Q+A with Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Social Activist + Founder of Natives in America

You may have already heard of Megan Red Shirt-Shaw. This Native activist and founder of the online magazine Natives in America is emerging as one of the most prominent voices in the fight for Native rights. She’s Lakota, and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. She’s also a regular contributor to HuffPo, and just last month, she was interviewed by MTV News.

But those facts don’t express why we’re so inspired by her and excited to share her story with you. Megan has an incredible energy, a real generosity, and a unique willingness to see and be seen. In her own words, “I believe strongly in college accessibility, activism, visibility for Native American issues, and the power of one voice. I love fighting for the betterment of the next generation.”

She’s a proud and able representative of her people, and all Natives, helping share their voices and experiences. Read on to learn more about why and how she’s motivated, contemporary issues like reappropriation, and why it matters to question your perspectives.

The Basics

  • Age: 27
  • Location: Bay Area, CA
  • Field of Interest: Undergraduate Admissions & Native American Activism
  • What Inspired You Today? The entire writing team with Natives In America – but that’s every day. They are resilient, passionate and the best representation of contemporary Native America. I am lucky to call them a sister, friends, mentees, colleagues, collaborators – it’s amazing. I’m glad they have believed in NIA as much as I do.
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? Myself? The people who helped me become who I am. They are as much a part of me as anything else.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Native Activist 1

Questions + Answers

You’re a highly accomplished student, activist, journalist, and even model. Your energy is an inspiration. Do you feel pressure to maintain a certain level of energy, given the public nature of your work? Or does the public aspect give you energy and motivation?

I definitely think it’s something a lot of Native students and activists feel when they enter into a space where they are one of few voices, but I like to think of it as an honor and a responsibility.

Over the years I’ve met a lot of amazing Native advocates who work at what we do because we know, often, we might be the only Indigenous voice in the room, office or on a campus. You have to uphold that if you’re proud of your people and want there to be a shift in conversation. Sometimes it can feel tiring, but it’s worth it for one person to say to me, you know you really changed my mind about Native American issues. Those are the moments when the tired feeling is validating and pushes me forward to continue the fight.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Native Activist 2

You’re an active advocate for Native Americans, particularly in helping young Natives find their voice and express their experience. Can you explain your journey into this role, and where you see yourself in the future?

I grew up with parents who instilled in me a feeling of pride for being Lakota and well-educated, and in my work, I have always tried to honor them through that feeling. I feel responsible for my nation as an enrolled member and try to act in an honorable way.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Native Activist 7In my own life, I have always felt rejuvenated by the written word; [I] was listening to Native students speak in lecture in my mother’s classes, and saw my sister at the R protest last fall, thinking to myself, “how do we consolidate these young leaders to have a voice? They are the future, they are the inspiration, they are the people who are actually going out and making conversations happen – they’re fearless, their stories are important.”

The only way we get past stereotypes in America is by showing the rest of the country that we want nothing to do with those misconceptions – I thought we could do it best by using the written word and felt it was time for Natives In America to come into existence. The support has been incredible. The writing team has taken this on with me in blind faith and I really appreciate their joy in making it happen.

In your work, what inspires you? What drives you to do more, better?

My family. The Natives In America team. The students I meet at College Horizons. Going out to Pine Ridge and seeing how much colonization has impacted the health and wellness and livelihood of relatives. Going out into the world and meeting people who have never met a Native American before. Going to powwows and gatherings and seeing how much pride exists in the people. Friends and colleagues who tell me how much my voice has changed their minds. Everyone who has helped me get where I am today.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Native Activist 8

My favorite phrase in Lakota that my mother ever taught me has always driven me; “Weksuye, Ciksuye, Miksuye” meaning “I remember, I remember you, remember me.” – always remembering those who raised you up. Remembering the people, no matter what.

Although there are more than five million Natives in the U.S., in my experience, Native Americans seem like a sort of invisible constituency. I don’t see Native stories on TV or in digital media very frequently. Have you shared that experience?

Absolutely – and often stories that SHOULD fall into mainstream media never do. We are the first people of this country. We have sovereign rights and stories and issues and should be a part of the conversation within the context of our sacred lands – what’s going on with Oak Flat, the EPA spill and how it impacts the Navajo Nation, the Keystone Pipeline and tribal lands, the Lakota 57 trial and Native youth protection, Indian mascot issues, Indian education issues, reformation of funding within tribal jurisdiction – these are all important topics up for discussion that are happening in everyone’s backyard.

Why isn’t the media paying attention? All the international issues are not happening next door, but we’re on the ground fighting for our rights. We deserve attention too. In my own work, I try really hard to get pieces published in as many different avenues as I can so that the issues are seen by a lot of different perspectives. With that can come really negative comments or people who are not open to resistance – but I try to never take it to heart. What I try to [remember] is the idea that hopefully somewhere my voice changed someone’s mind. One perspective, that’s all I need.

Editor’s Note: For more information on these issues, and how to get involved, please reach out to contact@beyourownmuse.org, and we will be happy to connect you. To learn more about Megan’s work, follow her on Twitter at @mredshirtshaw.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Native Activist 3

Have you seen a shift in the way that your message is received since you started your work? What types of positive responses have you had from younger Natives who may look up to you and your work?

I think the number of amazing people I’ve become connected to throughout this has been the most humbling part – the collaborations and reaching out in wanting to ignite movements – that has changed the most through this push for the written word. My network has expanded and now have all these new friends doing amazing things that inspire me. Now I feel like, through activism, I have this incredible network of support throughout the country and that has been empowering. I feel very thankful.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Native Activist 4

Who inspires you?

First and foremost: my mother, my father, my sister, my brother and my boyfriend Tyler. I love you.

  • Sydney Alfonso – for creating Etkie and giving me the opportunity to be a part of her incredible team that empowers Native women in beadwork. Check out all of Etkie’s amazing products at Etkie.com
  • Kelly Holmes – for starting Native Max Magazine and furthering Indigenous presence in contemporary culture in a profoundly beautiful way.
  • Maggie Dunne – for starting Lakota Children’s Enrichment and helping youth from my community fulfill their dreams.
+ Inspired by Megan’s attitude, activism and motivation? Tell us why in the comments below!
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