Anushka Saxena was browsing through videos on YouTube one day in 2020 when she came across something she wasn’t prepared for.
It was a clip from a 2011 series by ABC News that documented the life of a young Lakota boy, a few years younger than Anushka, living in extreme poverty on a South Dakota reservation. He shared a leaky, unheated trailer with his grandmother and nine cousins, because his mother struggled with alcoholism. The boy dreamed of becoming the first Indigenous U.S. president, but he lived in a community where adults were more likely to succumb to alcoholism or suicide.
“I was really frustrated, and I was like, ‘What can I do?’ So I decided to start talking to Indigenous people.” ~Anushka Saxena, teen activist
Anushka, a 16-year-old sophomore at Skyline High School in Sammamish, was stunned. She’d learned about Indigenous peoples in school, she says, but mostly as a small footnote in Washington state’s history. Why did the first peoples of this country live in such horrible conditions? And why hadn’t she learned more about what life is like today for Indigenous people?
“I was really frustrated, and I was like, ‘What can I do?’” Anushka says. “So I decided to start talking to Indigenous people.” And she did. Anushka spent hours that day reading about Native communities – and then began reaching out to Indigenous people in the Seattle area to ask them about their experiences and what it means to be Indigenous in America today.
Here are a few things she learned:
- She lives on land that was once home to the Snoqualmie and Duwamish tribes, and the Duwamish are still fighting to regain their treaty rights for federal recognition.
- The distinctive cultures of individual tribes have been diluted and erased over the decades by oppressive policies, and Indigenous people are required nonetheless to prove their pedigree in order to be considered Indigenous by the federal government.
- Indigenous people face disparities in healthcare and struggle against harmful stereotypes.
Anushka was appalled by what she hadn’t known, so she set off on a mission to teach non-Indigenous folks like herself that Indigenous peoples and their cultures are more than a footnote in American history. She recorded her conversations and turned them into a podcast that she posts on a website she created, OrigiNative.org.
And she started a petition calling on schools to teach Indigenous history and adopt “Land Acknowledgment” statements, which a growing number of organizations use to acknowledge that they operate on land that was taken from Indigenous peoples. She’s already met with several officials in her school district to talk about how the acknowledgments can be implemented.
“Land Acknowledgments are important to do because colonialism and oppression are not just in the past, but a current and ongoing process,” Anushka writes in her petition. “Not everything from the past can be undone, but there are still many things that we can do in the present to raise awareness about Indigenous culture and help people understand that Indigenous people are still very much here.”
Like Anushka, Solid Ground is engaged in a process of learning more about our relationship to Indigenous communities.
We recognize that as a modern-day nonprofit organization, we have roots in the colonialist system that works to erase Indigenous people and their cultures. We know that Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by poverty and homelessness. And so, we’re beginning the work of developing better, supportive relationships with Indigenous communities.
For one of her podcast episodes, Anushka interviewed David Olivera, a Children’s Advocate at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus and a descendent of the Tarahumara people of modern-day Mexico. David suggested Solid Ground invite Anushka to give a Land Acknowledgment statement at its All Staff Meeting held on June 10.
“It’s going to take all of us, Native and non-Native, getting involved to force the change that our Indigenous community members have requested and deserve,” says Shalimar Gonzales, Solid Ground’s CEO. “We liked the idea of providing a local high school scholar a space where they could present and learn as part of their leadership development.”
Solid Ground signed on to Anushka’s petition and is in the process of taking additional steps to support Indigenous communities, including advocating for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, supporting the Duwamish tribe in its effort to secure federal recognition, contributing to Real Rent Duwamish, and more.
Like Anushka, Solid Ground is only at the beginning of our journey toward better understanding our role in supporting the work of Indigenous communities and helping to dismantle the systems of oppression they continue to struggle against. We hope you’ll join us in this important process.
Want to learn more? Check out Anushka’s podcast, OrigiNative, in which she interviews Indigenous people to highlight their stories and shared experiences. You can also sign her petition calling on schools to do Land Acknowledgments and teach Native American history, or check out the many resources available on her website. Also, feel free to reach out to Anushka through the contact form on her website with any ideas or thoughts – she would love to hear from you!