fish-ins and other acts of civil disobedience by Billy Frank Jr. and other leaders.

The same idea was used a decade later when people from across Turtle Island marched to Washington in the Trail of Broken Treaties.

This is a moment when we should consider the difference, however, in acts of civil disobedience and the violence we witnessed last week.

At its core civil disobedience is about love. The idea is to make injustice visible, calling out our better angels.

The United States is at a moment of deep division.

And this week we begin a new story, a new chapter, with the inauguration of our 46th president … Joe Biden… and the first woman ever to be elected vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.

This incoming administration holds a lot of promise for Indian Country.

How soon can we expect to see much needed change? And what will that change look like?

Our guest today is Fawn Sharp. She is the 23rd president of the National Congress of American Indians. And she’s only the third woman to hold this position in its nearly 80 year history.

In addition to serving as the president of NCAI, she is also the President of the Quinault Indian Nation. Her tribe is based in Taholah, Washington. 

Some quotes from the show

Fawn Sharp

“The moment that we take it, every year in January to reflect on the life of Dr. King, I think we all take a pause and really know and understand the significance of not only Dr. King, but the movement in the generation that he inspired. And we think of all those leaders that have gone before us, who demonstrated moral and political courage to not raise our, our national conscience, but to take positive action to make change. And so this day is always truly inspiring for me personally.”

“I believe that we're entering a time and an era where not only do we have that responsibility to introduce the rest of the world to our heroes and those who have created a legacy for tribal nations in Indian country, but fate and destiny. And this moment in time, our leaders are going to them directly. And so I believe that as the national conscience is being elevated, people are starting to question really what's happening in this country. I think 2020 was a rude awakening for many - that the civil rights era was not something in the past that racism not only exists today, it's just under the surface and it's always been there. And so I believe this country is ready to have a national conversation.”

“My personal top priority and goal with this administration going into 2021, and I made reference to it in my state of tribal nations last year is to achieve political equality and to elevate tribal nations, because if we can achieve political equality, every other issue that we advanced is part of that. So we're talking about healthcare law and justice for this administration to know and understand that we have inherent sovereign powers that were not given to us by the United States, that we reserved that our almighty creator gifted us with the ability to govern our people.”

"Just this week, I had to declare another quinoa national state of emergency as sea level rise and the ocean breached into our village of Taholah, our headquarters. I had to evacuate two blocks of tribal citizens from our homes, our jail, our courthouse, our community center."

"What gives me the most hope is, is knowing that we have an upcoming generation of young people that are strong."

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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