I remember when I first heard about President George H.W. Bush’s request to Congress to issue a proclamation designating November as National American Heritage Month on August 3rd, 1990.
Today, when we talk about Native Americans, we include Alaskan Natives and Hawaiian Natives with the first peoples who lived in the territory of the United States since before the time of colonization. During Native American Heritage Month, we honor the history, culture and traditions of the continent’s first inhabitants.
There are 9.7 million Native Americans belonging to 562 federally recognized nations or tribes that live in the US, each with a unique history. This is 2.9 % of the whole population and their numbers are rising. When the federal government recognizes Native Americans, it establishes a government to government relationship, allowing Native American groups to receive government services. When Native Americans recognize themselves as independent nations, legal issues will arise within US borders. For example, they have to formally request help from United States of America after a hurricane to rebuild their area if they lack the money.
Today we believe that Native Americans originally arrived in the Americas by crossing over the land that was frozen in certain periods between Asia and America. After European people discovered America, they made the Native Americans sign treaties. Unfortunately, there was large cultural and language divides. One divide was that the Native Americans didn’t think the land or water could be sold. Often Native American tribal leaders didn’t understand these treaties that they signed and their people were forced to leave their land.
Modern society has inherited a wealth of knowledge from Native Americans. They influenced us with their laws and governing style. They shared crops with us such as corn, beans, squash, wild rice, and various kinds of berries. They also discovered and grew medical plants. For example, they treated Parkinson’s disease with Jimsonweed, used Willow bark as a painkiller and fever reducer, and used onions and garlics to treat wounds. Native Americans used technologies that we still use today, and other technologies have been developed further. They built floating islands in swamps to have more land, invented dry irrigation for desert areas, made the first kayaks and invented sunglasses with a pinhole. They were adaptable and they had a sustainable lifestyle. For example, when they killed a bison, they used every part of it. They made shelter and clothing from the skin, they ate the meat, and they made baby bottles from animal intestines. They communicated with spoken languages, pictograph calendars or written languages.
Today, Native Americans are teachers, scientists, politicians, writers, and doctors, to name just a few professions. There are a great many Native Americans that are famous. A few include John Herrington, astronaut, Sherman Alexie, children’s author, Deb Haaland, a United States Congress Representative, Maria Tallchief a ballerina, and Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills that are movie stars. It is extremely important to preserve and honor the Native American culture including their languages, writings, music, stories, myths, the names that they gave to our rivers and their arts such as jewelry, clay, pots, woodcarving, baskets weaving. We appreciate their contributions, diversity of lifestyles and their beliefs.
Learn more about the history, culture and traditions of the continent’s first inhabitants by checking out one of the titles below.