Reclaiming Native Truth

The current dominant narrative about Native Americans is false, filled with negative stereotypes, misperceptions and myths that rely on inaccurate history, romanticized notions, racist assumptions and/or the idea that Native peoples are gone. This narrative is reinforced by popular culture, the arts, entertainment, educational curriculum, sports, political leaders and news media, among many other communication channels. It fuels racism and biases on the part of non-Native people, hinders Native peoples’ ability to access opportunities, puts tribal sovereignty in question and leads to harmful experiences for Native children, from bullying to trauma. Even well-meaning allies­–including organizations serving Native Americans –often unintentionally spread this false narrative by focusing on deficits rather than assets in an attempt to build urgency and support for funding, policies and programs.

Reclaiming Native Truth was a narrative change initiative to eradicate these toxic, deficit-based narratives and stereotypes; end the dehumanization and invisibility of Native Americans; and break down structural and institutional racism. The overarching goal was to increase access to opportunities and rights, and to ensure that Native Americans live in a society where they are celebrated as a vital part of the fabric of the United States as both leaders and contributors.

Reclaiming Native Truth conducted unprecedented public opinion research about narratives and perceptions of Native peoples. More than 20,000 people across the United States participated, representing a wide range of socio-economic, racial, geographic, gender, and age groups. Metropolitan Group aggregated and analyzed the research findings. Grounded in the research, we facilitated collaborative workshops and discussions with Native storytellers, artists and advocates and Indian Country leaders to design a new narrative and narrative change strategy. We created narrative guides to provide insights and tools for Native peoples and organizations, as well as for non-Native allies, who wanted to use the new narrative as a map to guide the design of messages, ideas, scripts, stories, programs, lesson plans, funding priorities, cultural exhibits and other communication strategies.

When used consistently over time, across multiple sectors, this more positive, accurate, forward-moving narrative will become the story people are used to hearing.

The new narrative was tested in a nationally representative survey and proved to be highly effective: Support on key issues important to Native Americans increased significantly among people who read the survey, and their support was higher than that of people who answered similar questions a year prior. The new narrative, the change strategy and the guides are openly accessible for anyone to use and apply. More importantly, a new Native-led initiative has emerged from this work, one that uses a “movement of movements” approach to advance the new narrative to promote systemic and cultural changes across multiple sectors. Click here to learn more about IllumiNative and to download the research report and narrative guides.