As Native Americans Face Job Discrimination, A Tribe Works To Employ Its Own
When he started working as a bartender a few years ago in Seattle, Howie Echo-Hawk says he began experiencing discrimination. First, a bar manager told him to get a respectable haircut.
“I had a Mohawk, which is the traditional style of my people and I wore it because of that,” he said. Echo-Hawk is a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.
Rather than argue, Echo-Hawk cut his hair. Then, a few months later, he broke his ankle and had to take some time off.
“When I finally came back to work, one of the managers their told me: ‘That’s what happens when you Indians get your firewater,’ ” he said. “And so, I filed a complaint very quickly, and basically put in my two weeks notice.”
About a third of Native Americans say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace when seeking jobs, or when getting promotions or earning equal pay, according to a new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Slightly more said they were on the receiving end of slurs or negative comments based on race.
Still in Seattle, Echo-Hawk says racial misconceptions followed him to his first communications job. His company launched an advertising campaign using indigenous people in it. He says those images have been widely criticized by Native communities, because they posed indigenous peoples in colorful outfits that didn’t accurately represent their culture or heritage.
“I was pretty livid,” he said.
Echo-Hawk met with his bosses several times, and they offered a compromise. But, he said, afterward, his superiors treated him differently. The whole experience left a sour taste in his mouth.
“This is something that I feel is important for anybody who is trying to understand someone who has to talk about their oppression to the people who benefit from that oppression, you’re pleading your humanity, and to do that is hard.”