Native American Heritage Month: A celebration of cultures hiding in the shadows of Thanksgiving

President George H. W. Bush approved a resolution designating the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month on Aug. 3, 1990. A few years later, more proclamations under the names Native American Heritage Month and National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month would be added.

“The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of native people.” The National Congress of American Indians website reads. “Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”

I never knew November was Native American Heritage Month until a friend started tweeting about Native Americans in North America. These tweets have included information like suicide rates among Native Americans and the historically accurate, but horrifying facts of Native Americans and their history in the United States and Canada. For example, residential schools, schools made to eradicate Native cultures and languages within Native American children under the guise of assimilation into “civilized society,” were not officially closed until the 1990s.

Native American Heritage Month seems to have been swept under the rug, just like the United States did with these horrific residential and boarding schools, and other action taken against natives. Has anyone ever truly looked at these events in history? We do hear of these things but we do not usually comprehend just how destructive they have been. They are a footnote to our full history, the centuries of decimation reduced to a few sentences.

I am not here to say we are awful human beings for not giving Native American Heritage Month and the people it honors deserve more recognition. We need to generate awareness about Native American history, educate those who do not know a lot of the history and prompt discussion on Native American culture and heritage in today’s society — especially since this heritage celebration shares a month with the controversial holiday of Thanksgiving.

Beyond horrifying things of our country’s past is the interesting and complex history and cultures of Native Americans. It should be celebrated, and we, as a collective, should listen to Native American voices.

Letting native voices be heard is essential, especially with the 2018 midterm elections in mind. As we should know, Native Americans were not considered legal citizens until 1924, a few years after white women were legally allowed to vote. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 ensured all Native Americans born within the United States citizenship, but some native peoples were still not allowed to vote until 1957, as states had legally barred them from doing so. But even today, Native Americans are still fighting for their right to vote.

With the past midterm elections on Nov. 6, there was a surge of people making sure they are registered to vote and are voting, whether early or on election day. For Native Americans, registering to vote comes with obstacles. In North Dakota, for instance, the week of Oct. 13, NPR reported “the Supreme Court declined to overturn North Dakota’s controversial voter ID law, which requires residents to show identification with a current street address.” Voting laws in North Dakota require a voter to present identification that displays a street address, as P.O. boxes are not accepted.

This severely affects Native Americans in particular. Any Native American who lives on a reservation may not be eligible to vote, as many reservations do not have street addresses, and instead, make use of P.O. boxes.

The mere idea that even in 2018, Native Americans are still being suppressed in voting is ridiculous. But at the same time, it is not that surprising either. Our country is apparently known to suppress and purge voters even today. Look to the New York Times examination of the Georgia midterm election, where it is said Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp attempted to purge and prevent voters, primarily African-Americans, from voting in the midterms to get ahead of his Democratic opponent and governor candidate, Stacey Abrams.

All of this voter suppression happened this year, and more than likely years before. It is sickening to know that this is what our country is like, but at the same time I am glad that we know now. Now, hopefully, we can break this cycle of suppression and injustice.

Take time this month, or any month of the year to learn something new about Native Americans and their history and culture in the United States.