Conversations in November revolve around Thanksgiving and preparing for the rush of Christmas and New Years. We’re in a time always rife with holiday celebrations. Stores are already thoroughly stocked with Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas knick-knacks and treats. While the holidays are a time to be cherished, it is crucial that everyone takes the time to recognize all the holidays occurring at this time of the year. Namely, we should all take time to educate ourselves about National Native American Heritage Month, as well as Native American Heritage Day.
In 1990, National Native American Heritage Month became a commemoration taking place annually for the entire month of November. At only thirty-two years old, this is still a fairly new proclamation. Even more recently, “In 2009, President Barack Obama signed ‘The Native American Heritage Day Resolution,’ designating the Friday after Thanksgiving as ‘Native American Heritage Day.’” As such, November 25th, 2022 is Native American Heritage Day.
Both National Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day are not discussed enough during November and in our national discourse. And the logistics of these holidays are not always liked, such as the choice to make Native American Heritage Day the day right after Thanksgiving. As “Brian Perry, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma” states, “‘The day after Thanksgiving? Almost an afterthought. With November being Native American Heritage Month, there are 28 other days to select from with of course Thanksgiving having its long established day to itself. Why must we take a backseat to Thanksgiving? Why not the day before Thanksgiving?’”
While it’s important and a step in the right direction to have a holiday honoring American Indians and Alaska Natives, Perry points out ways in which these efforts can be improved. The day after Thanksgiving is also Black Friday, a storm of sales and commercialization that has overshadowed Native American Heritage Day. As pointed out, moving Native American Heritage Day to a different date like the day before Thanksgiving can help bring more awareness to this holiday. Or, if kept on the same day, there should be an increased national effort to educate people about Native American Heritage Day.
National Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day are times “to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people.” In addition, these holidays serve “to educate the general public about tribes” and “raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present.” Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day also recognize American Indians and Alaska Natives as the original inhabitants of America, the first to call this land home.
While everyone is encouraged to honor and celebrate this month and Native American Heritage Day, it’s of course always important to do so respectfully. That means educating oneself and celebrating in a way that avoids cultural appropriation. For example, those that are not Native American should avoid wearing traditional attire, such as those used in ceremonies like powwows.
To find out more about ways we can all better understand and honor National Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day, there is a plethora of ideas online. For example, CNN has illustrated some ways in which everyone, regardless of background, can celebrate this month and the 25th. One suggestion that I have personally integrated into my life is reading the works of Native American authors, such as Brandon Hobson’s “Where the Dead Sit Talking,” Tommy Orange’s “There There,” or Louise Erdrich’s “The Painted Drum.”
Other ways of honoring National Native American Heritage Month include educating oneself about Native lands nearby or perhaps what Native lands you and your community have occupied. Another idea is supporting Native American businesses near you. Insider is one resource with a great comprehensive list of different Native-owned establishments that you can refer to and support. Especially on Native American Heritage Day (which is also Black Friday and a day of massive spending), we can make a conscious effort to purchase from companies that are Native-owned.
Steph Littlebird: https://www.stephlittlebird.com/
National Congress of American Indians: https://www.ncai.org/initiatives/native-american-heritage-month