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.

Get updates from NDN Collective

Recently published on NDN

Posted 4 months ago Alcatraz Canoe Journey: Honoring 50 Years of Indigenous Resistance and Persistence

Posted by 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 1 week ago The Academy Was Made for White Men: Here's How Taika Waititi Made a Difference

Posted by Jade Begay

During the 2020 Oscars on Sunday night, there were sure moments that not only broke the status quo, but allowed lights of hope to shine into a space that largely upholds institutional racism and sexism.
Posted 1 week ago Governor Noem Makes Second Attempt to Criminalize Peaceful Protest in South Dakota
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Feb 10, 2020 MEDIA CONTACT: Janna Farley, jfarley@aclu.org or 605-366-7732 Gov. Kristi Noem’s second attempt at a “riot boosting” law is an unnecessary effort to legislate peaceful protest in South Dakota. The ACLU of South Dakota opposes House Bill…
Posted 2 months ago Announcing the Inaugural Cohort of NDN Changemaker Fellows
The 20 NDN Changemakers are Indigenous leaders from throughout Turtle Island and beyond who are radically transforming Indigenous communities.
Posted 2 months ago Acknowledging the Winter Solstice is a Decolonial Act for Indigenous People

Posted by Sarah Sunshine Manning

The winter solstice is an opportunity for Indigenous people to reconnect to the natural world, sharpen our senses, and access our most powerful selves.
Posted 3 months ago Return of Nimiipuu Dugout Canoe Renews Canoe Culture Among Chief Joseph's People

Posted by Joe Whittle

Canoe culture is one of the essential elements that kept relationships between the Nimiipuu and other Indigenous peoples of the Columbia River watershed strong for thousands of years.
Posted 4 months ago NDN Collective Celebrates One Year of Building Indigenous Power

Posted by Nick Tilsen

This moment in history calls upon us to bind together. Radical change is at our fingertips, and we must keep reaching, building and fighting.
Posted 4 months ago Thunberg and Tokata Iron Eyes Join Forces and Elevate Climate Justice Conversation

Posted by Sarah Sunshine Manning

Today’s rally and march to the Mayor’s office continues the long effort of climate justice and Indigenous activists to pressure government to honor Indigenous rights and to take bold climate action.
Posted 5 months ago SD “Riot Boosting” Act Blocked in Preliminary Injunction — What this means and what's next

Posted by Sarah Sunshine Manning

This illegal law was a bump in the road in our fight to protect Mother Earth, but we are glad to hear that a federal judge agrees that we should have the right to organize and protest unencumbered. This is a step in the right direction.
Posted 5 months ago Aligning with our Power During Climate Crisis: An Indigenous Action List

Posted by PennElys Droz, Sarah Sunshine Manning

We hold the solutions to our greatest ecological challenges, and we also hold within us the power to ensure that our future is one that is just and beautiful for future generations.