7 Things to Think About During Native American Heritage Month

By Kateri Joe, Tribal Engagement Manager

November is National Native American Heritage Month, which acknowledges the forced colonization of North America and celebrates the contributions and achievements of Native Americans.

As Treehouse’s Tribal Engagement Manager, I have had a lot on my mind this November. Here are some of the key topics I’ve been thinking about during National Native American Heritage Month:

Military Service of Native Americans
Native Americans have the highest percentage of veterans of any ethnicity in the U.S. military, with service stretching back as far as the Revolutionary War and Civil War, long before being recognized as citizens. Almost 19% of Native Americans served in the Armed Forces after 9/11, compared to 14% of other ethnicities.

The Timing of Halloween
As the final day of October, Halloween is a time when many non-natives dress up in stereotypical Native American costumes—a mere one day before the start of November.

Commemorating Loss of Bloodlines
Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for numerous Native Americans. It commemorates the end of many bloodlines. The number of people living in the Americas when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 was approximately 60 million. Only about five million Native Americans live in the United States today out of more than 328 million.

Impact of Illnesses Before the Pilgrims
Fur trappers arrived before the Pilgrims and killed two-thirds of the population with the illnesses they brought with them. The Pilgrims only survived by living in existing villages that had been abandoned. Native Americans initially avoided the Pilgrims for months, fearing the threat of additional sickness and disease.

Current Activists
Many people often think of Native Americans only in a historical sense. There are many modern day activists working toward equity and environmental justice, such as the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was carrying more than half a million barrels of crude oil each day through Native American communities and sacred sites until earlier this year.

President George H.W. Bush declared the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month on August 3, 1990. It has since been renamed National Native American Heritage Month. It’s acceptable to refer to Native Americans as Indigenous Peoples. Either of the two terms is correct in the United States, although Native Americans is typically used only for North America. Indigenous Peoples includes South America.

Wins in Recent Years
There have been a lot of reasons for Native Americans to celebrate recently, such as the renaming of the Washington Football Team after years of activism, and the recognition by many of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same day as the U.S. federal holiday of Columbus Day.

More Resources to Think About:
The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story
Native American Day of Mourning
Fishing Wars
Modern Day Notable Native Americans

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About the Author

Kateri Joe (Swinomish) is the Tribal Engagement Manager at Treehouse. Preferred pronouns are she/her/hers. As the Tribal Engagement Manager, Kateri is tasked with developing a new program. Internally she is working to develop programming that will appropriately serve youth with tribal identity. This means working to educate Treehouse staff on cultural differences, systemic issues that plague Native people and important etiquettes in tribal spaces. Externally she is working to develop relationships with tribes, Native-led coalitions and organizations to better serve the Native population as a whole. Her goal is to work collaboratively with Indigenous folks from different communities to listen and learn what they deem their needs are. She will then work collaboratively to address them in a culturally appropriate way.

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