Friday, November 4, 2011

November is Native American Indian Heritage Month

November is Native American Indian Heritage Month

Many Native Americans celebrate their culture every day. This month, you can too! It is no coincidence that Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month coincide. We often think of the first Thanksgiving as being the harvest feast shared by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag people in the autumn of 1621.

But many Native Americans regularly celebrated successful growing seasons with a big feast long before European settlers moved in. It is important to honor the history, contributions, and sacrifices of the Native Americans who lived on this land long before the settlers claimed it as their own.

A Month to Honor and Remember - In 1914, Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfeet Nation from Montana, thought a day should be set aside to honor American Indians. He traveled more than 4,000 miles on horseback, dressed in traditional garb, getting endorsements from 24 governors to establish such a day. In 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association approved a day to be celebrated in May.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush proclaimed November as the first official National American Indian Heritage Month. Since then, the month has also been called Native American Heritage Month and National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

Native American or American Indian?

It is difficult to use one name for such a large and diverse group of people. Tom Arviso Jr., the publisher and editor of The Navajo Times, the largest Native American–owned weekly newspaper, has explained, "I... would rather be known as... a member of the Navajo tribe, instead of... a Native American or American Indian. This gives an authentic description of my heritage, rather than lumping me into a whole race of people."

Loriene Roy, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, agrees. "It is always better to ask the individual what they would like to be called," she says. "With over 500 federally recognized tribes, there isn't one term that everyone will agree on." Roy is a professor of library and information science at the University of Texas. She believes it's valuable to celebrate the people who inhabited this land first. "It is important to remind children of the stories and people of the past," she says, "and that those stories and people are still living today."

Ancient Wanderers

No one is quite sure where the first Americans came from. Thousands of years ago, a land bridge linked what is now Russia and Alaska. The traditional theory is that some 10,500 years ago, people from Asia migrated to the Western hemisphere by way of that connection. Over time, the people moved south and populated North and South America.

Another theory is based on fossils, which date back more than 12,000 years, that have been found in Chile. The evidence suggests that boats might have brought people from Japan, Australia, or other areas in the Pacific Ocean. Those people would have migrated north. Perhaps both theories are true.

Native Americans Today

When the first European settlers arrived, there were approximately 2 million native people living in what is now the continental United States. Today, according to the U.S. Census, there are 4.5 million people, or 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, who identify themselves as American Indians or Alaska Natives. That number is growing and is expected to reach 8.6 million by 2050. More than 560 federally recognized tribes exist in the United States. Of those, the largest are the Cherokee, the Navajo, and the Chippewa.

Today, between one-third and one-half of all U.S. Native Americans live on reservations. A reservation is an area of land managed by a tribe, but owned by the U.S. government. Native Americans may face many challenges in today's society. Issues include poor health, unemployment, and poverty, as well as a high dropout rate among high school students. As both American citizens and tribe members, Native Americans often straddle two cultures. They struggle to connect with their heritage, identity, and ancestral lands. Some are trying to revive their original languages, which are dying out.

Despite the difficulties, many Native Americans have achieved success and made important contributions to the country—in the arts, politics, sports, literature, medicine, education, the military, business, and other areas.

I will write more about some of them later - to be continued............

(Information for this article taken from Weekly Reader News)

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