How Will You Honor Native American Heritage Day?

Native American Heritage Day — this November 23 — was only designated as such in 2009, “to honor the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, and cultural and historical legacy of the original inhabitants of what is now the United States and their descendants: the American Indian and Alaska Native people.”

In 2009, President Obama signed legislation permanently establishing the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. Indeed, by a Presidential Proclamation, all of November of 2012 has also been designated National Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and honor Native Americans while never forgetting that there are “parts of our shared history that have been marred by violence and tragic mistreatment” and that “for centuries, Native Americans faced cruelty, injustice, and broken promises.”

The University of Montana has already celebrated Native American Heritage Day with a Sunrise Ceremony, traditional dance performances and an indigenous menu at the university cafeteria. Such celebrations are also occurring throughout the U.S., in MinnesotaArizona and elsewhere. If unable to participate in any actual events, we should all take pause on Friday and seek to enlarge our knowledge and understanding of the vital role of Native Americans in the history of the U.S. and the injustices too many have too often endured.

Louise Erdrich Wins the National Book Award

More than fittingly, this November 2012 has seen a Native American woman writer, Louise Erdrich, win the National Book Award for the first time for her fourteenth novel, “The Round House.”

“The Round House” is told from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy, Joe. It begins with a terrible act of violence, the sexual assault of his mother. She is left too traumatized to reveal what happened to her husband, a tribal judge, or the police. In search of justice, Joe and three of his friends decide to take matters into their own hands.

As a New York Times review says, the book “opens out to become a detective story and a coming-of-age story, a story about how Joe is initiated into the sadnesses and disillusionments of grown-up life and the somber realities of his people’s history.” That is, Erdrich’s book is a powerful starting point in understanding this country’s legacy of mistreatment of Native Americans.

In addition, in reading Erdrich’s writing, we should be careful not to think of her work as about the culture of history of “others” but  – certainly for us Americans — as our culture and history.

Amid too many conservatives’ fiery rhetoric about immigration and what a “real American” is, on this year’s Native American Heritage Day we should recall that the majority of us trace our ancestors to places other than America; that most of us are the “others” here and not the natives. In honoring the lives of so many Native Americans — many of whom perished, if not from terrible violence, from illnesses they were exposed to by European settlers — ought we not all to reflect on what was or what might have been our forebears’ role in the history and trials of indigenous peoples of the Americas?


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Photo showing Dan Akee, WWII Veteran, Navajo Code Talker, Diné Nation, talking with members of the Dishchii' Bikoh' Apache Group from Cibecue, Arizona, by Grand Canyon NPS


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

I love having native American blood in me. I wish my family hadn't been sent so far. My great grandmother told me of her family in Oklahoma. (originally from the mountains of NC, where I was born)

Mary L.
Mary L6 years ago

I'll be feeling the same as always ashamed that people who alleged they were Christian behaved in the past and continue to behave in the present barbarously toward Native People.

Fiona Dudley
Fiona Dudley6 years ago

Hi Richard, hi Kevin,
More green stars.
Thank you sincerely for educating me.

Richard Zane Smith
Richard Smith6 years ago

you've obviously done the research.
The Dutch arms that were being given to the Mohawk and Seneca were far superior to the French muskets . The ONLY way my ancestors could get even one of the few inferior muskets from the french was if he became Catholic and was baptized.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown6 years ago

Richard you are quite right. No one is saying that warfare did not occur among the indigenous people, but it was not total genocidal war that Europeans carried out. At the "battle" of Mystic River in 1637 the Mohegans and Narragansetts who were allied with the English against the Pequot were horrified at the wholesale slaughter which was mostly women and children.

Additionally prior to the introduction of the gun and the horse Native Americans lacked the military capacity to fight wars of annihilation with one another. If you and your 50 warriors and me and my 50 warriors, all armed with similar weapons, fought one another it was always basically a stand off.

During the Beaver Wars in the mid-1600s it was the introduction of firearms, provided by the Dutch, that allowed the Iroquois to largely wipe out the Huron, Erie, and Susquehannock. That was an example of European manipulation of Indian warfare and not an example of pre-European indigenous warfare.

Richard Zane Smith
Richard Smith6 years ago

John M,
obviously you've been reading colonizer reading material and not from "accounts" if people who were there. Of course we had warriors!
You don't understand how much the British were involved in the conquest of Huronia and used the 5 nation Iroquois as a tool to try to weaken the French grip on the (Huron)Wendat. It became a trade war...all about commerce "Beaver wars" who controlled the European appetite for beaver pelts....the felted beaver hat was the rage in Europe. Yes, infuse people with greed for new things, and people can be seduced to fight others they were once distant enemies to.

Look how America sacrifices its sons and daughters just for a comfortable life of oil addiction.

I'm not saying that there never was warfare or even stronger nations taking more control of hunting areas, but even if there were, it doesn't justify the wholesale slaughter of indigenous people groups by saying "well they killed each other too."
The arrival of the European horse also changed much.Warrior societies grew in power and into more patriarchal raiding societies. With the horse, the famous Plains cultures evolved but were short lived. Before the horse and guns.. warfare was hand to hand combat...between warriors.

John Millne
John Millne6 years ago

The Iroquois were but one tribe that willing entered into genocidal warfare. They all but exterminated the Erie tribe. The only survivors were absorbed into other tribes, and thus the tribe was virtually exterminated as a direct result of Iroquois determination to exterminate them. Other tribes attacked villages killing women, children, infants without remorse. That, to me, fits the pattern of a genocidal mind, whether those particular Indians know the as yet uncoined English word "genocide" yet or not.

The reasons the various tribes were located where they were when our European cousins found us was because the three major waves and all the lesser waves of Asian immigrants pushed the earlier waves further to the east and much further to the south of the American double-continent. Few if any had any compulsion against exterminating a tribe that didn't get out of their way fast enough. Some Western tribes were hated as much or more than some eastern tribes feared the Iroquois. The Comanche and Apache were vicious. I have not yet found precise citations, so I can only say I read that the Comanche destroyed an entire Osage village. If that is the case, "entire" would be a genocidal extermination of a village. (When I say "village", I mean Indian village - which can refer to one settlement of five, ten or more settlements comprising a cohesive society, or it can refer to a single settlement whose language and myths are not completely shared with any other village, in effect a

Judy Stever
Judy S6 years ago

Richard no insult taken thanks. Nobody is saying they should have their individuality taken away. I do know what happened to my people and it does not bother me. In fact, I can't even collect what you say was taken and belongs to me being Indian!! I do not feel I deserve more now because of what happened than. What is past is past and I live for the future. What can we do to help make this world better for the FUTURE? What has happened in the past can not be fixed by any day of honor. Each culture celebrates regardless. They celebrate another day of being DRUNK? Sorry but I still stand on celebrate every life ,and no one culture can be put above another. Every culture has history and has had difficulty in the past. Every culture has a story.

SO the outcome here is we have a difference of opinion. Just leave it at that.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown6 years ago

Well said Richard!

Richard Zane Smith
Richard Smith6 years ago

if you want to celebrate a melting pot of all cultures stirred into a grey soup that's your prerogative. Many of us think that this is what eradicates whole peoples identities. It ALMOST happened in China when the Han Chinese began forcefully persecuting the minority groups and forcing the children to wear the same Chairman Mao uniforms and to speak ONLY one language. Today they have realized the errors and allow minority people greater freedoms because they are considered a national treasure. Indigenous people groups may actually hold the keys to saving the world. The importation of a one-size-fits-all culture, is derived from a strong patriarchal conquest pattern.(see: Roman Conquest) .Here Colonizers forced all our Native kids into boarding schools to be "standardized", to forget their uniqueness, so as to create an army of obedient citizen soldiers.Look at how many minority peoples are in the military. Judy, (if you are Cherokee) You have been so sadly colonized you don't know what has happened to your own people.I don't in any way mean this as an insult, We see it everyday here too. Fortunately there are tribal people waking up to what has happened to their ancestors and their own parents and are trying to regain that which was stripped from them. Its like wakening from a drugged-induced state.