Celebrating American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, a time to honor the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of the indigenous people of the Americas. It is also a time to acknowledge their important contributions to the public sector, such as health, education, conservation, and governance.

According to the web search results, there were approximately 2.6 million American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) workers in the U.S. in 2020, accounting for nearly 2% of the total workforce. However, the exact number of AI/AN workers in the public sector is not readily available, as different sources may have other definitions and criteria for public sector employment. One possible way to estimate the number of AI/AN workers in the public sector is to look at the percentage of AI/AN workers in specific predominantly public industries, such as education, health care, and public administration. Based on the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of AI/AN workers in these industries in 2020 were:

  • Education and health services: 19.4%
  • Public administration: 9.7%

Multiplying these percentages by the total number of AI/AN workers gives an approximate range of 503,400 to 1,004,800 AI/AN workers in public sector jobs. However, this is only a rough estimate and may not reflect the actual number of AI/AN workers in public sector jobs. Some public sector jobs that AI/AN workers fill include teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, firefighters, and government officials.

In another search, there were 33,468 male and female American Indians and Alaska Natives listed by the U.S. Census Bureau as working in firefighting, law enforcement and prevention, and other protective service industry jobs, including holding supervisory positions, in 2020. However, the data doesn't differentiate between public and private sector jobs.

A Legacy of Public Service

American Indians and Alaska Natives have a long history of serving the public good within and beyond their communities. They have fought in every major U.S. war, defended their lands and resources, advocated for their rights and sovereignty, and participated in civic and political affairs at local, state, and national levels. They have also contributed to advancing science, medicine, technology, arts, and humanities.

Some examples of notable American Indians and Alaskan Native public servants are:

  • Charles Curtis, a Kaw Nation member, served as the 31st Vice President of the U.S. from 1929 to 1933.
  • Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to serve as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995, improved the tribe's health care, education, and economic development.
  • Billy Frank Jr., a leader of the Nisqually Tribe, fought for the treaty rights of salmon fishing and environmental protection in Washington State.
  • Ada Deer, a member of the Menominee Tribe, served as the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs from 1993 to 1997 and helped restore the federal recognition of her tribe.
  • Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, served as a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 to 2005 and championed legislation on Native American issues, such as health care, education, and cultural preservation.

A Diverse and Resilient Population

According to the 2020 Census, there were approximately 3.7 million American Indians and Alaskan Native people in the U.S., accounting for nearly 2% of the total population. However, this number does not capture the full diversity and complexity of the population, which includes 574 federally recognized tribes, 229 Alaska Native villages, and many other state-recognized, unrecognized, or urban Native communities. Each group has its unique history, culture, language, and identity.

Despite facing many challenges, such as historical trauma, colonization, discrimination, and health disparities, American Indians and Alaska Native people have shown remarkable resilience and strength. They have preserved and revitalized their cultures, languages, and traditions and adapted to changing social and environmental conditions. They have also maintained and developed relationships with their lands, waters, and resources and shared their knowledge and wisdom with others.

A Future of Collaboration and Innovation

As the nation celebrates National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, let's look forward to the future of collaboration and innovation between the public sector and the AI/AN communities. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the federal agencies that works closely with AI/AN communities to support their agricultural operations and to help conserve natural resources. The USDA offers many programs and services that help AI/AN producers and landowners, such as technical and financial assistance, risk management, and outreach and education. The USDA also recognizes and respects the rights and interests of AI/AN people in managing federal lands and resources and seeks to engage them in meaningful consultation and collaboration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is another federal agency that works with AI/AN communities to promote public health and prevent disease. The CDC provides funding, technical assistance, and data to tribal health programs and organizations. It supports the development of tribal public health infrastructure and workforce. The CDC also honors and highlights the contributions of AI/AN people to public health, such as their practices of medicine and wellness, their innovations in environmental and community health, and their leadership in public health emergencies.

These are just some examples of the ongoing partnerships and initiatives between the public sector and the AI/AN communities. There are many more stories and achievements to celebrate and share, not only in November but throughout the year. By recognizing and honoring the heritage and contributions of AI/AN people, we can foster a culture of respect, appreciation, and collaboration that benefits us all.

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About the Author:
Allen Jones is the director of communications and event marketing at TEXPERS. A former journalist, he joined the Association in January 2017.


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