Rabb highlights Native-centered legislation in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

HARRISBURG, Oct. 6 – In honor of the upcoming Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, state Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Phila., is highlighting a series of wide-ranging legislation focused on honoring Native American culture and history while protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. 

In 2021, Rabb authored a resolution that would have amended the rules of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to include a formal land acknowledgment at the beginning of each legislative week. He has reintroduced the resolution this session.

“Symbolism matters — particularly when it’s tethered to substantive action. That’s why rhetoric must be followed by redress,” Rabb said.

Rabb recently reintroduced legislation to protect Native American trademarks by preventing the use of Pennsylvania state trademarks by non-Native American groups to claim Native American patterns and tribal names as well as other cultural heritage and intellectual property.

He is also drafting legislation that would establish an independent, autonomous commission on indigenous affairs that has the budget and authority to work with the commonwealth on programs and funding opportunities that address policy concerns, sovereignty issues and land back initiatives.

More than 60 schools across Pennsylvania still utilize derogatory Native mascots. Despite calls from advocacy groups like the National Congress of American Indians and the Pennsylvania-based Coalition of Natives and Allies, many schools have chosen to retain their Native American names and mascots. 

“Decades of social science research have shown how derogatory mascots have a serious negative psychological and social impact on those with an indigenous heritage,” Rabb said. “In fact, it is well established that mascots, logos and the like that stereotype or fetishize Indigenous peoples highly correlate to the alarmingly high suicide rate among Native youth.”

Rabb said he is an ardent supporter of indigenous peoples’ rights and sovereignty and has participated in events in support of indigenous peoples and cultures, including having had Deputy Chief Jeremy Johnson of the Delaware Tribe as his guest on the PA House floor and attending a Lenape rematriation ceremony at Penn’s landing in Bucks county.

“As the descendant of 16 great-great-grandparents of African descent born across six states wherein slavery was state law, the systemic denial of ‘personhood’ and the use of racist stereotypes to further dehumanize marginalized people is deeply personal to me,” Rabb said. “It’s our responsibility as a legislature to support indigenous cultures and to fight back against the systematic denial of their existence and right to their ancestral land.”

Rabb will be a featured speaker at the 2023 Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration at Penn Treaty Park, the first state lawmaker to be given the honor at this Philadelphia event.