November brings with it a kaleidoscope of fall foliage, cooler temperatures, and our national Thanksgiving holiday, which usually calls to mind the image of golden turkeys, simmering casseroles, and loved ones around a table. November is also recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Because one of the goals of the Dignity & Respect Campaign is to model our 7 Pillars of behaviors, we’d like to focus on one of these principles in conjunction with this holiday: building cultural awareness.
The history of this month of remembrance actually began way back in May of 1916, when the governor of New York approved an American Indian Day. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush took this a step further and declared November “National American Indian Heritage Month” which has been ongoing since 1994.
The purpose of this month-long dedication is to recognize the historical contributions that Native Americans have made to the growth of the United States, and also to raise awareness about the tribes that still exist today. According to the 2010 census, there are over 5.2 million citizens who identified as American Indian and/or Alaska Native. Even though this number might seem small (around 9.7% of total American residents), it’s actually very significant because these citizens represent a rich community of culture and history that is woven into the tapestry of the United States.
What can you do?Cultural awareness is founded in knowledge and education. In order to treat people the way they deserve to be treated, we need to educate ourselves about populations and cultures that are different from ours. So make this month all about learning! Read about the history of the Native Americans that inhabited our country long before it was ever the United States. Learn the differences between the various tribes and how many of them still honor the traditions of their ancestors.
The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. – as well as the National Archives and the Smithsonian – is hosting a range of events throughout November. If you don’t live close to the D.C. area, you can read up on other ways to participate: trying new recipes, for instance, or watching an educational film. The Smithsonian Education group has also compiled a list of resources for teachers interested in educating their students on the history and heritage of Native Americans.
Dignity & RespectThe Dignity & Respect Campaign as a whole believes in working towards creating a better world for all of us to live in together. Regardless of whether or not you take an active stance in Native American Heritage Month, we hope that you will both appreciate and respect this special holiday. Your awareness will help to create a stronger and more compassionate America.
To echo the sentiments of the United States Department of the Interior: “Many voices– one journey– join us!”