November is Native American Heritage Month, designated as such by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and observed annually since 1994 under variations of the name, including “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.” If this catches you by surprise, you’re likely not alone.
The presidential election and its aftermath have been much of the nation’s focus so far; Thanksgiving is next on the agenda and the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season. While much of mainstream media has been and continues to be focused on these topics, Native Americans celebrate the month designated to their cultures, recognition of their contributions to the establishment of the U.S. and their continued contributions to the fabric of America.
Native American Population Facts
Recent census numbers estimate the total population of American Indian and Alaska Native to be about 2 percent of the total United States population of 6.6 million people, some of those exclusively of one heritage or the other, some of them representing a melding with one or more other races.
There are 567 federally-recognized Indian tribes, with myriads of languages, cultural traditions and beliefs.
Map of Indian Lands of Federally-Recognized Tribes; Public Domain via Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. government
How to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month
The point of designating a month as Native American Heritage Month is to move past the cultural stereotypes of Native Americans as they’ve been portrayed in fiction, movies and even history books. There are celebrations, public speaking events and more that are open to the public to expose those interested in the perspective of Native Americans in the present, goals for the future, and a sharing of their rich past.
Your public library, the internet, television and your local newspaper are good resources to find out what is going on in your area in commemoration of Native American Heritage Month.
November 2016: Native American Heritage Month
In 2016, there are members from more than 500 of the federally-recognized American Indian Tribes who are opposed to the construction of oil pipelines, and the Dakota Access Pipeline in particular. While not every Native American supports the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota in their peaceful stand against the construction of a fuel pipeline that the tribe asserts puts cultural and sacred relics at risk while threatening the clean water supply of Lake Oahe, there are many who are doing so.
The Native American protesters, who have been joined by environmentalists, clergy, activists and concerned citizens, refer to themselves as Water Protectors, pointing out that “Water Is Life,” referring to their single source of clean drinking water.
The protesters have met with law enforcement, not only from North Dakota but also called in from other states for aid. Governor Dalrymple has activated the National Guard and borrowed $10 million to prevent the protesters from interfering with the construction of the pipeline by Energy Transfer Partners — the pipeline represents a $3.8 billion investment by the company.
Not unlike in the past, the Native Americans and those protesting with them are being treated as if they are outsiders on land that belonged to them by treaty with the United States in the mid-19th century.
Image Credit: Map of Indian Lands of Federally-Recognized Tribes
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