November is Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month in the United States. Starting in 1915, there was one day designated, which later turned into a week-long celebration.
As I write this I want to acknowledge that I am on the occupied lands of the Caddo Nation and the Osage Nation – lands ceded by treaties that have not been upheld.
November is Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month in the United States. Starting in 1915, there was one day designated, which later turned into a week-long celebration. Then in 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating a month-long celebration during November.
This past year, we have seen Native activists successful in getting the Washington Football Team to change their name, stopping oil pipelines, increasing the number of Native legislators, successful curtailing of the pandemic, increasing Native voter turnout, and validating sovereignty of the Muscogee Creek Nation. All of these accomplishments and more have been decades-long efforts by Indigenous activists and communities.
And there are many Native leaders in the computer science and STEM fields. For example, a new book called Classified by Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Metis illustrator Natasha Donovan explores the history of Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee Nation), the first female engineer for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Learn about 18 other awesome Native folx in STEM.
As an Indigenous educator and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, it is important to acknowledge that my voice does not represent the thousands of Indigenous kinships throughout the lands that the United States occupies. Today, there are 574 federally recognized tribes, and each has their own unique history, culture, language, and story. Indigeneity in the United States extends beyond the contiguous 48 states. Native peoples are also in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and US Virgin Islands. Oftentimes our indigeneity is not seen due to stereotypical expectations that have been created through commercial imagery.
But as educators, it is our duty to first realize that Native students exist in our classrooms. A 2008 study showed that 90% of Native students attend public schools, while 8% attend schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Education. Native students often feel invisible due to being misidentified.
Recognizing students is not enough. We must also acknowledge and honor their identities and cultures. This requires getting to know your students, building strong relationships, and using inclusive and affirming language. Are we speaking in past tense? Do we use decolonizing language? Are we recognizing that Native Americans are still here? A great place to start is to learn and begin acknowledging whose lands does your school and community occupy. Learn directly from Indigenous people; for example, see Indian perspectives on Thanksgiving and follow Trisha Moquino’s Instagram account @indigenouseducators, which amplifies Indigineous teachers and students. This DOs and DON’Ts infographic from Illuminative helps people understand how to talk in a respectful way about and with Native peoples.
Photo: Rebecca with her great grandmother.