Rabb highlights legislation for Indigenous Peoples' Heritage Month

HARRISBURG, Nov. 2 – In celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Heritage Month, 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 will be reintroducing the resolution this session.

“Symbolism matters -- particularly when it’s tethered to substantive action around land back measures and other related matters. 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 intellectual property by non-Native American groups to claim Native American patterns and tribal names as well as other cultural heritage and intellectual property.

He also is 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 to 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, attending a Lenape rematriation ceremony at Penn’s landing in Bucks county, being invited as the first state lawmaker to speak at the Philadelphia Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration at Penn Treaty Park, and convening the first-of-its-kind, government-to-government meeting between PA state lawmakers and tribal leaders of federally recognized tribes.

“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 has also authored other Native-centered legislation to be put forth throughout November, including bills to: repeal state recognition of Columbus Day; provide grants to schools transitioning away from Native mascots; providing tuition waivers to enrolled members of federally recognized tribes forcibly removed from Pennsylvania and descendants of youth detained at the Carlisle Indian School, the progenitor of the cultural genocide of Native youth across North America.