Happy Native American Heritage Month!
November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it's also known, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This month marks one of the best opportunities to celebrate the past, present, and future of indigenous peoples in North America.
Like similar awareness days, weeks, and months that span the calendar, Native American Heritage month seeks to shed light on something that maybe doesn’t get the attention it ought to the rest of the year.
After all, far too many misconceptions still exist about American Indians. Many people still don’t understand who they really are, how they shaped the history of our continent, and why many Native Americans still don’t feel seen or heard today.
Native American Heritage Month invites us all to break through the reductionist stereotypes plaguing Native Americans so we can form a fuller, more accurate picture of the vibrant cultures they’ve developed over the course of millennia. But more importantly, this month puts indigenous people in the spotlight, so they can tell their stories themselves, the way they were always meant to be told.
In this guide, we’ll share tons of ideas for how you can get involved this Native American Heritage Month and invite others to do the same.
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But first, let’s dive into the history of this special month.
The History of Native American Heritage Month
While it’s not widely known, the idea of celebrating the many diverse Native American cultures and contributions of indigenous peoples actually originated with a Native American person — not a white politician or a public official. That person was Dr. Arthur C. Parker (pictured above), a Seneca Indian, who first proposed the idea of a day of celebration to the Boy Scouts of America in 1912. At the time, Parker worked as the Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York.
However, it wasn’t until three years later that the idea really developed into something more. In 1915, the single “First Americans” day of celebration grew into a much more expansive regional effort. After the Congress of the American Indian Association (CAIA) met in Kansas in that year, they decided to bring the idea of an American Indian Day to the federal government. The president of the CAIA, Reverend Sherman Coolidge (Arapaho), wasn’t just interested in carving out a day on the calendar for Native Americans. He fervently pursued equal rights for Native people who lived on U.S. land.
In May 1916, the very first government-supported Native American celebration occurred in New York. Prior to Coolidge’s declaration, a number of people worked to generate interest in setting aside a special day for Native American Heritage.
A man named Red Fox James (Blackfoot) even rode his horse to the White House to share the news that 24 different states officially endorsed the idea of a Native American awareness day. Unfortunately, Red Fox James’ efforts did not culminate in a national holiday.
In fact, even now, in 2022, there is no federally recognized holiday for Native American Heritage. Yet, 13 states and over 100 cities have replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day, or Indigenous Peoples Day.
In 1976, the U.S. President was first given the authority to designate an official American Indians Day each year. A day became a week, and eventually, a week became a month.
In 1990, November was designated Native American Heritage Month by then-President George H. W. Bush. At first, it was intended to be a one-time designation, as opposed to an annual celebration and a means to bring awareness to Native culture. The proclamation did not actually designate each November as Native American Heritage Month. Instead, it gave the president authority to designate the month as such each year going forward.
Since 1990, each sitting U.S. president has done just that.
Why Do We Celebrate Native American Heritage Month?
It’s more important than ever for Non-Natives to engage with cultures other than their own.
Even in 2022, far too many people form their ideas about Native Americans from Hollywood (think “Great Big Little Panther,” the Indian Chief from Disney’s “Peter Pan”).
Sadly, some people aren’t even aware that Native Americans are still here, and that they live both on and off reservations all across the U.S.
This is exactly the type of ignorance it’s important to counteract so that it doesn’t grow and multiply. When you expand your range of knowledge on Native American culture, you develop a more rooted understanding of the world around you. Luckily, immersing yourself in Native culture has never been easier.
Before you consider celebrating Native American Heritage Month, it’s important to understand why it came to be and what exactly you’re celebrating. The more opportunities we have to shed light on the misconceptions surrounding Native Americans, the better off we’ll all be (on that note: here are 10 Things Native Americans Wish Non-Natives Knew).
Here are three important reasons why we celebrate Native American Heritage Month.
Our School Systems Didn’t Tell Us The Whole Story
While constructing a tipi out of popsicle sticks may make for a fun arts-and-crafts project, it doesn’t really push past the topical caricatured version of Native American culture to which we’ve all grown accustomed. In fact, in many ways, it can actually reinforce these one-dimensional depictions.
The truth is, it’s impossible to right all of the wrongs of a well-meaning educational system in 30 days. But the designation of Native American Heritage Month does set aside time to begin to get a glimpse of the incredible diversity of the indigenous population.
Today, over 6 million people of Native descent call the U.S. home. They span over 570 federally recognized tribes, and many more state and unrecognized tribes. So the term “Native American culture” is actually misleading. There’s no single Native American culture. Native American culture is in any way, a world unto itself. While many tribes share commonalities, many have unique cultures, customs, languages, regalia, dance, food, music, and more.
It’s Important to Respectfully Explore Different Cultures
Cultural appropriation is when members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way. Unfortunately, it occurs far too often in Native American culture.
A lot of times, people think they’re paying tribute, but they’re actually making a mockery of Native American culture. Think Native American mascots in sports. The Indians. The Chiefs. The Redskins. The list goes on. Though some of these teams recently changed their names, it speaks volumes that it took as long as it did.
As you celebrate Native American Heritage Month, make sure you do so in a way that actually honors indigenous people. If you’re not careful, you can easily do more harm than good (these Halloween costumes are a good example).
You Can Correct Your (and Others’) Misconceptions
As you celebrate Native American Heritage Month, be sure to check your misconceptions at the door. Ask yourself which, if any, stereotypes or tropes you have let permeate your views on Native American cultures. It often doesn’t happen consciously, so this may take some digging.
But doing just that can be the difference between our Native American neighbors and friends feeling seen and heard and them feeling shoved up into the box we’ve put them in. Take it upon yourself to further investigate and challenge the misconceptions you might have.
How to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month
While there's no shortage of ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we've compiled a list of ways you can take part this November.
Take a look.
1. Attend a Pow Wow in Your Area
There are a few ways to experience the rich ancestral heritage of a Native American culture like attending a pow wow. Between the traditional music and dancing, the beautiful regalia worn by those in attendance, and the collective energy you won’t find anywhere else, attending a pow wow is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Though the COVID-19 pandemic forced many pow wow organizers to postpone or altogether scrap in-person events on hold, we’re seeing more and more live gatherings on the calendar.
If you want to attend a pow wow in person, you can do so by checking the official Pow Wow Calendar on Powwow.com to see which events are happening in your area. And if you’re traveling to a pow wow that’s out of your area, be sure to check out the Powwows.com Travel Guide.
2. Support Native Businesses
With so many “Native American products” for sale out there, sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the authentic Native creators and those simply looking to cash in on Native trends. That's why it's critically important to do your due diligence and seek out only brands that sell genuine Native American goods—clothing, jewelry, beadwork, home goods, cosmetics—you name it.
But don't just buy from Native American businesses; If you're creating your own holiday gift guide, include them and share some of the amazing products they sell. That way, these hard-working business owners can get even more exposure and continue crafting the authentic Native products we all love.
Here are some of the best places to shop for genuine Native American products.
3. Be Mindful of Your Native Neighbors This Thanksgiving
Every year in late November, millions of Americans gather 'round the table and stuff their faces in the name of colonialism.
We all know the tired narrative about the First Thanksgiving: that Pilgrims and Indians got together and taught each other about their respective foods and shared a peaceful meal together in harmony. Of course, this isn’t just a fictional story. It’s actually quite harmful to many Native Americans. There's a lot more to the story.
Thanksgiving was, in fact, founded in 1863 by then-President Abraham Lincoln as a means to unify the country post-Civil War. But it’s since taken on a life of its own thanks to misinformation perpetuated in our school systems and in households across the country.
This Thanksgiving, keep in mind that, though you and your family may be celebrating Thanksgiving, it’s not a joyous occasion for everybody. Also, be cognizant of the fact that many of your indigenous friends and neighbors won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving at all. For many of them, the holiday only serves as a reminder of the pain and trauma their ancestors endured, and of wounds yet to heal.
4. Educate Yourself Through Native American Films
What's better than being able to watch some of the best Native American movies of all time? Being able to stream them from, of course.
Netflix and several other streaming platforms offer a growing catalog of Native American films you can dive into. And yes, some of them are guilty of leaning on reductionist stereotypes, but you'll find the vast majority of them strive for accurate portrayals of Native culture.
Here are some of the finest Native American movies available to stream on HBO Max, Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+.
5. Listen to Native American Comedy
With so much heavy doom-and-gloom content out there, sometimes it's important to just unwind with something light-hearted. Kicking back and enjoying some Native comedy is one of the best ways to do just that.
There's been an influx of late of Native American comedians who are excellent storytellers who know how to drive home a punchline and teach you about Native culture in the process.
Here are some of the funniest Native American comedians you'll find anywhere.
6. Stream Native American Podcasts
If you have some downtime during travel to see family around the holidays, and you need some good content to stream, fear not. There are a host of excellent podcasts you can stream, all produced by Native American creators. And bonus: quality audio is an excellent way to learn something or get in your daily giggles without cramming more screen time into your day.
Check out our list of some of the very best Native American podcasts, for starters.
7. Visit a Native American Museum
Many museums took a substantial economic hit during the pandemic as they were forced to shut their doors for months at a time. With museums reopening across the country, it's never been a better time to show these priceless cultural institutions your support. American Indian museums are one of the best ways to take in Native American history and culture.
Here's a list of some of the very best Native American museums in the U.S.
8. Read Native American Authors
Of course, the Native American community is ripe with gifted storytellers, so we'd be remiss not to include some of the excellent indigenous authors on this list.
Here are 10 of the bestselling Native American books on Amazon.
9. Participate in a Virtual Event
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 are celebrating Native American Heritage Month with several virtual events.
The first event is an interview with Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, and Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary. Watch the event recording here.
Learn more about this and other virtual events here.
#SaveTheDate for #OIE‘s #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth Celebration! Join us on 11/15 @ 3 p.m. ET to honor and celebrate #Indigenous cultures and peoples. Register here: https://t.co/CyGtLjUXkI #NativeEd pic.twitter.com/MrN6uqPvYB
— The Office of Indian Education (@OIEIndianED) October 11, 2022
10. Join the Discussion Online
Being part of a discussion about Native American heritage can be one of the best ways to learn about indigenous culture. You’ll find the hashtag #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth is a gold mine of stories and resources from indigenous communities, through which you can educate yourself and share what you’ve learned with those in your network.
And if you happen to be of Native descent, consider this a great opportunity to re-acclimate yourself with your nation’s official organizations or social groups.
How Can My Organization Get Involved?
With so many opportunities for individuals to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, there's no shortage of ways for people from all walks of life to deepen their knowledge on Native culture this November. But many business owners and managers have asked us how they, too, can do something to get involved on a corporate level. Giving your employees opportunities to engage with indigenous culture isn't just beneficial to them; it also reflects your company's values and shows you place high importance on inclusion and respectfully engaging with cultures outside your own.
Here are some creative ways your organization can get in on the action for Native American Heritage Month.
1. Hire Native Speakers
One of the most impactful ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is by inviting Native American field experts to come speak to your employees. You could set up a panel discussion of multiple speakers or hire a single speaker to discuss issues relevant to your workplace or industry. If you choose to hire a Native speaker, be sure to pay them equitably. The unfortunate reality is that women and people of color, more broadly, are often underpaid for speaking engagements (if at all).
So if you are still looking for ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month this year, invite Native speakers to come speak to your organization and compensate them equitably for their time.
2. Amplify Native Voices
In addition to inviting Native American speakers to talk to your organization, you can also prop up indigenous employees making an impact in your company or industry. Reach out to a few standout Native employees and see if they’d be comfortable sharing their story or anything about their cultural background that would help educate your Non-Native employees. If you like, you can take their responses and organize them into a brief newsletter you can send out in an email. While this is a great way for employees to learn more about their colleagues, remember that Native American Heritage Month isn’t just about our Native neighbors and coworkers educating everybody else. It’s about everybody else stepping out of their comfort zones and seeking out resources to get educated on the world around them.
Also, encourage your employees to join in the discussion online, and like, share, pin, retweet, and comment on content from Native creators.
3. Partner with Native-Owned Companies
A great way to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is to support Native-owned businesses. There are a lot of ways to do this, including using a Native-American-owned company for your next corporate event or including a product from a Native business in a conference swag bag. You could even team up with Native-owned companies to see if they’ll offer your employees discounts on their products and services.
It’s worth noting that many Native business owners struggle to gain capital in their early stages, so getting that much-needed support and visibility from other organizations can help drive more revenue and accelerate growth.
4. Support a Native Charity on Giving Tuesday
Another excellent way to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is to donate funds to charities and causes focused on propping up Native communities. Some of these organizations include the Native American Heritage Association and the Notah Begay Foundation. Also, remember to encourage employees to support both Native-owned businesses and Native American charities during and beyond Native American Heritage Month.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of our favorite Native charities worthy of your hard-earned dollars.
5. Plan a Screening of a Native Documentary
Have you ever set up a screening of a movie at your office? Native American Heritage Month presents a perfect opportunity to stream a documentary that sheds light on Native American culture. It’s a relatively easy event to coordinate, but potentially still impactful for those in attendance.
For some recommendations on excellent documentaries, check out Our Favorite Native American Documentaries.
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Last Updated on November 10, 2022 by Paul G