Join us in Celebrating Native American Heritage Month Year-Round
Since 1990, every sitting president has acknowledged November as National American Indian Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the many contributions of the Indigenous peoples of the United States. At First Nations, we recognize that such celebration was warranted long before the first presidential acknowledgements, and that the celebration should last much longer than a month.
A Heritage We All Must Acknowledge
What we know at First Nations — and what some people just now seem to be realizing (at least since 1990) – is that Tribal people have been here since long before the beginning of the US. We helped colonize powers throughout the history of North America. We assisted the Spanish in the development of major cities in the Southwest and gave aid to the pilgrims to survive those first long winters. We taught the colonizers how to farm on unfamiliar lands, and we showed them how to track animals. Our contributions have made this country what it is today.
Yet, politics and disregard have led to the erasure of Indigenous history. I recently spoke with a class of university students from the state of Georgia and many of them did not know the real history of the Indigenous peoples of this continent. They did not know there were 100 million (by some estimates) people living here when Christopher Columbus landed on what is now the Bahamas, and they did not know that there are over 600 distinct tribes with their own languages and cultures still in the United States today.
And those who do know we exist often believe only myths of who we actually are.
Misconceptions of Native Americans plague the media and headlines, especially in places where their populations are higher. These false depictions often cause the perpetuation of stereotypes and psychological damage to Tribal peoples, as the misrepresentation often portrays us as subhuman, subpar, and conquered.
Native Americans have long been disenfranchised in this country, existing in a state where Natives were pressured to assimilate or be slowly destroyed. Policies were put in place to kill our culture, steal our children, and kick us off our ancestral lands. And, in a last final swoop to ensure our genocide, they killed off the buffalo.
A Celebration to Share the Truth
Navigating our identity in a place that has long tried to get rid of us makes for a confusing existence. This is why it is critical to provide a platform to showcase the accomplishments of Native peoples. For the past 41 years, First Nations has created a space for tribal communities to draw upon their inherit knowledge and showcase their expertise and genius as Native people. We celebrate Native American Heritage Month every day, and we encourage people to learn and remember the true history of Indigenous peoples, and the real contributions we have made to the world we know today, from peanuts, to beans, to pumpkins, to lacrosse, to cotton, to rubber, to our ancestral homelands.
Native peoples are here in our traditions and our culture, and in our storytelling, our dances, our songs, and our ceremonies. The first peoples of this land have a unique connection to our heavens and earth. While only 5% of the population on this earth is Indigenous, we hold 25% of land tenure and play a vital role in 80% of the world’s diversity, having domesticated 60% of the food eaten all over the world today. We have been stewards of this land, protectors of the water, and guardians of our animal brothers and sisters since time immemorial.
A Celebration that Can Make a Difference
But while a month is never long enough, and days and months of recognition come and go, there are ways that this yearly celebration does provide opportunities to positively affect our narrative.
It’s an opportunity to tell our stories and remind people that Native history is American history. The national month of recognition provides a forum to have these critical conversations and tell our Native truths, so we are not forgotten. And it’s a vehicle to share other ways that people can invest in Native communities and the ingenious of Native peoples, such as donating to Indigenous-led nonprofits, going to authentic tribal museums, researching native history, and — most importantly — becoming a true ally.
Indigenous peoples are resilient and tenacious, and our survival goes on through our children and grandchildren. While best efforts have been made to ensure our demise, we have again begun to flourish and our numbers have started grow. But, on this Native American Heritage Month, we remind everyone: Our beauty and resilience has never ceased to exist. We’ve been here all along, every November, every month, every year.
Join us in celebrating Indigenous peoples every day.
Marisa Page (Pawnee/Ponca/Comanche)
First Nations Development Officer