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Ways to honor and celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Catherine Blackburn_Bodies and Homelands (right image).jpg
Posted at 1:18 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 13:21:26-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Native American Heritage Month is a time to acknowledge our country's past and its impact on tribal citizens, educate oneself and others on particular challenges Indigenous communities face, and recognize how Indigenous people are combating that today.

"We the Native peoples of this land, have always been here. Long before this great country was founded, we thrived as stewards of the land and caretakers of our communities — and we will continue to do so for countless generations onward," the National Congress of American Indians said in a Twitter thread dedicated to Native American Heritage Month on Monday, Nov. 1.

Since 1990, every sitting president has signed a proclamation in November declaring the month Native American Heritage Month. President Joe Biden signed the 2021 proclamation on October 29.

"Despite a painful history marked by unjust Federal policies of assimilation and termination, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have persevered," Biden stated in his proclamation.

He also named Friday, Nov. 26 — the day after Thanksgiving, also known as "Black Friday" — Native American Heritage Day.

In early October, Biden made history for issuing the country's first-ever proclamation to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day, which many acknowledge as Columbus Day.

"We celebrate the countless contributions of Native peoples past and present, honor the influence they have had on the advancement of our Nation, and recommit ourselves to upholding trust and treaty responsibilities, strengthening Tribal sovereignty, and advancing Tribal self-determination."

Carolina Castoreno, the executive director of the American Indian Center of Indiana, says that November is a time of mixed emotions for Indigenous people. However, it presents a poignant time of helping to educate and spread awareness to non-Indigenous people about current Native American culture. Not just the past.

"It's not just our historical traditions that matter, but it's also the contemporary issues we face and how we are surviving under the system and how we are maintaining, and even revitalizing, our own cultures and languages depending on where we live," Castoreno said.

READ: 'We are people of the present': AICI leader on the meaning of Native American Heritage Month

Catherine Blackburn_Bodies and Homelands (right image).jpg
Catherine Blackburn (English River Dene First Nation)
Bodies and Homelands, 2020
Laminated LightJet photo mounted on Dibond®

Ways to Honor & Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

1. Recognize what land you're on

There are more than 500 federally recognized tribes and 326 reservations in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs.

According to the State of Indiana, there are now only two tribes that have land locally. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi in northern Indiana has 166 acres. The Miami Tribe of Oklahoma also owns land in Indiana, with its headquarters in Fort Wayne. The Miami also has land ownership in Kansas and Oklahoma.

The most prominent tribes of Indiana territory were the Miamis, Delawares, Shawnee, and Potawatomi, according to the Conner Prairie Interpreter Resource Manual by Dr. David G. Vanderstel. Conner Prairie's resource manual also states that there were numerous other tribes represented in Indiana's population in the early 19th century, including Mahican, Nanticoke, Huron and Mohegan, but they "did not constitute a significant numerical presence."

"As a result of increased white settlement in central and northern Indiana and the pressure by the United States, Indiana was virtually cleared of its Indian population by 1840," the manual read. "The only visible remnant of the Indian presence were survivors of the original Indian families. In time, however, titles to their lands were also extinguished in the face of continued expansion of frontier settlement."

You can see exactly what land you're occupying by visiting native-land.ca. For example, I found my home in Indianapolis sits on the Kiikaapoi tribe's territory.

Native American groups ask NFL to force Redskins name change
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2019, file photo, Native American leaders protest against the Redskins team name outside U.S. Bank Stadium before an NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File)

2. Educate yourself on current problems affecting tribes in our country

Data shows that American Indian and Alaska Native women are murdered or sexually assaulted up to 10 times higher than the national average for all races, according to the U.S. National Institute for Justice.

A 2018 article in the Center for Public Integrity explains that assailants are often White or other non-Native American men.

More than 4 in 5 Native American women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence, according to the Indian Law Resource Center.

Many Indigenous nations are developing systems to provide safety for Native women and girls, but there is much work to do at all levels. Visit the Indian Law Resource Center to learn more.

Ending the use of Native sports mascots is an ongoing battle for Native Americans.

As millions turned on their televisions to watch the 2021 MLB World Series, they witnessed the Atlanta Braves and their fans use imagery, chants, logos, and perhaps the most controversial “tomahawk chop," effectively objectifying the Native American culture.

Other names for team mascots that objectify Indigenous people are Redskins, Warriors, Indians, and Chiefs. Locally, Indianapolis Minor League Baseball team still goes by "Indianapolis Indians."

Native Americans have experienced generational trauma due to assimilation, massacres, religious persecution, prison, broken treaties, and more. Indigenous people are still dealing with the repercussions of this today.

Steven Yazzie_Nature Doesn't Give a S--- About You, But it's Sure Nice to Look at.jpg
Steven Yazzie (Diné / Laguna Pueblo)
Nature Doesn’t Give a S--- About You, But it’s Sure Nice to Look At, 2020
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Eiteljorg Museum, Museum purchase from the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship

3. Attend events centered on Native American stories

Here's a list of events happening locally and virtually celebrating Native American culture this month.

  • Nov. 9: Truthsgiving: Using Food To Dismantle a Colonial Myth is a Spirit & Place Festival Event.
  • Nov. 9: Steven Paul Judd Artist Lecture at Indiana University in Bloomington. He will also paint a large-scale portrait of Native American athlete and former IU coach Jim Thorpe.
  • Nov. 10: Three experts from across the Smithsonian for a virtual conversation about the artwork Edson's Flag, a large wall tapestry by Marie Watt (Seneca). This artwork was created to honor veterans.
  • November 12 -18: The Native Cinema Showcase is a virtual celebration of the best in Native film, focusing on Native people boldly asserting themselves through language, healing, building community, and a continued relationship with the land. The event features a total of 47 films streaming online.
  • Nov. 13: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art's new exhibition "Shifting Boundaries" opens. It features five contemporary artists who are Native American, or First Nations were chosen for the 2021 Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship. The exhibit will run through Feb. 6.
  • Nov. 19: The Art of Looking's Kay WalkingStick's il sogno del cortile (The Courtyard Dream) is set for an interactive virtual conversation by the National Gallery of Art.
  • Eiteljorg Museum has two ongoing exhibits outside Shifting Boundaries: Powerful Women II and Native American Customary Art 101.

Other great ways to celebrate Native American stories are by:

  • Buying books written by Native American authors or featuring Native American characters. An excellent place to start is with any book by author Louise Erdrich.
  • Attend a Powwow. Powwows can be anywhere in the state and happen at varying points in the year. There are several guidelines to make sure you follow as part of powwow etiquette, which Indiana University's First Nations Educational and Cultural Center explains here.
  • Supporting Native American-owned businesses.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.

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