The NDN Covid-19 Response Project Learn more

Crystal Echo Hawk, Nick Tilsen · November 8, 2019

Native American Heritage Month: Indigenous People Will Not be Erased

For nearly three decades, the month of November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Bi-partisan support through Presidential Proclamations and law formally recognized and honored the contributions of Native and Indigenous peoples throughout the month. This year, however, the 45th President of the United States attempted to rebrand the month entirely, prioritizing an… Continued

For nearly three decades, the month of November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Bi-partisan support through Presidential Proclamations and law formally recognized and honored the contributions of Native and Indigenous peoples throughout the month. This year, however, the 45th President of the United States attempted to rebrand the month entirely, prioritizing an inaugural proclamation of November as “National American History and Founders Month.” While it is not certain why this decision was made, recent reporting on this inaugural proclamation found it to be a priority of prominent Republican donors. The White House retroactively published a proclamation about Native American History Month on November 5th, but the message was heard loud and clear throughout Indian Country:  This administration is trying to erase us.

In an era of alarming displays of support and sympathy for white nationalism coded as patriotism, we recognize that the decision to prioritize the celebration of “founders” by the President, with a purposeful exclusion of Native communities, is a direct effort to diminish both tribal sovereignty and growing social movements for justice, equity, and inclusion. This action was an attempt to further diminish Indigenous Peoples in our own land and an attempt to erase us from discussions about this country’s origins. 

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. Formally recognized holidays and proclamations like Native American Heritage Month are key to addressing this erasure, and correcting historical and institutionalized narratives that have privileged white colonial history while purposely excluding the history of those who have been most disenfranchised: Indigenous, Black, and other people of color. 

Despite this latest slight to Indian Country by the Trump Administration, Native and Indigenous movements for justice and visibility are mobilizing in unprecedented ways.

It is no surprise to Native people that a president who uses Native-specific racial slurs to talk about his political opponents, supports the expansion of pipelines through tribal lands despite opposition by tribal leaders, and hijacks celebrations of Native veterans, has disrespected us yet again. There has been a consistent pattern of disregard for the strength and well-being of Native communities, most prominently shown through proposed cuts to funding, and even elimination of Native education programs. 

To be sure, Indian Country has long-standing allies from both sides of the aisle who have worked side-by-side with tribal communities to right some wrongs perpetrated by the government. Both Republican and Democratic elected officials have introduced legislation that supports Native communities, advocated for full funding of Indian education and health services, held agencies accountable to their missions of serving Native communities, and worked with elected officials to ensure they consult with tribal leaders. Support for Tribal Nations and Native people can and should be a collective effort of all those in government, regardless of political affiliation. 

The acknowledgement and celebration of 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. This should be a priority to those in the highest levels of leadership.

An Indigenous woman raises her fist on Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the first-ever Alcatraz Canoe Journey commemorating 50 years of Indigenous resistance since the 1969 occupation of the once-prison island. (October 14, 2019) Photo by Sarah Manning.

Despite this latest slight to Indian Country by the Trump Administration, Native and Indigenous movements for justice and visibility are mobilizing in unprecedented ways. Looking back to the month of October, wherein dozens of Indigenous Peoples’ Day declarations were made on local and state levels, we recognize the growing power of Indigenous organizing for visibility and self-determination. Together, we are boldly asserting ourselves. We are reclaiming our narratives, restoring the visibility of our Nations, our histories, and our accomplishments.

IllumiNative was founded to combat the erasure of Native peoples, to change the narrative, and illuminate what it means to be Native American in today’s contemporary society. We celebrate Native peoples this month and every month by amplifying Native artists, Native issues, voices for change,  and by providing significant, sound research to build the foundation of truth for all Native peoples in this country.

Some may call the celebration of Native American Heritage Month merely a symbolic gesture. But symbols and the movements behind them matter

Similarly, the NDN Collective was founded to build the collective power of Indigenous people through movement-building, decolonization and self-determination. Asserting ourselves as the original inhabitants of this land is not just critical for our own collective wellbeing, healing and self-determination as Indigenous people, but it’s part of a much broader movement for justice and equity for all people and the planet. We recognize that as human beings upon one shared Earth, we are bound by natural laws of interdependence. Therefore, we must take every opportunity to stand up to inequality and create equitable solutions. 

Indigenous people gather outside of the U.S. Bank stadium in Minneapolis to protest the visiting Washington Football team’s racist mascot. (October 24, 2019) Photo by Sarah Manning.

As organizations, we share a commitment to fighting erasure. As Native people, we understand how critical this fight is to our future. Indigenous Peoples are an essential part of the historical and cultural fabric that makes up this nation. We remain and persevere as active participants of the present, and we will continue to be co-creators of the future. On a global scale, the perspectives and experiences of Indigenous Peoples and Nations are also essential to solving the most pressing problems facing this country and the world. Indigenous communities are leading the fight to end climate change and ensuring access to clean water and air.  It is imperative that we build a future and country that is grounded in truth, solidarity, justice and equity. A country that works for and includes all. A country where Indigenous Peoples, as the original people of this land, are valued, respected and recognized. 

Some may call the celebration of Native American Heritage Month merely a symbolic gesture. But symbols and the movements behind them matter.  Accurate representation and the movement for narrative change are catalysts for change. This is why we will continue fighting for visibility and the restoration of celebrations like this one. This month, we will continue to honor and recognize the countless displays of Native and Indigenous magnificence, and celebrate over 600 years of resilience. We will continue to build within our communities, lift up our stories, and work with allies to reshape an American narrative that truly honors the first people of this land. Together, we can create a vibrant future for this country that exemplifies the best in all of us and defeats the hate that threatens to surround us today.

NDN Collective Staff Andrew Bentley (Director of Finance), Deanna Lammers (Administrative Associate), and Alberta Eagle (Director of Operations).

For Native American Heritage Month, we invite Indian Country and our allies to join us as we remind America that Native American history is American history. To participate in our campaign, download the image at the bottom of this story (or make your own sign with the message, “Native American History is American History #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth), take a selfie holding up the message, and post your photo using the hashtag #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth.

About IllumiNative

IllumiNative is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

About NDN Collective

NDN Collective is a national organization dedicated to building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples, communities, and Nations to exercise our inherent right to self-determination. Through a holistic approach to infrastructure, funding, advocacy, movement building, and philanthropy we are fostering a world of justice and equity for all people and the planet.

Crystal Echo Hawk
Crystal Echo Hawk

Crystal Echo Hawk is an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and President and CEO of Echo Hawk Consulting. Echo Hawk Consulting advises tribal and philanthropic clients on grant making, program development, communications, strategic partnerships and policy change strategies. Areas of expertise include: Charitable giving in Indian Country, food sovereignty, nutrition, health, early childhood development, revitalization of Native languages, issues related to the protection of tribal sovereignty and Native youth. Currently, Echo Hawk Consulting is co-leading an unprecedented national initiative, Reclaiming Native Truth: A Project to Dispel America’s Myths and Misconceptions. Prior to leading Echo Hawk Consulting, Echo Hawk served as the Executive Director for the Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation from 2009-2014. She received both her Master’s Degree in Social and Political Thought and Bachelor’s Degree in European History from the University of Sussex at Falmer, England.

Nick Tilsen
Nick Tilsen

Nick Tilsen, President & CEO, is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Tilsen has over 18 years of experience building place-based innovations that have the ability to inform systems change solutions around climate resiliency, sustainable housing and equitable community development. He founded NDN Collective to scale these place-based solutions while building needed philanthropic, social impact investment, capacity and advocacy infrastructure geared towards building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples. Tilsen has received numerous fellowships and awards from Ashoka, Rockefeller Foundation, Bush Foundation and the Social Impact Award from Claremont-Lincoln University. He has an honorary doctorate degree from Sinte Gleska University.

May 2020 Edition

Stay Informed. Take Action.
Subscribe to the NDN allies newsletter

Sign up to get our newsletter. Delivered once per month.

We care about the protection of your data and would never sell your email or share it with anyone without your permission.

Recently published on NDN

Posted 7 months ago Alcatraz Canoe Journey: Honoring 50 Years of Indigenous Resistance and Persistence

Jade Begay

"If we work to reframe Alcatraz as a symbol for Indigenous sovereignty and reposition it in people’s psyche that way, it could be a very powerful thing, especially for people who are so often forgotten overlooked and marginalized like Natives in America."
Posted 2 weeks ago Biden to stop KXL pipeline if elected- VOTE! and hold him to his word
NDN Collective calls for mass mobilization with voting in response to Joe Biden's announcement that he would stop the KXL pipeline if elected.
Posted 2 weeks ago SD Tribal Nations are exercising sovereignty and protecting citizens with checkpoints-- Noem should take note
NDN Collective's statement of solidarity with SD Tribal Nations exercising sovereignty and protecting citizens with checkpoints during COVID-19.
Posted 3 weeks ago NDN COVID-19 Response Project Awards $2.5 Million to Indigenous Communities in April
NDN has made awards to 95 Tribal Nations and Indigenous-led organizations totaling over $2,500,000 in grant awards. Selected grantees represent Indigenous communities from 23 states and Mexico.
Posted 4 weeks ago "We will continue leaning in": Nick Tilsen on COVID-19 Response

Nick Tilsen

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen recaps the past month of mobilization in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Posted 4 weeks ago In Case You Missed It: Native Americans & COVID-19 Town Hall

Sarah Sunshine Manning

This town hall was part of IllumiNative's #WarriorUp campaign which works to shine a light on the impacts and needs resulting from COVID-19 in Indian Country.
Posted 1 month ago NDN Collective Announces RFI for Indigenous Contractors to Provide Support to Indigenous Communities Dealing w/ COVID-19
The RFI is designed to complement COVID-19 Response grants and loans that are offered by NDN Collective
Posted 1 month ago NDN Collective Announces Grants up to $5k for Indigenous Artists & Entrepreneurs Impacted by COVID-19 Pandemic
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The NDN Artist and Entrepreneur Fund will provide grants of up to $5,000 to ease these current hardships in this time of economic uncertainty.
Posted 1 month ago Earth Day 2020: We can no longer take baby steps. Honor the Earth as your own mother.

Andrew Catt-Iron shell

While fifty years have come and gone from the first Earth Day, we do not have another fifty years to get this right.
Posted 1 month ago NDN Changemaker Fellowship Now Open for Indigenous Applicants Throughout Turtle Island
The NDN Changemaker Fellowship is a 12-month opportunity for Indigenous leaders to articulate their vision for social change, to identify the support they will need to get there and to invest in their own development, health, healing and wellbeing.
Posted 2 months ago NDN Collective Announces $10 Million COVID-19 Response Project for Indigenous People
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: NDN COVID-19 Response Project provides grants, communication and strategic support to Indigenous people.
NDN Collective
317 Main St #1
Rapid City, SD 57701
P: +1 (605) 791-3999
E: info@ndncollective.org
© 2020 NDN Collective. All rights reserved.