An Insurrection and a Breaking Point for a Better Future – A Reflection from NAP’s Executive Director

An Insurrection and a Breaking Point for a Better Future – A Reflection from NAP’s Executive Director

Dear NAP Friends and Relatives,

Like you, I have trouble putting to words how I feel about yesterday’s events at the U.S. Capitol, only a 15-minute walk from where I live. Deep sadness is the closest I get. There are so many reasons that the insurrection at the Capitol yesterday feels like the breaking point of our collective heavy heart in this country. As individuals, we have suffered tremendous personal losses, anxiety and pain. As communities, we have lost language, stories, and knowledge, along with our family and community members. As a nation, we have felt hopeless about how we move forward, and for too many of us, simply unsafe.

(L to R) Erik Stegman, Sen. Daniel Akaka, and Wendy Helgemo

One of the most personal moments for me yesterday was having to watch these rioters breaking into the Senate gallery, rifling through desks, and making a mockery of an important and sacred institution. While this colonial government was forced upon our people, the Senate is one of the several institutions where our tribal leaders have continued the fight of our ancestors to respect our treaty rights and advocate in good faith for our peoples’ future. The sickening display on the Senate floor is personal because it reminded me of my days as staffer for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Some of the proudest days of my life took place on that floor when I was working with my colleague Wendy Helgemo in the final days before the Senate passed the current reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. It was there that these senators debated whether to add much-needed protections for Native women on our lands, particularly the restoration of our tribal court authority over some domestic violence crimes by non-Native perpetrators. Though only my chairman, the late Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, was Native, the other non-Native Senators debated and passed these crucial laws because our people have tirelessly advocated in those hallways. They have done so many times, over many important issues, over generations. 

To me, the Senate floor is a sacred space, even for us as Native people. I say this to honor our people who have served there, and to those who have shared their stories to advocate there—all to benefit our people and honor our ancestors. 

This is what those rioters defiled in front of all of us. 

While I now oscillate between sadness and anger, as I’m sure many of you do, I’m finding more strength than ever in our work together. As we’ve seen before in this country, the breaking points often lead to sun on the horizon. The work of NAP to drive bold and meaningful investment in Native people is one of the best medicines we can offer at this moment. Shortly before the insurrection, we saw the once un-thinkable happen in Georgia because of the hard and sustained work of the Black community. As Native people, we have experienced similar power-building, now over several election cycles in many key races. We have also advanced our own people to the highest levels of government. 

This is a breaking point, but only because Native people are working with other people of color and marginalized communities to truly shift power and systems in this country after generations of trauma. I write to express my gratitude to all of you for your support of our work and our communities. While we still have a tough road ahead of us, I know that we walk in the steps of our ancestors and have the strength to build a much brighter future together.

In Solidarity,

Erik