The start of November also signifies the beginning of Native American Heritage Month, a dedicated time to recognize, honor, and commemorate the culture, history, and impact of Indigenous people and communities across the Nation. This year’s theme is Celebrating Tribal Sovereignty and Identity.
Initiated federally in 1990, Native American Heritage Month highlights an open opportunity for Native American communities to celebrate shared traditions and arts while remembering their culture’s ever-significant history. For non-Indigenous observers, this commemorative month should act as a stark reminder of the massive and urgent line of work to be done to begin to reconcile the long and painful tragedies inflicted by colonialism and persistent controlling Western narratives.
Native American Heritage Month also encompasses the National Day of Mourning for Native Americans, recognized on the fourth Thursday of November in opposition to the common Western celebration of Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday, which to most non-Indigenous people has been portrayed as a festive meal celebrating discovery and community, truly serves as a twisted recognition of mass colonialism spurring a dark future of genocide, oppression, and discrimination for Indigenous people on their own lands.
Another important aspect of Native American Heritage Month is in recognizing the immeasurable contributions Indigenous communities have made to the Nation. One area of resounding impact is in environmental justice and sustainability efforts, including fierce protection of critical nature reserves and refuges, clean water movements, wildlife and biodiversity protection, and countless other modes of support for critical actions to protect nature and fight climate change. Connection to nature and land is deeply engrained in Indigenous cultures and informs the importance of campaigns focused on returning land to the people who were connected with it long before any colonizers arrived.
The Landback Movement represents a necessary push to return Indigenous lands to Indigenous communities. Centuries of colonialism and harmful government intervention has led to the removal of Indigenous people from any decision-making or governance of their land and even from the land itself, opening the door for deregulations and other lasting detrimental choices by powerful Westerners on land that they never had a right to reside over in the first place. The Landback Movement yearns for a return to communal Indigenous land structures and the reversal of colonialist-imposed concepts like private land ownership. From cultural celebrations to movements like this one, Native American Heritage Month centers around an important reminder of the beauty and resilience of Indigenous communities – closely connected to this year’s focus on Tribal identity.
This Native American Heritage Month, honor the Native American and Indigenous communities in as many was as you can. Just a few ways to get involved include listening to and amplifying Indigenous voices and narratives, actively contributing to breaking down the dishonest and harmful narratives perpetuated by Western society at large, supporting causes like the Landback Movement, researching what Indigenous land you reside within and crafting a land acknowledgment, and donating to Native-led nonprofits and organizations.