As the month of November winds down, I have only recently heard of Native American Heritage Month. I wondered why I haven’t heard of this before–yet I realized that socially and historically, Native Americans have been left out of the story.
First started as a day of recognition, the movement has evolved into a month designated to celebrate significant contributions Native Americans have made to the growth of the United States. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution making November National Native American Heritage Month.
The month presents a time to learn about and celebrate diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native people, who were the first Americans. The month also serves to raise awareness about issues Native people have faced and continue to face, such as victimization and prominent rates of mental illness. In the United States, there are 566 federally recognized Native American tribes who speak more than 200 indigenous languages.
Since before the founding of the United States, Native people have faced being executed, forced eviction, and slavery. It’s concerning that many history textbooks glaze over the fact that Native Americans provided the basis of colonialism. It is dangerous to present a revisionist history in which people ignore certain details. Thus, as members of American society, we should work to educate ourselves and work to preserve Native culture, which is fading.
Recently, in my communications class, I learned that statistically, there is barely any representation of Native Americans on television–less than .5% of characters are Native American. Besides African Americans, only a small percentage of television and film characters are people of color. This was alarming to me, as I hadn’t noticed this factor before. In the hegemonic narrative of society, white is dominant and the norm. Was I also complicit in ignoring the history and contributions of Native Americans?
So, this month, I decided to brush up on my history and try to gan a better understanding of Native American cultures. Native people have always been important and should be represented in different media, outside of offensive stereotypes. Here are some things you can do to celebrate Native American Heritage Month:
- Read a book about Native American/American Indian History
- Watch a documentary
- Learn the real story of Thanksgiving
- Attend a lecture about Native American history/traditions
- Learn about local tribal communities in your area