November is National Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month! Take some time to learn about their history and find some ways to honor and celebrate. Here’s a brief history and some ideas to get you started.
National Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native Heritage Month was signed into law in 1990. Congress recognized Native Americans as the country’s original inhabitants. November was chosen as the month to celebrate and recognize Native Americans, American Indians, and Alaskan Natives and their contributions to the country’s culture and history because that’s when the traditional harvest season ends.
Ideas to Acknowledge and Celebrate Throughout the Month
There are many ways, both in person and virtual, to learn about, acknowledge, and appreciate Native Americans this November and all year long. Here are some of our favorites.
- Attend the online exhibition “Why We Serve”
Several esteemed institutions like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute worked together to create this powerful tribute. The exhibition focuses on the generations of Native Americans, American Indians and Alaskan Natives who have served in the U.S. armed forces. It’s a fascinating and informative exhibition honoring these extraordinary people.
- Visit an important cultural and historical site
Depending on where you live, make a day trip or a weekend getaway out of visiting a Native American site. An option in the West is the famous cliff dwellings at the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Down South, you can visit the Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia. There’s also the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in New York, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Washington and the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
- Read about famous American Indians and Alaskan Natives
You may have heard their names and remember them from history class, but do you know what they stood for? Books like “The Earth Is All That Lasts: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the Last Stand of the Great Sioux Nation” by Mark Lee Gardner; “Blonde Indian” by Ernestine Hayes; “Geronimo: His Own Story: The Autobiography of a Great Patriot Warrior” by Geronimo; “Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People” by William L. Iġġiaġruk Hensley; “Once Upon An Eskimo Time” by Edna Wilder and “I’ll Go and Do More” by Carolyn Niethammer are great biographies and autobiographies.
- Read books by Native American and Alaskan Native authors
If you love to read, try “Little Big Bully” by Heidi Erdwich, “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley, “The Seed Keeper” by Diane Wilson, “Two Old Women” by Velma Wallis; “The Storytellers’ Club” by Loretta Outwater Cox; and “Apple (Skin to the Core)” by Eric Gansworth.
- Enjoy some indigenous art
Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are known for some of the most unique, inspired art in the world. Take some time to immerse yourself in it, either in person or online. Places like the National Museum of the American Indian, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Iroquois Indian Museum, Alaska Native Heritage Center, and the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts all offer works of rich cultural and historical significance.
- Visit a reservation
There are over 300 reservations in the United States. Visiting one shouldn’t be considered a tourist activity, as these are people’s homes and workplaces. However, some are open to the public and have added welcome centers and museums to educate visitors on Native American, Alaskan Native, and tribal history.
- Decolonize how you celebrate Thanksgiving
Many Native Americans don’t view the traditional Thanksgiving as a positive event. This year, instead of the normal Thanksgiving decorations and food, why not try something different? Dine on Native American dishes and talk about their traditions and what they brought to today’s culture.
- Donate to a nonprofit that helps strengthen Native American communities
Give some money to a worthwhile charity that helps empower Native Americans and make their lives better. Some of the ones we like are:
- American Indian College Fund, which offers scholarships to Indian students
- Americans for Indian Opportunity, which helps advance the cultural, political, and economic rights of indigenous people
- National Indian Childcare Association, which helps provide high-quality childcare and early childcare programs
- Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which provides health services to 158,000 Alaskan Natives and American Indians in Alaska
- Buy Native American-made items
Support Native American entrepreneurs by purchasing their goods and services. A simple search online can net you several wonderful companies and crafters to do business with. Find handcrafted leather goods, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, homemade jerky, musical instruments, pipes and blankets, just to name a few.
Take time to reflect on, learn about, and celebrate National Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. Choose a few of our suggestions or think up one of your own. You’ll undoubtedly learn something new and be glad you made the effort.