Native American Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those Americans who can trace their ancestry to indigenous groups throughout the Americas.
The move to designate November as Native American Heritage Month started in the early 1900’s. At this time, the goal was to designate one national day for honoring Native Americans and their contributions. The first state Native American Day was declared in New York in 1916. But it was not until 1990 that a federal proclamation was declared when President Bush declared November as National American Indian Month. Since 1994, November has been federally declared some variant of Native American Month.
Today, many organizations such as the University of California, Berkeley, are expanding the group honored by Native American Month to include any American who can trace their heritage to any indigenous group in the Americas. For instance, many of the students in your classroom whom you believe to identify as Hispanic may also identify as descendants of indigenous tribes of lands conquered by Spain. Native American Month recognizes the contributions of these individuals to the fabric of our society and the loss of culture and identity caused by European conquest for their families.
It is time for those of us who do not identify as Native American to recognize that we live on stolen lands and honor those whose lands we live on. What are you doing in your classroom/school/institution to honor Native Americans?
Here are four, culturally appropriate ideas:
1. Discuss with students the concept of “discovering” America through the Native American perspective. Can you “discover” a land where there are already inhabitants?
2. Explore Native American Art. Many museums such as The Museum of Indian Arts & Cultures have online displays. Consider incorporating some of them into your lessons. Sources: Online Exhibitions, Native American Women Artists
4. Research local tribes to better understand to whom the land we live on today originally belonged. Have students discuss the forces that caused them to lose their land. Sources: Native American Map, Mohegan Tribe