Native American Heritage Month celebrates Indigenous communities across the nation
Celebrations for November pop up across the country and vary from community to community, but one of the largest national celebrations is the Rock Your Mocs social media event
The Google doodle for Nov. 1 is We:wa, a notable Zuni artist who lived in the latter half of the 1800s (Photo courtesy of Google).
By Shondin Silversmith
November is Native American Heritage Month, and for Indigenous people across the country, it’s a chance to share the unique ancestry, traditions, and contributions their communities make today and have made throughout history.
“Far too often in our founding era and in the centuries since, the promise of our Nation has been denied to Native Americans who have lived on this land since time immemorial,” President Joe Biden said in the proclamation naming November National Native American Heritage Month.
“Despite a painful history marked by unjust Federal policies of assimilation and termination, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have persevered,” he added.
Biden signed a proclamation on Oct. 28, proclaiming November as National Native American Heritage Month.
This provides a national spotlight for Indigenous people, communities, and organizations as they work to educate and share stories about the tribal nations across the US.
“During National Native American Heritage Month, 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,” Biden said.
There are 574 federally recognized tribes within the US, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and each tribe has its own culture and traditions.
Federally recognized tribes in the US do not include state-recognized tribes and tribes that have not been granted state or federal recognition.
In Arizona, there are 22 federally recognized tribes, and each has its own culture, history and traditions — and the state has a population of over 332,000 Indigenous people, one of the highest in the US. Tribal land makes up 28% of Arizona’s land base, according to the Arizona Governor’s office.
In 2020, Gov. Doug Ducey released a proclamation recognizing November as Native American Heritage Month in Arizona. The governor has not issued a similar proclamation this year.
In November, some of the tribes often take the opportunity to share more about themselves by hosting events or educational sessions throughout the month, but due to COVID-19, many of those have reverted online or are under their local COVID-19 restrictions.
Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis commended Biden’s proclamation for November.
“Native American Heritage Month attests to the resilience and strength of the Gila River Indian Community, tribes across the state of Arizona, and across Indian Country,” Lewis said. “I appreciate President Biden’s proclamation designating the month of November as Native American Month and acknowledging that not only in this month but in every month, we must honor the enduring cultures and contributions of all Native Americans.”
“There is no aspect of American history that has not been impacted by our tribal communities, which predate the state’s and nation’s founding by centuries. From military service to agriculture to the conservation of water and land, our tribes have always played a hugely significant role in shaping the world around us,” Lewis added. “Our heritage speaks to our defining ability to meet every challenge, to transcend even the most difficult circumstances, and to contribute to the fabric of this country.”
On the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer shared their acknowledgment of National Native American Heritage Month across their social media platforms Monday.
November is a month “to honor the hope, future, and resilience of Indigenous people, including Navajo people, and to celebrate Native cultures, languages, and indigeneity,” their post reads
“The month is a time to cherish and celebrate our rich and diverse cultures, traditions, languages, and legacies,” Nez said. “Our cultures and traditions are very much alive every day and with continued strength and resilience, our children and grandchildren will carry our teachings into the future.”
On a national level, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first Native American to hold a cabinet post — kicked off the month in a video address on her Twitter page highlighting some of the work the U.S. Department of Interior continues to do for Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Island communities. Haaland is Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico.
“This month, we honor the gifts of our ancestors by celebrating Indigenous knowledge, traditions, language, and culture. But at Interior, we do that every day,” Haaland said.
“We center our work on the voices of Indigenous people as we address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous peoples crisis and take action to help people heal from the painful forced assimilation practices of the Indian Boarding Schools,” she added.
“Native American history is American history and it’s only by recognizing that history that we can build a future that is equitable and inclusive. Happy Native American Heritage Month everyone,” Haaland said.
Google took part in honoring Indigenous people for Native American Heritage Month with a Google doodle featuring the late Zuni Pueblo artist We:wa.
The doodle was illustrated by Zuni Pueblo artist Mallery Quetawki, and it’s a tribute to the late We:wa, who was a Zuni Pueblo fiber artist, weaver and potter.
“The late We:wa was a revered cultural leader and mediator within the Zuni tribe, devoting their life to the preservation of Zuni traditions and history,” Google said.
‘Our nations, our stories’
How did Native American Heritage Month get started? The first proclamation for Native American Heritage Month came in 1990 from President George H.W. Bush, after Congress passed a resolution that designated November 1990 as National American Indian Heritage Month.
In 1991, Congress passed another resolution indicating that every November will be proclaimed as “American Indian Heritage Month,” and since then, every sitting president has signed a proclamation.
The proclamations didn’t stop there: 18 years later, Congress passed the “Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009,” which designates the Friday following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.”
These proclamations shine a national spotlight on Indigenous communities across the US, and many large Native organizations join in to raise awareness and celebrate November.
For instance, the National Congress of American Indians kicked off their Native American Heritage Month campaign Monday by announcing their theme on Twitter: “Our Nations, Our Stories: Reclamation through Education.”
“The stories and unique histories of tribal governments are what connect our communities and people — but most often, they are told for us, rooted in misconceptions and half-truths,” NCAI tweeted.
“Through public education, we can reclaim the narrative and promote a shared understanding of Tribal Nations’ rightful place in the family of American governments,” they added.
Celebrations for November pop up across the country and vary from community to community, but one of the largest national celebrations is the Rock Your Mocs social media event.
Rock Your Mocs is a social media event that showcases Indigenous people wearing their traditional moccasins and encourages people to wear their moccasins, snap a photo or video and share their stories using the event’s hashtags.
“We, as Indigenous people stand united through our tribal individuality, symbolically wear our moccasins, honor our ancestors, and indigenous peoples worldwide, during Rock Your Mocs and National Native American Heritage Month,” organizers stated on Facebook.
The Rock Your Mocs Facebook page announced that his year the event starts Nov. 14 and will end Nov. 20.
Shondin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona’s 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. She wrote this piece for the Arizona Mirror, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where it first appeared.
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