The majority of Americans know little to nothing about Native Americans. The lived experience of the Native and Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island (also known as the United States) has long borne out that truth, and research from the Native Truth Report led by IllumiNative confirms it. In fact, the data shows that many Americans have no idea how many Native Peoples still exist today. Instead, Native Peoples are subject to widespread invisibility and erasure. During the month of November, the celebration of Native American Heritage Month, which is supposed to represent a step toward correcting that. This year, however, it has instead been undermined by the Trump Administration. At the end of October, the administration proclaimed November as “National American History and Founders Month,” which is essentially a celebration of the men who led genocide, massacres, and displacement of Native and Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. and beyond.
In the face of those challenges, Native American Heritage Month matters. In response to the proclamation of National American History and Founders Month, the NDN Collective, IllumiNative, and organizations that work to increase the visibility of Native Peoples have launched a campaign that counters the white supremacist celebration that centers the men who sought to erase Native Peoples from this country.
Their statement reads, “In an era of alarming displays of support and sympathy for white nationalism coded as patriotism, we recognize this act by the President as a direct effort to diminish both tribal sovereignty and growing social movements for justice, equity, and inclusion. This was an attempt to further erase and diminish Indigenous Peoples in our own land. While the highest levels of government have, and continue to be, both active and complicit in the attempted erasure of our people, they are not alone. Erasure is institutionalized by other sectors in society, including the K-12 public education system, pop culture, and the media.”
Native American Heritage Month is one of the few moments during the calendar year when Americans can show up in tangible ways to understand their shared history with Native People. As IllumiNative and the NDN Collective said in their statement, “Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for America to reckon with its past, to heal long-standing historical wounds, to build national self-awareness, and fully realize what it means to be a nation built on justice and equity for all people.”
By creating a new and blatantly contradictory national celebration during the month of November, the Trump administration has yet again robbed Americans of a full and accurate history. Even worse, this act of erasure is taking place during a time when Indigenous values and knowledge need to be heard more than ever as the world faces the climate crisis and ecological collapse.
But there is a solution. When it comes to history, the truth really will set us free. According to the Native Truth Report, “When key experiences in Native history are shared, people find these facts believable and express an interest in doing more to address current conditions.” This means that most Americans, despite not knowing much about Native Peoples, still have the capacity for empathy and interest in learning more. Native American Heritage Month offers the opportunity to work toward those ends by elevating a more honest and complete history of this country, and we must take advantage of it.
Rep. Deb Haaland posted this photo to her Twitter account in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
While the U.S. government continues to elevate and prioritize old white men rather than the original stewards of this country, or the people who’s backs and labor that this country is built on, let’s take it upon ourselves and embrace the responsibility to uplift the visibility of Native Peoples. The most immediate way allies can do this is to bring a land acknowledgement into their Thanksgiving dinner to share knowledge with the people at their table about what nations and tribes exist, and have always existed, in the place they live.
In addition, beyond Thanksgiving and the month of November, allies can amplify issues facing Native Peoples and support the work that Native Peoples and communities are doing to protect their self-determination and destiny. In just the last month, there have been tremendous wins for Native Peoples across North America. For instance, in October, the NDN Collective, South Dakota ACLU, and the Indigenous Environmental Network succeeded in stopping the “Riot Boosting Act” proposed by the State of South Dakota, which would violate the right to protest. After years of organizing led by Ohlone tribal members, a judge also halted development on and near sacred Shellmound sites in Berkeley, California. Last but certainly not least, at the end of October, the House of Representatives passed the Chaco Culture Heritage Protection Act, which will protect Chaco Canyon, a sacred place for Pueblo and Dine Peoples, from oil and gas development. This legislation was supported and brought to the floor of the House by Representative by U.S. Rep. Deb Halland, who is one of the first Native American women elected into Congress.
Celebrating Indigenous and Native history is imperative and non-negotiable if we want to build a nation that is rooted in justice, truth, and equity. Americans must work to weave not only our shared history, but also modern Indigenous knowledge and perspective into how we as a society build solutions for the climate crisis, how we design and implement policies that aim to address poverty and socioeconomic issues, women’s and LGBTQAI issues, and more. The fact of the matter is that this country was founded and built on the genocide and erasure of Native Peoples and there is a long road of reparations that needs to take place to heal this deep wound. Visibility and accurate history telling in media, education, and policy would be a step toward better relations with Native Peoples.
Jade Begay (Diné and Tesuque Pueblo) is the creative director at the NDN Collective and a multimedia artist focusing on Indigenous futurism. Follow her on Twitter.