#IndigenizeZuckerberg – Natives Protest Facebook’s “Real Names” Policy

IndigenizeZuckerburg (1)Guest Commentary

Whether the high-powered Facebook machine realizes it or not their strict name policy is having a damaging impact on Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island. The name policy was put into place to weed out impostors, cyber bullies and people who use false identities, such as the impostors featured on MTV’s reality show Catfish. However there is an irony with this policy that was initially put into place to “protect” – it is now singling out and silencing many First Nations and Native Americans who have authentic Indigenous names.

Name Giving Before and After Colonialism 

Prior to colonization naming traditions varied from nation to nation. A person could acquire multiple names in their lifetime depending on their characteristics, accomplishments, and life events.  Names were sacred and very personal.  Indigenous Peoples did not typically carry surnames like those of the European settlers.  The concept of first and last names was introduced in 1884 when the US Congress created an Act requiring the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct an annual census on Indian reservations in the United States.  The census included the individual’s name, English name, sex, age, relationship, tribe, and reservation. The Indian Agents conducting the census were not fluent in the Native languages and often misinterpreted the meaning of the name or changed the person’s native name to a European surname.  Sometimes the Indian Agent purposely changed a person’s native name to a vulgar or demeaning English word out of spite and animosity towards the family or Nation.

Deloria Many Grey Horse

Deloria Many Grey Horse

During the Residential School Era it was a common practice for Indigenous children to be given “proper Christian” names.  As an example my mother entered St. Paul’s Anglican Indian Residential School in southern Alberta with her childhood Blackfoot name that translated to “Little Filly.” As an adolescent she ran away from the school but by now she was known as Martha Many Grey Horses.  Needless to say, the European naming of our people was another attempt to assimilate and strip us of our cultural identity. Dallas Goldtooth from the 1491s points out, “It is a frustrating thing that Indigenous people must constantly struggle to affirm our identities as Native people. Whether that’s through derogatory imagery in media or simply our given, proud names on Facebook.”

United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples 

In Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples it states, ““Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.” We have a right to our cultural identity!  It also outlines under the declaration in Article 8, “Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.” As Phil Fountain pointed out, “The United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples is not the endpoint rather the beginning.”  We as Indigenous Peoples need to assert and exercise our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples.  All Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island need to assure our next generations knows their rights underlined in the Declaration and to implement them in all areas of their lives.


Community Members Impacted by Name Policy 

Last week I started a petition asking Biloxi High School located in Biloxi Mississippi to please change their mascot the “Indian” and their band uniform where the entire band wears headdresses.   Since becoming vocal on the issue through social media outlets, my account was deactivated twice this past week. Both times I received an email stating I needed to provide proper ID that showed my Facebook name is indeed my “real” name.  Whether it was the Biloxi HS Alumni that tried to get me banned, Facebook still needs to reconsider their name policy as it applies to our unique Indigenous names.

May I add I am not the first Indigenous person to be targeted for my last name.  In fact, a petition was already in process on change.org  “Allow Native Americans to use their Native names on their profiles.”  It now has 24,742 signatures.

In February 2015 Lance Browneyes helped bring national attention to to the issue when he filed a lawsuit against Facebook for forcibly changing his last name Browneyes to Brown. Facebook finally agreed to allow him keep his name but it took a great deal of effort on his part.

Community Call of Action 

Today, April 22, 2015 to our Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island and Allies we ask you to please change your profile last name to Zuckerberg or your profile picture to the one attached with the hashtags #IndiginizeZuckerberg or #notyourZuckerberg

It is our desire this community call of action will inspire Mr. Zuckerberg to have an open dialog with the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island and to help educate him on the uniqueness and importance of our names.

Here is short bio. Please feel free to take out the last few sentences if it’s too long.  Not sure if you needed a photo.  I added one just in case.

Deloria Many Grey Horses lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is a proud member of the Kainai Nation – a band of the Blackfoot Confederacy – the Chickasaw and the Yankton Sioux Nations. Deloria is an urban First Nation’s woman dedicated to creating change and advocating for Indigenous Rights through her writing, film, photography, and all other forms of self-expression. She studied at the University of California, Berkeley and double majored in Native American Studies and Ethnic Studies. She describes herself as a contemporary warrior who uses her passion for equality, words, images, and storytelling to combat the history of injustices for the Indigenous communities of Turtle Island. Her goal is to one day create a different story for Indigenous peoples – a story that will overflow the forces of humility, courage and compassion.  


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