This month is National American Indian Heritage Month. As of July 1, 2005 the estimated population of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those of more than one race, total 4.5 million people in the United States, and make up 1.5 per cent of the total population.
The month of November is dedicated to recognizing the intertribal cultures, the events and lifeways, the designs and achievements of American Indians and Alaska Natives. President George H.W. Bush officially created National American Indian Heritage Month in 1990.
.HOW SOME OF THE NATIVE PEOPLES VIEW THIS HERITAGE MONTH.
[An article from November 23, 2005]
“Indian Heritage Month needs more than lip service,” BY MARY ANNETTE PEMBER
November is National American Indian Heritage Month, and President Bush is paying only lip service to it. In his proclamation on Nov. 2, he said, “My administration recognizes the defining principles of tribal sovereignty.”
In saying so, the president was still trying to recover from his embarrassing performance at the 2004 Unity conference for journalists of color, where he suggested that American Indian tribes were “given” sovereignty by the U.S. government. When questioned about the topic during the conference, he appeared completely flummoxed by the notion.
Sovereignty, for instance, was not given to tribes. It was recognized by the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall have powers to regulate commerce with foreign nations and with the Indian tribes.”
The president’s father was able, at least on paper, to grasp this simple concept.
President George H.W. Bush officially created National American Indian Heritage Month in 1990, and his proclamation makes mention of tribal sovereignty. But this is slim solace.
White Americans killed most of us and took our land but now generously gives us a month to dance for them in our colorful regalia and to cook frybread.
This month, countless schoolchildren will be assigned to learn about “Indian history” by reading white anthropologists’ accounts of our cultures before white contact. Seldom will they learn the details of the genocide against Indians or about contemporary Indian country and the varieties of cultures there.
President George W. Bush seems to think there is only one culture in Indian country. “Our young country is home to an ancient, noble and enduring native culture,” he said in this year’s proclamation.
But there are many, and I challenge Americans to take some time this month to learn about these cultures, to study the history of relations between Indian tribes and the U.S. government and the impact of that history on today’s native peoples.
That may not be as fun and non-threatening as watching us dance or munching on frybread, but it is certainly more meaningful.
The topic of tribal sovereignty alone presents ample teaching opportunities.
Unfortunately, sovereignty is code for casinos to many Americans.
Although our status does allow us to enter into gaming compacts with states (which often receive substantial tax benefits in return), sovereignty is so much more than casinos. It goes to the very heart of who we are as tribal peoples.
We do not trace our existence to the creation of the United States; we preceded that creation. Through treaties signed with the United States between 1777 and 1871, Indian nations negotiated legally binding agreements guaranteeing various goods, services, self-governance rights and tribal homelands – all in exchange for vast tracts of land.
As you read this column now, you are probably seated on land once owned by Indian people.
These treaty rights are not “special rights.” They are simply part of America’s end of the deal. America has not done a very good job of honoring it.
The United States has repeatedly seized treaty land and challenged the right of tribal governments to govern themselves.
In an effort to protect their communities, some tribes set their own clean water and air standards, much to the chagrin of neighboring mainstream communities that often choose to locate polluting industry near tribal lands.
To fully appreciate American Indian Heritage Month, imagine that the person from whom you purchased your home simply decided to take it back, and that local law enforcement supported them. Or imagine that a neighboring state suddenly decided to tax your community.
You wouldn’t like it. Neither do we.
American Indian Heritage Month offers an opportunity to do much more than celebrate the “ancient” and “noble” Indians of your outdated history books.
It allows you a chance to understand us and our history today.
Pember, Red Cliff Ojibwe, is past president of the Native American
Journalists Association. She wrote this column for Progressive Media
Project, 409 E. Main St., Madison, WI 53703.
Copyright c. 2004 Twin Cities – Knight Ridder.
My Suggestions for National Native Indian Heritage Month…
-Rather than read a traditional textbook on “Indian history,” (which is basically European accounts of Native People’s culture), I suggest you visit a local American Indian Museum, or visit one of the web sites shown below.
-Learn more about how the Native People’s feel about losing their traditions.
-Read current newspapers with topics of concern to American Indians (such as NativeTimes.com)
-On Thanksgiving day, give thanks for the American Indian (Native People’s). Without them the Pilgrims may not have made it through the winter.
-WABANAKI [Abenaki] SUPERCHIEFS OF THE 1600s-
-Native American News-
-Statistic Information about American Indians-
-Teachers Guide to Indian Stereotypes Activities-