Honoring Truth & Visibility this Native American Heritage Month

November 17, 2021 by highlander

Highlander Institute’s office is based in the state of Rhode Island, occupying the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples. This region’s Indigenous peoples and their time-honored traditions continue today and ought to be recognized and respected. We thank the original caretakers of this land and celebrate your strength, resilience, and legacy.

November is Native American Heritage Month, an opportunity to explore and elevate the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. This designation was established to provide a platform for Native people to share their cultural traditions and for non-Native people to improve awareness and interrogate the dominant narratives about Native people that permeate our country’s history.

The fact that Native American Heritage Month coincides with Thanksgiving provides a chance to center Indigenous perspectives, voices, and stories as the holiday approaches. While schools often focus on the mythologized version of Pilgrims and Indians breaking bread together in peaceful fellowship, those of us who are non-Natives are responsible for digging into historical context, elevating realities, building awareness around our blindspots, and honoring the truth with students.   

For many, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning and protest, commemorating the arrival of settlers in North America and the centuries of genocide and oppression that followed. Various Native traditional harvest celebrations significantly predate Thanksgiving, with themes of gratitude, human connection, and harmony with the environment; giving without expecting anything in return; and celebrating with feasts of indigenous foods such as turkey, corn, beans, and pumpkins. 

This November, let’s uplift Native stories, causes, and perspectives and work to disrupt the invisibility that represents a prevalent form of oppression against Native Americans. Here are some resources and activities to consider bringing to classroom communities this school year:

  • Elevate and discuss Thanksgiving messages from these Seven Amazing Native Americans
  • Explore Native American academics, activists, and scientists; make connections with your students’ identities and within your academic content.
  • Watch the Tending Nature documentary to apply lessons learned from centuries of Native peoples’ stewardship of the land. 
  • Research and support Native communities in your area. Invest in nonprofits and other organizations, like the Tomaquag Museum, which showcases the cultural heritage of Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples, among others, in the southeastern New England region.
  • Find the Indigenous history of the land you teach and learn on by using resources like native-land.ca
  • Honor the legacy of Indigenous women, like the ones featured in the Unladylike2020 webinar series.
  • Review and share The Reclaiming Native Truth Project about the challenges and opportunities Native Americans face in educating Americans and changing public perceptions. 
  • Use this month to learn, and develop ongoing ways to integrate Native experiences and perspectives into your classroom all year. 

As Stephen Roe Lewis, Governor of the Gila River Indian Community, states in an article from the Arizona Mirror, “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.”

What non-Natives believe about Native Americans has been shaped by stereotypes, falsehoods, and half-truths. We hope this month sets the stage for questioning, building awareness, and changing these narratives throughout the year.

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