Ways to observe National Native American Heritage Month

Communities across the country take part

By Alaa Elassar, CNN
Getty Images via CNN

Performers make their way around the dance circle during the Spring Planting Moon Pow Wow in Marshfield, Massachusetts, in May 2019. (Joseph Prezioso/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - November is National Native American Heritage Month. It's a time to recognize the many sacrifices, contributions and achievements of Native American people, as well as celebrate their rich and vibrant cultures.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Although the name eventually changed, it started an annual tradition upheld in communities across the United States.

For those wanting to participate, here are five ways to honor Native Americans this month -- and every month.

 

Visit a reservation or museum

 

The US holds in trust 56.2 million acres of land for various Indian tribes and individuals, according to the US Department of Indian Affairs. There are approximately 326 reservations.

These reservations are not tourist attractions. Many are the remnants of native tribes' lands, while others were created by the federal government for Native Americans who were forcibly removed from their lands. They are homes for tribes and communities; it's where many live, work and raise their families.

However, some reservations welcome visitors and have even erected museums to educate the wider public about their history and culture. For example, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina, features an engaging exhibit fit for all ages. The Cherokee community also hosts cultural events and sells items nearby.

 

Attend or host an educational event

 

The Library of Congress and National Archives are two of many national institutions hosting events about Native American history and culture this month.

Local institutions and organizations -- including libraries, schools and cultural groups -- will also host events, ranging from webinars to dance performances and even puppet shows.

If there are no events happening near you, consider hosting one. You don't have to be a Native American to appreciate and share their history and culture with your community.

A great way to start is by contacting a nearby reservation, museum, cultural group or academic and ask how you can collaborate. To ensure your event doesn't accidentally disrespect Native communities, run ideas by their community leaders first.

 

'Decolonize' your Thanksgiving dinner

 

The Thanksgiving story of pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a friendly meal will be reenacted and celebrated across the country on November 28.

But many Native Americans actually consider it a "Day of Mourning," pointing out the story overlooks how the introduction of European settlers spelled tragedy for indigenous communities.

For this reason, some Native American groups and their allies are calling on Americans to "decolonize" their Thanksgiving celebrations.

Some ways of doing this include putting away Native American decorations and tropes, introducing native dishes to the dinner table and engaging in conversations about Native American history with dinner guests.

Some native groups, including United American Indians of New England, invite people to participate in "Day of Mourning" marches.

 

Read the work of Native American authors

 

A great way to learn about Native American history and culture is to read a book by a Native American author.

Tommy Orange, Louise Erdrich, Stephen Graham Jones and Joy Harjo are among the many Native American authors celebrated for their works. Of course, not all their books are historical accounts. Many are fiction, romance and even horror.

Add some of their books to your Black Friday wish list.

You can also read up on the history of Native Americans using resources provided by the National Archives.

 

Support native-owned businesses and charities

 

Black Friday is just one day after Thanksgiving. Instead of spending all your money on Amazon, consider spending some at native-owned businesses or even donating to charities.

It's a great way to support native communities' economic well-being, as well as contribute to worthwhile social causes.

There's a long list of environmental, economic, education, health and rights groups that work to strengthen and empower native communities.

Consider making a donation this National Native American Heritage Month.

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