On Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Amazon’s corporate campus, Gary Davis spoke about Indigenous inclusion and representation. Right: Davis smiles with members of [email protected], an inclusive employee community, where employees can find other Tribal members within Amazon. (Native Business Photos)
Gary Davis, a member of the Cherokee Nation and the Founder, Publisher and CEO of Native Business Magazine, spoke at Amazon’s corporate campus in Seattle, Washington, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Monday, October 14th. His message focused on diversity, inclusion and Native representation — or misrepresentation and underrepresentation — in the media.
Pulling from his more than 30 years of personal and professional service to Indian Country, Davis began his speech by sharing his perspective on the unity of Indigenous people across North America.
“When I think of my travels across Indian Country, and I think of my people, existing from Alaska to Oklahoma to Nova Scotia and everywhere in between, I think of them as my extended family, and they mean the world to me,” he said. “These relationships came into existence via my travels and work in Native communities across Indian Country, and they are more precious to me than anything.”
Irrespective of colonization and country, state, Tribal and other geographic boundaries, Indigenous people across the world are forever connected by the land, he emphasized.
“It’s an honor to be here on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I just like to call it Indigenous Day. It’s who we are, we are of this land, we are from here. No matter what Tribe you go to, this is where we come from. We’re not tied to a strip mall or a local icon built recently, we are tied to the land, and those things define and help shape who we are. Our world view, creation stories and everything that we are comes from the Indigenous places that we come from.”
Davis expressed that external fascination and admiration of Indigenous people has unfortunately been misconstrued and manifested itself in the form of mascots — “under the guise that you’re honoring us,” Davis said. “It’s not an honor. It causes you to not be able to see me for me.”
Native people, like every other ethnicity, merit culturally respectful representation in modern day society — “and not when you score a touchdown,” Davis said. “I shouldn’t have to go to Congress and put a headdress on for you to see me. I shouldn’t have to dress up in my regalia for you to see me.”
Davis, also known as the first Native American rap artist “Litefoot,” pointed to his Litefoot logo to make a point about the sacredness of headdresses across Indigenous cultures and the affront of its misappropriation by non-Native people, particularly by celebrities and within the sports and entertainment industries.
“You’ll see that my logo is a headdress sitting on top of a microphone. A headdress was given to somebody that earned it,” Davis explained. “You didn’t just get a headdress — you actually had to accumulate a headdress by earning every single one of those feathers, usually by doing something in battle, and if not in battle, then it was something for your community. Once you accumulated enough feathers, you could make a headdress. It’s a testament to you personally, because you know where every single one of those feathers came from and what you had to do to get it. It shows who you are and what you’ve done.”
Davis, who has built a successful film and television career as an actor, including roles in Indian in the Cupboard, Mortal Kombat and House of Cards, shared that he looks to other communities “to see what we can attain, aspire to and collectively get to… because we’re still struggling for Native people to play Native roles in Hollywood, still to this day, in 2019.”
Misrepresentation and underrepresentation of Native people is perhaps at its most dire in the most foundational structure of society: our educational systems. “You would think that we were just around for Thanksgiving and that was it,” Davis joked.
He alluded to his school days in Oklahoma — “a state that’s the Choctaw word for Land of the Red People, and nothing was taught about how we got there,” Davis said.
While this cultural insensitivity and omission exists today, it’s institutions and corporations like Amazon that are shifting the tide through championing diversity and inclusion.
“Thank you, Amazon, for including us today, and for all of the other folks across this country who are recognizing our people,” Davis said of the governments that have chosen to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day and honor the original people of North America. “Because we’ve always been here.”
Amazon’s mission is to be the earth’s most customer-centric company — a mission that the company says is central to its work in diversity and inclusion. Amazon has 10 affinity groups, also known as employee resource groups, which bring Amazonians together across businesses and locations around the world. Launched in 2018, [email protected] is an inclusive employee community, where employees can find other Tribal members within Amazon. The group strives to make an internal and external impact that celebrates and elevates diverse Indigenous cultures across Amazon’s global footprint. Learn more at aboutamazon.com/working-at-amazon/diversity-and-inclusion.