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RACE & JUSTICE: Native American Heritage Month



National Native American Heritage Month had its inception at the beginning of the 20th century. There were many proponents of an "American Indian Day," including Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a member of the Seneca and the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y., who convinced the Boy Scouts of America to begin holding a "First Americans" Day. Not long after, the Congress of the American Indian Association directed its president, Reverend Sherman Coolidge, a member of the Arapahoe, to issue a formal declaration establishing "American Indian Day." On September 28, 1915, Coolidge issued a proclamation that "declared the second Sunday of each May as American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens."

Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfoot, also helped campaign for an official celebration of Native Americans by riding on horseback from state to state in 1915 trying to garner support from each state's government. He received 24 endorsements and presented them at the White House, but no official celebration was instituted. The first American Indian Day was declared one year later by the governor of New York, with many other states then following suit. 

A federal celebration of Native American people, history, and culture, "National American Indian Heritage Month," was finally declared in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. Every November, we honor the culture and contributions of all Native American people. 


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The Standing Rock Resistance and Our Fight for Indigenous Rights | Tara Houska

"Still invisible and often an afterthought, indigenous peoples are uniting to protect the world's water, lands and history -- while trying to heal from genocide and ongoing inequality. Tribal attorney and Couchiching First Nation citizen Tara Houska chronicles the history of attempts by government and industry to eradicate the legitimacy of indigenous peoples' land and culture, including the months-long standoff at Standing Rock which rallied thousands around the world. 'It's incredible what you can do when you stand together,' Houska says. 'Stand with us -- empathize, learn, grow, change the conversation.'"

Institutions with Native American Heritage Month Resources

Ute Wisdom, Language and Creation Story | Larry Cesspooch

"Larry shares his thoughts on the Ute Indian people today and shares Ute wisdom, including the Creation Story. Larry is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe, and he is a filmmaker and story teller. He's also a veteran who served in Vietnam. He shares Ute wisdom and language."

Native Land Digital

How Indigenous Guardians Protect the Planet and Humanity | Valérie Courtois

"'If we take care of the land, the land takes care of us,' says Indigenous leader Valérie Courtois. As climate change continues to devastate the planet, Indigenous guardians are helping to honor our responsibility to the land, monitoring water quality, conducting research and working to restore key species. Courtois invites us all to support the guardians working to ensure that humanity has a future on Earth -- and to discover that healing the land can transform us as well.

PBS Documentaries for Native American Heritage Month

Native American Nonfiction

How the US Stole Thousands of Native American Children | Vox

"Toward the end of the 19th century, the US took thousands of Native American children and enrolled them in off-reservation boarding schools, stripping them of their cultures and languages. Yet decades later as the US phased out the schools, following years of indigenous activism, it found a new way to assimilate Native American children: promoting their adoption into white families. Watch the episode to find out how these two distinct eras in US history have had lasting impacts on Native American families."

Native American History Month Online Archives and Exhibits

Indigenous In Plain Sight | Gregg Deal

"The indigenous existence in Western and American culture is narrowly viewed and accepted with little to no input from actual Indigenous people. Gregg Deal talks about the use of history as a tool while he navigates the restrictions thrusts upon his work as a contemporary artist while challenging those who hear his words to take responsibility for their knowledge, and create room for this nation’s First Peoples. Gregg Deal is a husband, father, artist and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. As a provocative contemporary artist-activist much of Deal’s work deals with Indigenous identity and pop culture, touching on issues of race relations, historical consideration and stereotype. With this work—including paintings, mural work, performance art, filmmaking and spoken word—Deal critically examines issues within Indian country such as decolonization, the Native mascot issue and appropriation."

Podcasts to Check Out!

Why Museums are Returning Cultural Treasures | Chip Colwell

"Archaeologist and curator Chip Colwell collects artifacts for his museum, but he also returns them to where they came from. In a thought-provoking talk, he shares how some museums are confronting their legacies of stealing spiritual objects and pillaging ancient graves -- and how they're bridging divides with communities who are demanding the return of their cultural treasures."

Fiction by Native American Authors

The Antelope Wife: A Novel / Louise Erdrich
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky / Margaret Verble
Almanac of the Dead: A Novel / Leslie Marmon Silko
There There / Tommy Orange
Indian Killer / Sherman Alexie
The Death of Jim Loney / James Welch
The Only Good Indians: A Novel / Stephen Graham Jones
The Night Watchman: A Novel / Louise Erdrich
Fools Crow / James Welch
Ledfeather / Stephen Graham Jones
Probably Ruby: A Novel / Lisa Bird-Wilson
From the Hilltop / Toni Jensen
The Plague of Doves / Louise Erdrich
Bleed into Me: A Book of Stories / Stephen Graham Jones
You Who Enter Here / Erika T. Wurth
Ceremony / Leslie Marmon Silko
The Round House / Louise Erdrich
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky / Joy Harjo
When My Brother Was an Aztec / Natalie Diaz
The Toughest Indian in the World / Sherman Alexie
House Made of Dawn / N. Scott Momaday
Blue Ravens: A Historical Novel / Gerald Vizenor
Chair of Tears / Gerald Vizenor
Reckonings: Contemporary Short Fiction by Native American Women / edited by Hertha D. Sweet Wong, Lauren Stuart Muller, Jana Sequoya Magdaleno
The Heirs of Columbus / Gerald Vizenor
Native Storiers: Five Selections / edited and with an introduction by Gerald Vizenor
The Sacred White Turkey / Frances Washburn
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven / Sherman Alexie
Love Medicine / Louise Erdrich
The Ancient Child: A Novel / N. Scott Momaday
Survivor's Medicine: Short Stories / E. Donald Two-Rivers
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