This month is something few people honor or even know about: National American Indian Heritage Month. Since 1990, President George H. W. Bush called for federal, state, and local governments, groups and organizations and the people of the United States “. . .to observe such month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities” relating to Native Americans, and November was so designated by Public Law 101-343. Yet few institutions or communities actually sponsor or participate in events and activities that honor the culture of the Original People of this continent in any meaningful way.
Add the fact that Friday after Thanksgiving is supposed to be celebrated as “Native American Heritage Day” according to a resolution passed by Congress the same year. H. J. Resolution 40; Section 3 specifically states that:
“Congress encourages the people of the United States, as well as Federal, State, and local governments, and interested groups and organizations to honor Native Americans, with activities relating to–
(1) appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities to observe Native American Heritage Day;
(2) the historical status of Native American tribal governments as well as the present day status of Native Americans;
(3) the cultures, traditions, and languages of Native Americans; and
(4) the rich Native American cultural legacy that all Americans enjoy today.”
This year on November 1, President Obama unceremoniously made the required proclaimation that stated in part that:
“This month, we celebrate the rich heritage and myriad contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives, and we rededicate ourselves to supporting tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and prosperity for all Native Americans . . . I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 25, 2011, as Native American Heritage Day.”
Yet neither the White House nor any of the federal agencies established to support American Indian affairs have announced specific “programs and activities” they are sponsoring in honor of Native Americans this month.
To be sure Kimberly Teehee, the White House Sr. Policy Advisor for Native Americans held a “listening session” on November 1 for tribal leaders already in town to attend the 2011 Tribal Nations Conference on December 2, but this can hardly be considered an opportunity for the average American to participate in celebratory events. In fact, almost none of the Native leaders from the DC area will be permitted to attend this conference, since they are not members of the 565 federally recognized tribes that were invited.
In addition, one would be hard pressed to find any films, documentaries, information or news coverage of Native American issues or events by major media, even during this honored month of national observance. So-called “revisionist” efforts to set the record straight and present American history from indigenous perspectives doesn’t appear to sit well with the majority of Americans, who seem content with holding on to fictionalized versions of historical “facts” that interpret history almost entirely from a eurocentric perspective.
Alison Owings, author of “Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans”, and a writer for Huffington Post, stated in an article entitled “The Buffalo in the Room: A Reflection for Native American Heritage Month”, that:
“Today’s Native people, the 2-percenters, sometimes consider themselves invisible and forgotten. Land of opportunity meet land of amnesia.
Another fact: most of us 98-percenters know little about the contributions, however inadequate a word, of this country’s original inhabitants and their descendants. We have little idea that Native-based foods enrich our diets, Native-based medicines enrich our health and Native soldiers, in disproportionate numbers, enrich our armed services.
Rather than take a most enlightening journey to inform ourselves about such facts, many of us non-Natives behave like sophisticated squatters, waving valid mortgages from invalid takeovers, and celebrating ourselves within the whole shebang. “We’re the best!” “Number 1!” “USA!” “Manifest Destiny!”” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alison-owings/the-buffalo-in-the-room_b_1071871.html?ref=religion)
In light of all the recent protests and dissatisfaction with the status quo being expressed by Occupyers and others, perhaps next year’s National American Indian Heritage Month will be different.