Native American Heritage Month

FILE: Native American delegates from Washington state listen to the national anthem, sung in the traditional Tohono O’odham language, during the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Tuesday, July 27, 2004.

As a Black American, I am fairly well educated on Black history, though I am always striving to increase my knowledge. It is only in recent years that I have begun to learn more about the Native American experience.

There are many similarities but also many differences in the Black and Native experience. Both African descendants and Indigenous peoples were removed from their lands and had their cultures forcibly stripped away. But the proximity and intertwined lives of European and African-Americans have resulted in a significant Black presence. Black Americans are somewhere between 12-15% of the U.S. population. In contrast, war, starvation, disease, displacement, and assimilation, has reduced the Native population to about 2%. That number includes full lineage and mixed lineage. While our media representation is often negative and minimal, far worse is the erasure of Native Americans.

On Twitter, the hashtag #WeAreStillHere conveys the reality that much of non-Native America is unaware of present Native peoples and realities. In education, Native America is traditionally discussed as history, having no bearing on the present day. Media representation is almost non-existent. There is little knowledge that November is Native American Heritage Month.

While there are likely regional differences in awareness of Native history and presence, I feel confident in saying that the majority of non-Native Americans give little, if any thought, to Native America. This is an ongoing issue of oppression and injustice in a country allegedly built on the principle of equal representation.

A few hashtags I am aware of on Twitter are the above-referenced #WeAreStillHere, #NativeTwitter, #MMIW (murdered and missing Indigenous women), and #Indigenous. Feel free to add more in the comments.

This month, take the time to learn more about Native America, those who were here before European colonizers came. Find out what the current issues are facing Native Americans, especially those in your local area. Let’s continue to deconstruct the illusion of America and truly make it a place of liberty and justice for all.

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