November 17th, 2021
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
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The members of the Cultural Awareness and Social Inclusion Committee