November is Native American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.
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What is the connection between Native American Heritage and November?
Several US Presidents have proclaimed different days/weeks in honor of Native American throughout history.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed October 10-16, 1976, as “Native American Awareness Week”.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed November 23-30, as “American Indian Week”.
Finally, on November 14, 1990, President George H. W. Bush declared the entire month of November as “National American Indian Heritage Month” to honor the hundreds of Native American tribes in the United States, including Alaska but not Hawaii. Native Hawaiians and those in U.S. territories in the Pacific are honored in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month held in May. Bush’s proclamation reads: “During the National Indian Heritage Month, as we celebrate the fascinating history of time-honored traditions of Native American, we also look to our future. Our Constitution affirms a special relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes and - despite a number of conflicts, inequities, and changes over the years - our government-to-government relationship has endured. In recent years, we have strengthened and renewed this relationship”
In 2009, President Barack Obama proclaimed November as National Native American Heritage Month.
The Practice of Making Indigenous Land Acknowledgements
An Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement is a statement that recognizes the Indigenous peoples who have been dispossessed from the homelands and territories upon which an institution was built and currently occupies and operates in. For some, an Indigenous Land or Territorial Acknowledgement might be an unfamiliar practice, but it is a common protocol within Indigenous communities in the United States and is a standard practice in both Australia and Canada. The terms “Land” and “Territorial” are not necessarily interchangeable, and the decision as to their use should be specific and local, pertaining to those Indigenous people who are being acknowledged as well as to those legacies and responsibilities of an institution that are also being acknowledged. (as.nyu.edu)
So as we start our blog post:
We acknowledge the Seneca people as the traditional custodians of the land that we are on and for their enduring presence. We would also like to pay respects to Elders past and present of the Hodinöhsö:ni' Confederacy, and we extend that respect to any other indigenous people who are present with us today. We make this acknowledgment as a first step in fulfilling our responsibility to critically look at colonial histories and their present-day implications as we pay respect to the keepers of the land, and the land itself. We are aware that acknowledgment is not reparation, and land acknowledgment without active steps towards education, support of the Seneca Nation, and sincere efforts to undo colonial legacies means very little.
The Native American Tribes and Peoples of Today
There are 574 federally recognized Native American tribes today. To learn more about Native American Tribes: 10 Biggest Native American Tribes Today - Do you know the biggest tribes? (powwows.com) The 10 largest tribes are: Cherokee Tribe (819,105 ppl), Navajo Tribe (332,129), Choctaw Tribe (195,764), Chippewa Tribe (170,742), Sioux Tribe (170,110), Apache Tribe (111,810), Blackfeet (Siksikaitsitapi) Tribe (105,304), Creek (Muscogee) Tribe (88,332), Iroquois Tribe (81,002), Lumbee Tribe (73,691).
In 2020, the Native American population of 3.7 million accounted for 1.1% of all people living in the United States, as compared to 0.9% in 2010. An additional 5.9 million people identified as Native American AND another race group (i.e. White or Black), with a combined population of 9.7 million of 2.9% of the total population in 2020.
This article tells the story of Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), front-line health care worker, transforming a body bag into a traditional ribbon dress to comment on how Native communities have nearly double the mortality rate of white populations during the pandemic: https://www.vogue.com/article/body-bag-native-ribbon-dress
This Stand Up/ Stand N Rock music video was put together by the Native community to support the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and protest to the Dakota Access Pipeline
The National Museum of the American Indian was added to the Smithsonian Institution’s museums on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2004. It includes exhibits of Native Americans from every state, including Hawaii, as well as exhibits of indigenous peoples worldwide.
The National Native American Veterans Memorial honors Native American veterans who have served in the armed forces since the Revolutionary War. It is located on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian and was unveiled on Veterans Day, 2020.
To learn more about Native American Tribal Governance: Tribal Nations & the United States: An Introduction | NCAI
Native American Historical Information
Native American Heritage Month is a time for celebration, learning, and reflection on the rich contributions that Native American people have and continue to make in our country and worldwide. Learn more about myths of Native American history from Kevin Gover at the National Museum of the American Indian.
As early as 1000 BC, humans explored along the west coast of North America, coming from Asia into Alaska. It is believed the first people may have arrived in the “Americas” somewhere around 12000 BC (Scholastic)
Dating back to 5500 BC, Native American tribes in Southern-Western America and Mexico cultivated corn and squash and raised turkeys, llamas, and guinea pigs for food. They hunted deer, bison, sea mammals and fish using many different hunting methods. (Scholastic)
In 1492, Columbus began his voyage to the “New World” bringing diseases and war to Native Americans. (Scholastic)
In 1794, The Canadaigua Treaty was signed between the indigenous people and the colonist/settlers. Here is the 2021 commemoration of that treaty's signing by Pete Jamison at Ganondagan. To listen in: https://fb.watch/9hpFS9vA9Z/
In 1916, the first “American Indian Day” was declared by the Govenor of New York.
In 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, extending citizenship to all U.S. born Native Americans not already covered by treaty or other federal agreements that granted such status. The act was later amended to include Native Americans in Alaska (DOD site)
In 1968, The Indian Civil Rights Act is signed into law by President Lyndon B Johnson, granting Native American tribes many of the benefits included in the Bill of Rights. (DOD site)
Native American Customs/Traditions
The Iroquois Creation Story - available to stream online and screened at Ganondagan. Producer: G. Peter Jemison (Seneca-Heron Clan)
Pow-wows began as a way to celebrate success in hunting or a battle. Dancing and drumming played a large role in pow-wows. Today, pow-wows are an opportunity to reconnect with family, other tribes, and the earth.
The Game of Snowsnake - As part of the Ganondagan Native American Winter Games, Snooky Brooks shares how the game of Snowsnake is played. Snooky learned from elders within his community growing up and takes great pride in playing, teaching, and growing the game.
The Seventh Generation Principle: The Seventh Generation Principle is based on an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)* philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. For more visit, https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/seventh-generation-principle
Frybread is a 144 year old traditional Navajo recipe found at pow-wows and family dinners. It originates from when the Navajo Tribe was forced off their land by the U.S. Government and given rations of flour and lard for their walk from Arizona to New Mexico.
Wampums are beaded belts that serve as artwork and a recording history. It portrays a symbols of events, treaties, and unions between different tribes. They were originally constructed using purple and white clamshells but later made with colorful beads. Learn more about the significance and symbolism of the Two Row Wampum Belt here:
To learn more about Native American customs/traditions: Native Americans' Most Important Traditions and Beliefs | Reader's Digest (rd.com)
Movies, Books, and Experiences to explore:
Pittsford schools noted 4 students as Native American (“American Indian or Alaska Native” 19-20 nysed.gov) on the last shared census. This is a historically excluded and underrepresented group. There are ways both locally and in your own home to learn as parents/guardians and expose your children to the rich culture and heritage of indigenous people.
Keepers of the Game: The true story of an all-Native girls lacrosse team.
Indian Horse: Seven-year-old Saul Indian Horse is separated from his family and placed in a residential school, where he is denied the freedom to speak his language or embrace his culture, and where he and fellow Indigenous students suffer harrowing abuse. When Saul discovers that he has a unique talent for hockey, his passion for the game allows him to glimpse a life beyond the horrors that confine him. As Saul’s star rises, he must draw on his own indomitable spirit and face the past. For more information, check out the website https://www.indianhorse.ca/.
From a community member with Native American Heritage:
If you are considering films to add to your inspirational and educational resource list of indigenous history, “Te Ata” is an outstanding account of an historic figure in our indigenous community. Another excellent account of an historic Indigenous-American figure is “Montfort: The Chickasaw Rancher”.
Both are currently showing on Netflix.
Virtual and in-person local cultural experience:
Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY is a National Historic Landmark, the only New York State Historic Site dedicated to a Native American theme (1987), and the only Seneca town developed and interpreted in the United States. Spanning 569 acres, Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan) is the original site of a 17th century Seneca town, that existed there peacefully more than 350 years ago. The culture, art, agriculture, and government of the Seneca people influenced our modern understanding of equality, democratic government, women’s rights, ecology and natural foods.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is a 2013 nonfiction book by American professor Robin Wall Kimmerer and published by Milkweed. The book is about alternative forms of Indigenous knowledge outside of traditional scientific methodologies.
We Are Water Protectors
Fiction children’s book by Carole Lindstrom
“Water is the first medicine. It affects and connects us all . . . When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth and poison her people's water, one young water protector takes a stand to defend Earth's most sacred resource"--OCLC.
(List of PCSD librarian recommendations)
Recommended Elementary Books by Indigenous Authors: https://ipdwellesley.org/indigenous-elementary-books/
Additional Action/ideas for the month:
Before and after colonization - Native American and indigenous people have shown such respect and connection for and to the land and the earth- and all who inhabit it. One way to show and celebrate respect is exploring how we as individuals and a culture view our land and how we can expand, and protect and connect with the land as Native Americans have and continue to exemplify.
While there are numerous folx that could be added to these lists, here are a few examples of individuals that have made noteworthy contributes through the ages:
Charles Curtis was the first Native American U.S. Senator (January 29, 1907) and the first Native American U.S. Vice President under President Herbert Hoover (March 4, 1929)
Deb Haaland was the first Secretary of the Interior, making her the first Native American to lead a cabinet agency (March 15, 2021)
Dr. Susan La Flesche (1865-1915 - Omaha Tribe), graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania as the first Native American woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. (Changing the Face of Medicine | Susan La Flesche Picotte (nih.gov))
Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008 - Cherokee Nation) was a famous NASA mathematician and engineer. She worked to send Apollo astronauts to space, develop plans for the P-38 Lightning fighter plane and helped write NASA’s Planetary Flight Handbook (their guide to space travel). (Popular Mechanics)To learn about famous Native Americans today: 16 Famous Native Americans Today (oprahdaily.com)
To learn about famous Native Americans in history: Kids History: Famous Native Americans (ducksters.com)
To learn about famous Native American Scientists: Indigenous Peoples Day 2019 | Famous Indigenous People (popularmechanics.com)
Additional Resources and Teaching Tools
To view additional facts on Native American history DOD Honors Native Americans and Their Many Contributions to the Nation > U.S. Department of Defense > Story
To view a timeline of Native American History: Native American History Timeline - HISTORY
An Educators Guide to the Haudenosaunee: https://americanindian.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/HaudenosauneeGuide.pdf
Recorded webinars for students: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/student-programs/recorded-student-webinars
Video: Michael Galban Curator if Seneca Art and Culture Center Discusses the Seneca and Haudenosaunee Peoples' Way of Thinking, Ebook he recommends in the video Seneca Fiction, Legends, and Myths by Jeremiah Curtin and J. N. B. Hewitt
Solidarity and Allyship
Whether you are a part of a group, or not, we are united together hoping to see each other in full humanity. For that reason, we feel it’s important to give resources for children and adults on being an ally, and an upstander- the ways you can stand up for those who aren't being treated well.
“We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world” Howard Zinn
Give us your input on Native American Heritage Month!
Throughout November, we will share our PTSA programming. We are aware that as a small group of volunteers we have a limited perspective. We want to celebrate ALL residents and truly value diversity and inclusion. We emphasize that our differences truly make us better. For that reason - we welcome you to complete this short feedback form. We can add later in the month and hope to build from year to year.
If you have questions regarding any of this material, you may reach the Pittsford PTSA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at DEI@pittsfordptsa.net.