Native American Heritage Month
“If we can tell our stories, if people can see our work and see us, then it’s a natural process. It’s a natural journey for people to feel commonality with people.” -Diane Fraher November is National Native American Heritage Month, which is sometimes referred to as American Indian Heritage Month. It is vital for a city like La Verne, where roughly 0.7% of the population is of American Indian descent (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), to learn about cultures we may not be too familiar with. Through facilitating these much needed conversations about Native American history, we can celebrate the many diverse cultures, accomplishments, and contributions of people who were the first inhabitants of Turtle Island, which is now known as North America. What started out as an effort to dedicate one day out of the year to recognize Native Americans’ contributions to the U.S. has turned into an entire month. But this was not an easy process and it took years of proclamations to finally get to where we are today. We can go as far back as 1912, when Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker, a Cattaraugus Seneca Indian, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for “First Americans”. About one year later, New York’s then governor, Charles S. Whitman, set the second Saturday of May to be “American Indian Day”, which was monumental because it contained the first appeal to recognize American Indians as U.S. citizens. In 1986, President Ronald Raegan proclaimed November 23-30 as “American Indian Week”, and then in 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as “National Native American Heritage Month”. Although our country has a long way to go before appreciating indigenous efforts to the fullest extent, this growth in representation shows we are becoming more educated about our true history. It is important not to generalize all indigenous people into one grouping due to their being more than 570 different federally recognized tribes today, each with very different traditions and cultures. But there are a few traditions that are treasured in most communities, with minor differences from tribe-to-tribe. One example would be with pow-wows, which is a social gathering that began as a way to celebrate a victory in battle or hunting. Today, they are an opportunity for non-natives to see authentic displays of Native culture while also being an opportunity for Natives to connect with their own people. “Pow-wow” means “medicine man” in the Narrtick language from the Algonquian people of Massachusetts. At a Pow-wow, you would see dancing to powerful drum music, the trading/selling/buying of native arts and crafts, group singing of War Dance songs, and ceremonies that honor Native history. Another example of a tradition would be smudging, a ceremony that consists of burning herbs and resins in either a clay or shelled bowl while prayers are being done. This results in a smoke cloud formation that is believed to cleanse the air and those within it. Smudging is a tradition that is said to be used in nearly every indigenous tribe in the Western Hemisphere, and allows them to connect to a higher power, allowing good spirits in while blocking out any negative energies. Herbs used would be Sage, Cedar, Sweetgrass, and/or Tobacco, as well as essential oils like Peppermint and Lavender. Although Native American culture is vibrant and appreciated in many ways, it is essential to note that Natives are and have been prejudiced against; they deal with many challenges economically, socially, and culturally. According to the World Population Review, over 33% of Natives are impoverished, many of them living in overcrowded houses or homeless. Covid-19 was an additional struggle that these groups had to face, with disparities in access to healthcare, necessities, and safe conditions putting them at a higher risk of severe symptoms. There is also a high rate of violence towards Native women and children, usually at the hands of non-native people. The lack of national attention, resources, and efforts to solve cases of missing/murdered indigenous women continues this trend of violence and reveals society’s tendency to put more focus on cases of white women. Learning about Native culture and recognizing the many accomplishments they have had is a necessary step in eliminating racism in this nation. CASI is a great way for citizens of La Verne to learn and appreciate cultures other than their own to assist in creating an inclusive environment. Although we are a small city, the impact is far from small. We can influence our family, friends, and peers as well as surrounding cities to educate ourselves on racial issues while celebrating all the cultures that make up our diverse nation.
Author: Summer Southall
I appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself as an advisor of the Cultural Awareness and Social Inclusion (“CASI”) Committee through this blog. My name is G. Muir Davis, please call me Muir. I am sixty years old, I am an applied mathematician, I am a city councilmember, and I have lived in La Verne most of my life. La Verne is my hometown. La Verne has been home to my parents and their parents too. For my CASI introductory blog I will first draw your attention to the fact that I am a redhead. I was born in Elgin, Illinois, the first redhead in the line for my dad’s dad, my grandfather C. Ernest Davis; I was told that I got his red hair. My grandfather had 5 children and 10 grandchildren before I showed up as a redhead. The nurses told my mom that I was a redhead when I was first born. My mom’s family had little history with red hair, and I was bald, so she asked the nurse how she could tell. The nurse told her that my hair color was evident in the color and nature of my skin. Apparently, it was obvious, yet photos of my early years do not reveal my red hair.
I am white.
I am female.
I was born in La Verne.
I went to Kinder, Elementary School, Jr. High, High School, and college in La Verne.
My first job was in La Verne at Hillcrest Retirement Community. Now, I work at the University of La Verne.
You might say I’m a native to this little corner of Mayberry – a LaVerneite through and through.
Why am I overjoyed that La Verne is taking action to address unwelcome and racial injustice in the city?
Because it is here. It exists.
If you are white, like me, this experience may escape your view. You may even disagree with me. I was unaware for all of my childhood and early adulthood that racial injustice and social unwelcome were part of our city. That's one of the privileges of being white. We don't know about prejudice and unequal treatment. We might even argue that it doesn’t exist.
I, too, was oblivious. I was a part of the dominant culture, so experiences and awareness of unwelcome and injustice were hidden from my view. That is until I started to date a black man. Then I married this black man, and we had two black children in this little Mayberry. This was when I began to see a new side of La Verne.
When the city council decided to endorse the CASI (Cultural Awareness and Social Inclusion) committee, it had been operating for a year and a half. Then numerous events such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have broken open our country’s awareness of the injustices faced by our brothers and sisters of color. The city wanted something to show that it was against the hatred and ugliness of those events. So, it grabbed onto us and what we stood for.
Be careful what you ask for.
This may be a political move that makes us all feel like we are on the “right side” of things and that we are "doing something, "but this committee is more than a panacea that will absolve our shocked and perhaps guilty feelings. This committee has plans for the beautiful City of La Verne.
We want this city to feel inclusive to all who walk the lanes, shop the stores, and drive the streets. If you're white, like me, you are probably thinking, "Well, that is already happening here! La Verne IS a city of welcome! This is why I moved to La Verne because it feels safe and hospitable."
Yes, it does… to some of us, but not all.
Not sure if I’m telling the truth? Ask a person of color.
I mean it.
(I really wanted to write, "I dare you," but I'm worried about how you'll take it. So instead, I'll write, "I double dare you!")
CASI has been giving lots of thought to how to create a city of wide welcome and inclusion. We’ve been dreaming and scheming. We have a website: #DiverseLaVerne. We even got a little Community Wellness Grant from Tri-City Mental health for two student interns to help us advocate and educate for these worthy dreams.
Keep an eye out for new things on the horizon.
And join us for a meeting or two: it's the first Wednesday of the month at 4 pm.
We throw our welcome door wide for you!