Native American Heritage Month 2023

Posted on

Native American Heritage Month 2023

November is a time to celebrate and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Also referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, November is a time to celebrate and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Celebrate with us as we raise awareness of the culture and traditions of the Native people and the unique challenges they have faced. Please read on as we also highlight those Native people who have made an impact to conquer challenges of tribal citizens.

Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month has evolved from its beginnings as a week-long celebration in 1986, when President Reagan proclaimed the week of November 23-30, 1986 as "American Indian Week." Every President since 1995 has issued annual proclamations designating the month of November as the time to celebrate the cultures, accomplishments, and contributions of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

This heritage month is also an opportune time for education about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.

In addition to celebrating Native Americans, we offer information that will showcase why it’s important to refresh our memories about a very dark chapter of American History. The only way we can ensure it never happens again is to study and understand. We encourage you to read more about this part of American History.

In the beginning of the 1830s, approximately 125,000 Native Americans lived in what is now Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. By the end of 1830 nearly none remained. The federal government working on behalf of the white settlers, who wanted the land to grow cotton, forced the Native Americans to walk hundreds of miles to the specifically designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River. This difficult and often times deadly journey is called the Trail of Tears. The Commemoration Day this year was on September 16th.

To the white settlers, this was their land. To the Native Americans this concept was foreign. They believed that no one really “owns” the land. It is there for you to nurture. Although the U.S. Supreme court ruled in favor of the Native Americans, this did not stop the then President Andrew Jackson, from forcing the relocation of the 5 main Native American tribes living in the Southeast area, the: Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole.

While the tribes received nominal reimbursement for the land, the federal government was ill prepared to relocate the tribes safely. Many thousands died.

Native tribes and notable figures

Ben Nighthorse Campbell - He was elected to serve Colorado in the US Senate in 1992. He was the first Native American to serve in the Senate in more than 60 years and only the eighth Native American ever elected to Congress, at all. He is a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. He was a Korean War veteran, an Olympic judo wrestler, and renowned jewelry artist. When he retired from the Senate, his major achievements included passing legislation to secure Native American water rights, protect wilderness areas, and create Colorado’s Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

Chrystos (Menominee) - A two-spirit poet and activist, their poetry explores issues of colonialism, genocide, and violence against Native people, queerness, street life, and more. Throughout their poetry, they often include clichés, plays on words, and rhymes as a refusal to separate spoken word and oral tradition from poetry. They have been able to give a voice to silenced experiences of Native people and bring everyday queer life as a Native person to mainstream society.

James McDonald - He was the country’s first Native American lawyer. Born and raised in Mississippi, he decided to study law when politicians – led by President Andrew Jackson – began organizing efforts to remove Native American tribes from their lands in the South and relocate them in the West. He became a lawyer and subsequently represented the Choctaw tribe in negotiations with politicians, to whom he argued one of the earliest legal cases for Native American rights.

Mildred Loving - She was of African American and Native American descent, specifically from the Cherokee and Rappahannock tribes. She became a reluctant activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s when she and her white husband, Richard, successfully challenged Virginia's ban on interracial marriage. In marrying, the couple violated Virginia's Racial Integrity Act. Following the case (Activist) v. Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law in 1967, also ending the remaining ban on interracial marriages in other states. They then lived as a legal, married couple in Virginia until Richard’s death in 1975.

Sacagawea - Most remember her name as being featured on a dollar coin, covered in brass, the Sacagawea coin (aka the "golden dollar") was issued in 2000 by the U.S. Mint. The daughter of a Shoshone chief, was captured by an enemy tribe and sold to a French Canadian trapper who made her his wife around age 12. In November 1804, Sacagawea was a Shoshone interpreter best known for being the only woman on the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the American West.

Sarah Deer Lawyer and Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexualities Studies at the University of Kansas. A member of the Muscogee Creek tribe, she is an advocate who has worked for victims’ rights and sexual violence prevention for decades. She was an instrumental activist in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act, which expanded tribal jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence. Deer’s books, most notably The Beginning and End of Rape, provides a historical overview of the intersecting violence that contribute to the high rates of sexual violence against Native Americans today, and the destruction of tribal legal systems to protect their own citizens.

Susan La Flesche Picotte - A member of the Omaha tribe, she grew up on the Omaha Reservation in northeast Nebraska, where she once watched a native woman die because the local white doctor refused to give her care. Since that memory was what inspired her to become a physician, she eventually returned to Nebraska, where she established a private practice serving both Native American and white patients. She was the first Native American women to receive a medical degree in the United States, graduating from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889.

Wilma Mankiller - A women’s rights activist who was the first woman elected to be chief of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up on her families Flats, the farm granted to her grandfather as part of a government settlement after the forced relocation of his tribe. She was known for advancing education, job training, housing and health care for her people. She also doubled annual Cherokee Nation tribal revenue, and tripled tribal enrollment. President Bill Clinton awarded her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, in 1998.

The Crow Nation

The Crow, also called the Absaroka or Apsáalooke, are a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans who historically lived in the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern Plains in Montana and Wyoming. Now they live on a reservation south of Billings, Montana. Their tribal headquarters are located at Crow Agency, Montana. The Crow Tribe of Indians had three different names finally settling on Apsáalooke, pronounced Ahp-SAH-luh-guh. Which means, Children of the Large-Beaked Bird. French Interpreters later mistranslated the word as, “Crow.”

Despite their support of the U.S. military, after the war the Crow were treated no differently than the other tribes, being forced to surrender much of their land, and by 1888 were settled on their reservation. Chief Plenty Coups made many trips to Washington D.C., where he fought against the U.S. senators' plans to abolish the Crow Nation and take away their lands. Although they were forced onto a reservation, he succeeded in keeping part of the Crows' original land when many other Native Americans tribes had been relocated to reservations on entirely different land than where they had lived their lives. Chief Plenty Coups was chosen as the representative American Indian to participate in the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, DC in 1921. He laid his war bonnet and coup stick at the tomb.

The Crow (Apsáalooke) Tribe of Indians now has a membership of approximately 11,000, of whom approximately 7,900 reside on the Crow Indian Reservation in South Central Montana. The Crow Indian Reservation is the largest of the seven Indian Reservations in the state, encompassing 2.3 million acres.

Join the discussion