Native women are the backbones of their communities. They provide for their families. They carry with them and pass on the rich tradition and culture of their tribes. And yet, they are among the most vulnerable populations in our country, facing invisibility and one of the steepest pay inequities in the workplace.

Native Women’s Equal Pay Day occurred Sept. 8, meaning it takes Native women over 20 months to earn what white men earn in one year. For Native mothers, the wage gap is even worse. They receive 50 cents for every dollar white fathers are paid.

Not only that, but they also lack equitable access to necessary capital, business development resources, education and career pathways to achieve economic self-determination. Organizations like Native Women Lead are working to remedy this.



Beyond the outrageous injustice of unequal pay for Native women’s work, Native women also do the work our country relies on to keep moving forward. That has never been more clear than in the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic shed its cruel light on our front-line workers and the inequities faced by tribal communities. Nearly 3 in 10 Native women have been on the front lines providing essential services, from health care to child care. Yet Native women in these front-line industries make just 62 cents for every dollar made by comparable white men.

Despite putting themselves at a heightened risk for contracting COVID-19, Native women continue to raise and care for their communities. They have to — they are critical to their families’ economic security with two-thirds providing at least 40 percent of their families’ income.

The unequal pay Native women receive for equal work comes from centuries of sexism and racism — and a flawed system built upon prejudice that must be extinguished for all women.

The racial wage gap adversely affects Native women over the course of their lifetime by pushing more than 21.4 percent of Native women ages 65-plus into poverty. If all women, including Native women, in the United States received equal pay, poverty for working women would be reduced by half and billions would be added to our GDP.

As a people, we have failed Native women. But it’s not too late to right this wrong.

In the House, we passed the Paycheck Fairness Act to help close the gender pay gap. But Senate Republicans blocked it with the filibuster. It’s yet another good law that Senate Republicans have killed.

Native Women’s Equal Pay Day reminds us we must recognize the vital work Native women do for our nation and recommit to the economic advancement of their communities. Because we cannot thrive as a nation while leaving Native women behind.

We must rebuild our economy from the pandemic, pay Native women the wages they deserve, and give them the tools they need to achieve their financial goals.

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández is chairwoman of the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States and is a member of the House Administration Elections Subcommittee. She represents New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. Alicia Ortega is from the pueblos of Pojoaque and Santa Clara and is a co-founder and co-director of Native Women Lead.

(1) comment

Mike Johnson

This is a serious subject, that deserves better data, analysis, and explanation than what these political operatives give us. Just to assert: "....meaning it takes Native women over 20 months to earn what white men earn in one year.", without any data, studies, and explanations of how this number was determined does nothing but politicize the issue and play a political game of "who do you trust". If you are politically aligned with these people, you will accept it without question, but what about everyone else who would like to be convinced of the science and data behind all of it? Or is there any? How do we know this is an apples to apples comparison of all the complex factors that go into determining pay for employees? Or is it just stuff thrown up against the wall to see if it sticks politically to pander to the usual suspects? I think I know which it is.

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