November is Native American Heritage Month

by Serena Gestring, staff writer

Pictured is a traditional Native American totem hanging on a wall. These totems represent rich Native American history and culture.

NOVEMBER 2020 – The month of November is recognized as Native American Heritage Month, also referred to as National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, in the United States. This is a time to celebrate the diverse and substantial ancestry, culture, and traditions of Native Americans and their communities through education and events. 

The early 1900s saw an effort to secure a day of recognition for Native Americans who made important contributions to the establishment and development of the United States, according to National Native American Heritage Month. Around this time, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York, convinced the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans.” The organization did so for three years.

A more unified plan concerning American Indian Day was formally approved in 1915 during the Congress of the American Indian Association’s annual meeting. On September 28, 1915, Reverend Sherman Coolidge, the president of the association and an Arapaho, issued a proclamation that declared the second Saturday of May to be American Indian Day. The proclamation also included the first formal appeal for recognition of American Indians as U.S. citizens. 

New York was the first state to declare American Indian Day on the second Saturday of May in 1916 and other states began celebrating the day on the fourth Friday of September. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution that designated the entire month of November to be National American Indian Heritage Month. November has since been proclaimed some variation of National American Indian Heritage Month every year after 1994. 

Native American Heritage Month is a time to show respect, appreciation, and recognition for the indiginous people who were the first inhabitants of the North American lands. The following are ways for people of all backgrounds to celebrate, honor, and be involved in this important month.   

Supporting Native-Owned Businesses or Charities

Utilizing the services of native-owned businesses also supports native communities’ economic well-being. There are many environmental, education, economic, health, and rights groups that advocate for Native American people and their communities. Here is a list from Diversity Best Practices

An Ohio-specific organization is the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, or NAICCO. NAICCO has recently launched their Bigger & Better NAICCO Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to raise money in order to purchase more land and a new building for the NAICCO organization and the community.  

Ty Smith, the NAICCO Project Director, described this campaign as “a meaningful initiative on behalf of the Native American people here in Ohio today.”

Contribute to this cause by donating to NAICCO and by sharing the Bigger & Better NAICCO Campaign with family and friends. 

“To achieve this goal would not only be a dream come true, but also the foundation necessary for writing a new, successful chapter of the highest magnitude in modern-day Native American history,” said NAICCO Leadership. 

Attending an Educational Event

Many institutions host events in honor of this month. In fact, the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have joined together to create nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov. The website features a collection of exhibits, collections, historical records, and other educational resources from each of the listed institutions in a “tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans.”

Some local institutions and organizations, such as schools, libraries, and cultural groups, will also host events. Examples of events include webinars, dance performances, and puppet shows.

Experiencing the Works of Native American Artists

Reading, watching, and listening to work by Native American artists not only provides entertainment, but also a new or different perspective. There are a plethora of Native American artists; to start, here are lists from Artcyclopedia and Culture Trip. Rick Williams, whose artwork is featured in this article, is a Native American artist in Seattle, Washington, and comes from an entire family of woodcarvers. Some of his art is available for purchase online.  

Some celebrated Native American authors include Tommy Orange, Louise Erdrich, Stephen Graham Jones, and Joy Harjo, though there are many more. Explore 10 Great Films About Native Americans and Native American filmmakers from IMDB.

Bear Witness and 2oolman are two Canadian DJs of native heritage. Together they are A Tribe Called Red and produce electronic powwow music. Their work combines electronic dance music with traditional native drum circles.

“There was a really quick realization that we were doing something much bigger than we thought we were,” Bear Witness said in an interview with Sound Field. “When we first started making this music, it was to make something that everybody could enjoy and everyone can appreciate, but that would be instantly recognizable and identifiable to indigenous people.” 

Check out other Native American musicians from PBS.

“Decolonizing” Thanksgiving Dinner

Many American children are taught that the pilgrims and Native Americans shared a friendly meal together, and this is considered the first Thanksgiving. However, according to Alaa Elassar of CNN, many Native Americans consider this to be a “Day of Mourning.” This is in recognition of the actual tragedy that European colonization had on indiginous communities in the Americas. 

In a video published by the YouTube channel Cut as part of its One Word series, Native Americans were asked to respond to one word: Thanksgiving. Some responses were positive, such as “family,” “warm,” “celebration,” and “thankful.” However, some were less optimistic: “lies,” “sadness,” “inaccurate,” “colonization,” and “massacre” were all words used by Native Americans to describe Thanksgiving. Watch the entire video here

Some Native American groups and their allies have been calling on Americans to “decolonize” their Thanksgiving traditions. This can include getting rid of Native American decorations and tropes, introducing some native foods and dishes to the dinner table, and discussing Native American history with family and guests over dinner.

Visiting a Native American Reservation or Museum

First it should be made clear that reservations are homes for Native American tribes and communities; they are not tourist attractions. Alaa Elassar of CNN says many Native Americans live, work, and raise families on reservations. Some are actual land remnants of native tribes, while others are federal government creations for Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their native lands. 

That being said, some reservations do welcome visitors, and have built their own museums to educate the general public about their specific history and culture. For example, Cherokee, North Carolina has the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. There are no federally recognized Native American reservations in Ohio at this time according to Jessie Walton of midstory.org. However, there are many Native American Heritage sites throughout Ohio where visitors can learn about the ancient culture of the state. 

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