Throughout the month of November, we will be celebrating and honoring our Native American siblings, the beauty and vibrance of their cultures, and their inherent dignity. We also acknowledge and seek to challenge the inaccurate and incomplete history of Native Americans that is embedded in our education system and culture. The reality is that there is a deeply painful and violent history of attempted genocide, forced removal and assimilation, as well as ongoing racism, cultural appropriation and colonialism today.
As ambassadors of racial reconciliation, we are called to:
- Listen to marginalized voices and their lived experiences
- Learn the real history by educating ourselves
- Lament the pain and violence of injustice
- Leverage our knowledge and resources to move toward meaningful action
We invite you to join us–this month and every month–as we amplify the Native voices in our community, dig deeper and lean into the hard truths of U.S. history, and celebrate the Native American community.
We’ve compiled a variety of resources as you continue the work of bridge-building. Be sure to follow us on social media as we spend the next few weeks sharing ways to honor and celebrate the Native American community!
Native American Heritage Month first began as a week-long celebration in 1986 when President Reagan proclaimed the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.” Since 1995, every president has issued annual proclamations designating November as the time to celebrate the culture, accomplishments, and contributions of people who were the first inhabitants of the United States.
When talking about Native groups or people, it is always best to be as specific as possible and use the terminology the citizens of the community use to describe themselves.
Indigenous refers to those peoples with pre-existing sovereignty who were living together as a community prior to contact with settler populations, most often–though not exclusively–Europeans.
Indigenous Peoples refers to a group of Indigenous peoples with a shared national identity, such as “Navajo” or “Sami,” and is the equivalent of saying “the American people.”
Native American and American Indian refer to peoples living within what is now the United States prior to European contact. American Indian has a specific legal context because the branch of law, Federal Indian Law, uses this terminology. American Indian is also used by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget through the U.S. Census Bureau. We only use the term “Indian” in this section due to government titles. At Be the Bridge, we use the term Native American or Native. The descriptor “Indian” is not to be used to describe our Native relatives nor should it be used outside of the Native community.
European Contact vs. “Discovery” – The issue with the word “discovery” is that, obviously, Indigenous Peoples have populated the Western Hemisphere for tens of thousands of years (National Museum of the American Indian). Words matter, and using the term “contact” when referring to the European arrival on Native lands reframes the history in a more accurate light.
Federal recognition is the legal acknowledgement of the sovereign and separate political status of Nations by the U.S. Federal government. There are 574 federally recognized Nations in the United States. Approximately 229 of these ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse Nations are located in Alaska; the other federally recognized Nations are located in 35 other states. There are also state recognized Nations located throughout the United States (NCAI). It is also important to note there are many other Native American Nations pursuing federal recognition.
Tribal Sovereignty is the ability of tribal groups to assert independent nationhood with the right to govern, protect and enhance the health, safety and welfare of tribal citizens within tribal territory (NCAI).
A treaty is a contract between tribal governments and the U.S. federal government. Before treaties come into effect, they must be ratified by the Senate. 370 treaties were ratified by the U.S. Senate from 1776 to 1871, and 45 were negotiated but never ratified. In 1871, the United States ceased treaty-making with tribal groups (History.com).