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30 years of November as Native American Heritage Month

Here are a few historical books, testimonies, events and other media to look into this month

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"While these books can be upsetting to read, they are vital to understand the true history Indigenous Americans." Illustration published on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020


What began as Arthur C. Parker, an acclaimed archaeologist of Seneca descent who died in 1955, pushing for a one-day, national commemoration of Native American heritage and Indigeneity has evolved into present-day Native American Heritage Month.

After Parker pushed for American Boy Scouts to hold a day to recognize the first Americans, the Congress of the American Indian Association formally approved a plan to hold an officially recognized American Indian Day in 1915.

Following this action from the CAIA, Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfoot Nation, rode across the country on horseback in 1915 in an attempt to garner state approval for a nationally recognized day to honor the culture and historical plight of Native Americans. He collected 24 endorsements from state governments, but no national day was selected for commemoration.

Seventy years later, a 1986 law culminating in then-President Ronald Reagan declaring Nov. 23 through Nov. 30 "American Indian Week" was implemented, marking a step forwarding in recognizing and celebrating the unique culture of Indigenous American tribes across the nation, as well as objectively studying and confronting the genocide committed against them by European colonizers.

Then, in 1990, Congress passed a bill to designate November as what is now known as Native American Heritage Month and formally acknowledge that "American Indians were the original inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States of America." 

Thirty years later, Native Americans are still suffering from plights of food insecurity, underdeveloped public health and a lack of governmental support. 

READ MORE: Indigenous voters are facing barriers in upcoming general election

This Native American Heritage Month, here are some events, books and other media to engage with.

"A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies" by Bartolomé de Las Casas

Written in 1542 and published in 1552, Bartolomé de Las Casas' "A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies" is a recounting of the crimes committed against those indigenous to the West Indies from Las Casas' perspective as a Spanish conquistador. Las Casas accompanied Christopher Columbus on one of his colonial voyages to the so-called New World and was left horrified by the gruesome crimes the Spaniards committed against the native civilizations. This telling of violence, rape and torture is upsetting to read, but it is crucial in understanding the root of the Western view of Indigenous Americans as uncivilized and the true history and consequences of Columbus' colonialism and cultural pillaging.

"My Culture Is Not Your Costume" put on by ASU

Thursday, Nov. 5 from 5-7 p.m. on Zoom

Donning culturally insensitive, oftentimes blatantly racist, costumes during Halloween season has been a growing issue for years and fits into a broader conversation of cultural appropriation — for profit or for fun. While men and women alike have co-opted Native American culture as costumes, Native American costumes for women tend to be hyper-sexualized, while Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault and a third of all Native women are victim to rape. 

Through this student-led discussion, members of the ASU community can further their understanding of the harmful sexualization of Native American women through racist costuming. You can join the discussion on Zoom here or reach out to Daphne Leonard with any questions.

You can view all of ASU's upcoming Native American Heritage Month events here.

Written testimony from Fawn Sharp at the hearing on COVID-19 in Indian Country

As the country continues to grapple with the disastrous effects of the pandemic, Native American communities are being decimated by the virus due to an underdeveloped and inequitable public health apparatus, prevalence of food deserts on reservations and an absence of adequate aid. 

This testimony from Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation and president of the National Congress of American Indians, shines a light on "the impact of federal broken promises" from a first-hand perspective, and it allows non-Native Americans to learn about, and hopefully work to alleviate, the present-day struggles of Indigenous Americans in the face of the pandemic.

You can make donations to First Nations and Partnership with Native Americans to offer monetary support to Indigenous Americans bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

"An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States" by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

With a similar name and goal to Howard Zinn's 1980 tour de force "A People's History of the United States," Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz seeks to offer an illustration of American history through an Indigenous lens in her 2014 book "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States." American history that is taught in our public education system is undeniably white-washed and made palatable for those who find it convenient to avoid confronting our nation's history of slavery, colonialism and Indigenous genocide. 

Reading Dunbar-Ortiz's re-envisioning of American history as it pertains to Indigenous Americans can act as a useful tool in dismantling the patently nationalistic and obscured version of history where colonizers are reimagined as refugees hoping for a better life — a narrative pushed through the majority of our lives in public education.

"Unspoken: America's Native American Boarding Schools"

Native American "boarding schools" were designed and implemented in the 19th and 20th centuries as an attempt to forcefully assimilate Indigenous Americans as white Americans. "Unspoken" is a documentary that seeks to examine the role these so-called boarding schools played in the repression and attempted extermination of Native American culture and life. 

With the enforced use of English for Native American students and Western garbs being compulsory, these institutions of assimilation remain one of many stains on early America's treatment of Indigenous Americans.

"Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" by Linda Tuhiwai Smith

Linda Tuhiwai Smith's "Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" subverts the overwhelming power of Eurocentric methodology and research in the study of Indigenous people. European anthropology and sociology, when applied to marginalized groups, can easily turn exploitative and voyeuristic. 

In her book, Tuhiwai Smith works to "articulate research practices that arise out of the specificities of epistemology and methodology rooted in survival struggles, a kind of research that is something other than a dirty word to those on the suffering side of history."


Reach the reporter at stellefs@asu.edu and follow @samtellefson on Twitter. 

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Sam EllefsonMagazine Managing Editor

Sam Ellefson is a managing editor for State Press Magazine, contributing articles between editing and guiding a team of writers. Sam is a junior getting a degree in journalism with minors in film and media studies and political science.


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