How to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

This month, many people will be preparing to celebrate the holiday season with thoughts of comfort and joy, families, and friends. At First Nations, we encourage everyone to also take the time to celebrate Indigenous peoples – the sacred people who stood on the land before us. At all times, and especially now during Native American Heritage, we ask people to recognize the prayers of our ancestors and the culture that is interwoven in our everyday lives – from architecture, to street names, to sports, to many of the foods we eat today. Native American Heritage is engrained in many of the things we do and see.

When it comes to Native American Heritage Month and the celebration of Native culture, I often think about the responsibilities of being Native and what it means to be Native. I also wonder whether the yearly celebration of Native American Heritage Month actually starts on October 31st with the commercialization and indignation of Indigenous costumes. Or is the annual month of recognition meant to encompass the pilgrims and Indian Harvest Celebration that represents Thanksgiving?

But as I consider this time of year and the associated hype around Native Americans, what comes to bear is not the responsibilities of us as Native people, but the responsibilities of others to consider Native people more. There is a responsibility to go beyond the “status quo” lack of education provided in our country today. There is a responsibility to not just celebrate the role Native American played and continue to play in our worlds, but also learn about authentic Native History and contemporary Native issues.

The stakes are high

Going beyond the celebration to really learn about Native issues is especially important nowadays. This fall, we are on the heels of another historic election. In the event those elected officials are not Indian friendly, we have another manifest destiny situation on our hands.

At the same time, a decision is forthcoming from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether to overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act. The policy, which was put into place to protect Native children, is once again on the chopping block. And despite the ongoing misunderstanding and disregard for Native cultures, we continue to have to fight to save our children, our families, and our communities. If our children are taken from us, we have no future as tribal peoples.

ICWA is being sacrificed in the service of the overriding goal of diminishing tribal sovereignty. The loss will make it easier for future generations to continue to extract precious resources from Indian lands, remove policing power from tribal communities, repeal the Federal Indian Gaming Act, and do away with other federal policy that acknowledges tribal sovereignty.

So, what will mean more than a celebration?

This month, it is indeed a time to celebrate Native cultures. But we also challenge people to do even more.

Sure, warm up with a pumpkin spice latte, but remember that pumpkin is an Indigenous food from North America, or watch First Nations’ documentary GATHER, and remember where our food comes from.

Other ideas: Plan a garden for next spring (read about corns, beans, and squash) or lend a hand in a community garden. Go snowshoeing, play basketball (which has Indigenous roots), or support a Native-led physical fitness nonprofit. Find out which Indigenous peoples occupied the land you currently live on, or explore what it would look like to give land back. Or, donate to a Native-led nonprofit that will help ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past that put us back centuries.

Moreover, take the time to consider history anytime anyone proposes impeding the rights of Native Americans, and spread awareness around what such actions will do to Native communities and tribal sovereignty. Join First Nations in supporting Native communities with mutual respect, listening rather than telling, with an approach that is responsive and inclusive of the communities’ needs and solutions. Help us acknowledge and draw on the expertise and genius of Indigenous peoples.

We are not the “Indigenous Creatures” or “Something Else” media has downplayed us to be. Again, we remind people that our beauty and resilience has never ceased to exist. We’ve been here all along, every November, every month, every year. And that is a reason to celebrate and more.

Marisa Page
First Nations Development Officer