Celebrating Indigenous People and Culture During American Indian Heritage Month
By: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council
November 9, 2020
Native American Navajo sisters in traditional clothing posing in Monument Valley, Arizona.
Baker College celebrates National American Indian Heritage Month by acknowledging the various voices, cultures, histories, traditions, and stories that commemorate native and indigenous peoples during the month of November, as well as all year long!
What is American Indian Heritage Month?
National American Indian Heritage Month has greatly evolved and become more visible since its beginnings as only a week-long celebration in 1986. President Reagan established the week of November 23-30, 1986 as "American Indian Week." After that, every president since the year 1995 has issued annual proclamations to designate the month of November as the time to celebrate the various nations’ and tribes’ cultures and accomplishments in the United States in recognition of the first inhabitants of what we know as the United States of America.
Here is an engaging and informative video and map from NPR that contains sources to show the location and original names of the various nations and tribes; the map was created by Aaron Carapella. Carapella's maps “serve as a reminder that the population of the American countryside stretches back long before 1776 and 1492” (Wang, 2014). This is important for us to remember, as currently in the United States, at minimum, there are 5.2 million American Indians and indigenous peoples with a strong tribal affiliation, and they represent 2% of the North American population, according to the 2010 U.S Census Bureau. In total, as of 2020, there are currently 574 federally recognized tribes that are present within 35 different states across the U.S. (“National Congress,” 2020).
American Indians and other indigenous peoples have brought much awareness to the struggle, challenges, and achievements of tribal citizens who have been instrumental in shaping the past, present, and future of the United States. One such notable woman who has shaped our American past, present, and future is Mary Golda Ross, who identifies as Cherokee. Ross is noted as an “aerospace pioneer,” as her math skills as an aerospace engineer made her the first woman, and American Indian, to be a part of an “elite, top-secret think tank . . . to help the United States reach the stars” (Blakemore, 2017). Ross is not the only American Indian who deserves recognition. All native and indigenous voices deserve to be heard and represented.
How to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month
Visit an American Indian / Indigenous Museum
Listen, learn, and educate about native and indigenous cultures and histories. Have you ever heard about the Navajo Long Walk? The Dine (Navajo) history is not often discussed in our mainstream history books.
Watch movies and read works by native and indigenous authors. Some notable authors include the following: Laura Tohe, Joy Harjo, Vine Deloria, Jr., Joseph Bruchac, and Louise Erdrich. There are many more! Further, read American Indian news, such as Indian Country Today, to learn about their successes and continued struggles with national recognition and respect for their various nations. Marvel, too, is honoring American Indian Heritage month in November with the release of a comic book, Marvel’s Voices: Indigenous Voices.
Do not purchase fetishisms that are appropriated with native and indigenous representations, i.e., wearing a headdress with feathers for Halloween or wearing red face paint.