A new Native American National Heritage day is being celebrated in the United States on November 27, the day after most people there celebrated Thanksgiving. The new national holiday is the culmination of an annual National Native American Heritage Month in November that was passed into law in June.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 27, 2009, as Native American Heritage Day.
Leonard Peltier is an American Indian Movement activist sentenced in 1977 to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the murder of two FBI agents killed during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, following what is known as the Wounded Knee incident. In 1992 the US actor-director Robert Redford produced the documentary Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story, and his case has been largely covered on international media – with various government entities around the world calling for Peltier's release and an on-going pouring of online activism.
In a post entitled A Day To Honor Native Americans on the Huffington Post, California Democratic congressman Joe Baca (a primary sponsor of the bill establishing Native American Heritage Month) wrote:
American families gather together on the fourth Thursday of every November to celebrate Thanksgiving in remembrance of a feast hosted by the Wampanoag Native Americans for the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621. While we always remember the feast of Thanksgiving, we seldom pay homage to the Wampanoag hosts or recount what happened to them afterward.
By the time the Jamestown colony was founded in Virginia in 1607, the most accurate estimates are there were substantially more than 30 million Native Americans thriving in numerous tribes and cultures from the North American shores of Alaska to the tip of Cape Horn in South America. Unfortunately, the treatment of Native Americans over the next 300 years is one of the darkest chapters in American history.
Several celebrations and Pow-Wow gatherings took place throughout the country, following a variety of educational and artistic activities throughout the month of November. A large collection of photos and slide shows related to Native Americans events is also available on Flickr.
The Friday Native America Calling show addressed the issue: “As First Americans, what is our existing heritage? What are the things we will pass on to the next generations for them to celebrate?” – with several people calling in to share thoughts on the air. The program aires daily on 52 stations (and on the web) in United States and Canada, reaching about 500,000 listeners weekly.
The event site has historical significance, as it is near where the first Collegiate Church was raised in Fort Amsterdam. And, just across State Street The Netherlands Monument stands as a reminder of the greatest misunderstanding by the Dutch of Native Americans: Peter Minuit’s so-called “purchase” of Manhattan in 1626 for 60 guilders’ worth of dry goods. The Lenape, having no concept of private ownership of land, likely believed that Minuit was not purchasing the island but instead thanking them for the aid they had given the Dutch settlers when they first started arriving here.
Under the phrase, “Pride in our heritage, honor our ancestors”, the First Nations Urban Survival blog shares a great collection of YouTube videos by Native American people and artists, including the following “Turtle Song” performed by the Spirit of the Dawn, a Wabanaki singers/drumming group from Maine:
On Native American Netroots, “A Forum for Native American Issues”, StuartH shares one of his youth diary entries about a Navajo Nation meeting “by many medicine men, tribal college leaders, tribal government and legal experts and others concerned about the issue of spreading water from sewage treatment onto the slopes of a sacred mountain”:
…on deep reflection, I believe that if the core of indigenous experience is ever lost, all mankind will suffer from that in ways we may never grasp. I prefer to take what opportunities there might be, to honor what wisdom I might be able to comprehend. That isn't an easy process, and yes, it is full of contradictions.
What I am saying is that the differences between perspectives have in the past led to killing and huge conflict. We should contemplate, instead, the ways that we can learn to open our minds to new dimensions of understanding and gain new ground in the process. That is something to consider and give thanks over – for the future.
Hozho Nahastle (May there be Beauty).