There are 5.1 million Native Americans living in the United States right now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Despite this, when you Google "Native Americans," here's what comes up:
There are barely any photos of contemporary Native Americans in the search result. The silencing -- and erasure -- of Native American stories is one of the reasons Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, a 27-year-old member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, decided to create an online literary publication written for -- and by -- young Native Americans. MTV News spoke to Megan about the site, called Natives in America, and the importance of amplifying their voices.
"For a lot of Americans, there is this concept that indigenous people no longer exist or don’t have a voice or they died out," she told us. "It’s time for our nations to have a voice and where better to do that than from the youth, who are on the ground, who are experiencing the issues first-hand, who are learning their languages, who are connected to social media. They’re the next generation – they’re the leaders. And so Natives in America is really a place for young leaders to share their stories and to show American contemporary culture that we are contemporary citizens."
The site, which Megan launched in January, features first-hand narratives penned by Native American writers from across the country. "I felt like 2015 was the year this had to launch," Megan said. "I had been involved in a lot of activism last year and attended a protest here in the Bay Area at the [San Francisco] 49ers stadium, which was against the Washington Redskins team. And I saw my younger sister and I saw other young activists who were in high school, in college -- Stanford students -- and people that were really passionate about standing out there and fighting for recognition of what that term means to us."
"I thought to myself, we have to figure out a way to share these voices, and it needs to be a consolidated effort," she said.
Megan, who was a creative writing major at the University of Pennsylvania, said she wanted the site to be focused on writing. "I believe in the power of the written word," she said. "I want the Natives in America writers to feel empowered that they can talk about something that's happening in their community that isn't making national news."
At first, the team was comprised of people Megan knew personally. But before long, she had young Native Americans reaching out to her on social media asking if they could be contributors. Now, with 20 writers from across the country, the site covers a wide range of topics, from hip-hop to college experiences. "This team is the best team I could have ever dreamed of," she said. "They're just the most incredible group of young native people that I could have ever dreamed of, and I'm really thankful to them for that."
Megan wants to incorporate her passion for education into NIA's future. "[In] 5, 10 years down the road, I would love for us to host an annual conference -- a writer's workshop where all the Natives In America students get to come and we get to do a writing retreat together."
"I would also love for us to be able to provide micro-scholarships to our contributors for college," she said, "because these are students that believe in their own success and I would love to be able to celebrate that success with them."
Megan looks forward to watching NIA grow and building an online community of Native American writers and readers. "It's really about sharing experience, and the idea of the common experience," she said. "[It's about] having natives students who may be in high school or in college currently and are struggling or facing challenges being able to read other native youth saying 'I've had the same challenges, you can overcome this.'"