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Native Made Interviews The Native American Rights Fund

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    Learn More About The Native American Rights Fund

    An Interview with Matthew Campbell, Deputy Director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and Angelina Hilton, Founder of Native Made.

    On July 11, 2023, Native Made founder, Angelina Hilton (Sac and Fox Nation), and Native American Rights Fund (NARF) Deputy Director, Matthew Campbell (Native Village of Gambell), sat down to share their mission and passion for Native people and rights, and to learn more about NARF. Native Made recently launched the first edition of the “On Native Land” calendar where $6 of every presale is going to this organization whose impact is immeasurable.

    Native American Rights History

    The Doctrine of Discovery

    Since time immemorial, there have been Indigenous people on the continents of North and South America. These Indigenous people belonged to established communities, governments, and had rich and diverse cultures. It wasn’t until after 1492 when Columbus was found by Native people located in what is considered present day Bahamas, that Indigenous people began to face many challenges by explorers and settlers.

    In 1493, The “Doctrine of Discovery” (The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera”), also known throughout Indian Country as “The Doctrine of Domination”, was issued by Pope Alexander VI. This gave European explorers the exclusive right to the lands observed by Columbus the year prior.

    The Bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This “Doctrine of Discovery” became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion.” It has been cited by the United States Supreme Court as early as 1823 and as recently as 2005 by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, denying the right of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to regain its territory.

    In 2023, the doctrine was rescinded by the Pope. According to the Vatican, “Invoking the Christian mandate to respect the dignity of every human being, the Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery.’ “

    The doctrine was the beginning of colonization, wide-spread disease, acts of war, forced relocation, loss of land, discrimination, genocide, starvation, torture, and other horrific challenges faced by the Indigenous people from European settlers. Despite these hardships, they have also persevered and continue to fight for their rights and sovereignty.

    The Right To Vote and Citizenship

    Native Americans wouldn’t be considered US citizens until 1924 when the Indian Citizenship Act was enacted. On June 2, 1924, United States President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the “Indian Citizenship Act”. The act read that “all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided that the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property.”

    However, the right to vote was governed by state law until 1957 where some states continued to bar Native Americans from voting. Even today, NARF is still working with Indian Country on addressing this issue. Interestingly enough, the United States gave Black American equal protection and in 1870, granted Black men the right to vote. Native Americans were excluded. Vice President, Kamala Harris in 2021 shared, “Today, what we know, in addition, is that one in three Native Americans who are eligible to vote are not yet registered.  And a lot of that has to do with lack of access to the resources and the facilities that allow people to get registered to vote.”

    Native American Rights Now

    Native American Voting Rights Coalition

    NARF has partnered with other Native voting rights advocates to address the obstacles and discrimination that Native voters consistently face. In 2015, NARF developed the Native American Voting Rights Coalition (NAVRC). The NAVRC includes, among others: Native American Rights Fund (NARF); National Congress of American Indians (NCAI); American Civil Liberties Union, Voting Rights Project (ACLU); Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR); Fair Elections Center; Western Native Voice; and Four Directions. NAVRC is organized into three working groups: legislation and policy issues (led by NCAI); litigation (led by NARF); and capacity building and education issues (led by LCCR).

    The project’s main goal is to remove barriers to Native American voter registration and voting, increase Native civic engagement, and foster a more informed and active Native electorate. With mounting evidence of voter suppression and violations of voting rights laws, NAVRC has accelerated its work. 

    Native American Rights Fund

    The Native American Rights Fund was established in an effort to protect the rights of Indigenous people and resources. Founded in 1970, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) is the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Native American tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide. NARF holds governments accountable and fights to protect Native American rights, resources, and lifeways through litigation, legal advocacy, and legal expertise. NARF has successfully achieved significant results in critical areas such as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, voting rights and language assistance, natural resource protection, and education.

    NARF is a nonprofit organization governed by a board of directors composed of thirteen Native Americans from tribes throughout the country and with a variety of expertise in Native American matters. Early in NARF’s existence, these directors identified five priority areas for the organization:

    •        Preserve tribal existence

    •        Protect tribal natural resources

    •        Promote Native American human rights

    •        Hold governments accountable to Native Americans

    •        Develop Indian law and educate the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues

    Since 1970, NARF has successfully asserted and defended some of the most important rights of Native Americans and tribes in hundreds of major cases in critical areas such as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, voting rights, and Indian education.

    NARF continues to engage in high-impact legal actions and projects that move us towards a world where Native Americans thrive as their rights, resources, and lifeways are intact and protected; promises made to them are upheld; and they exercise their sovereign right to manage their own affairs while tribes exercise their sovereign right to manage their own affairs as governments.

    NARF is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, with offices in Washington, D.C., and Anchorage, Alaska. For more information about NARF, visit or call (303) 447-8760.

    These are just a few examples of how NARF is working at protecting Native American Rights. Watch the video to learn more about the mission, how the organization got started, the current challenges being faced, and the immeasurable impact this organization is having on Indian Country and the global community.

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