November is Native American Heritage Month!
- Guest Post from Dr. Loriene Roy
Twenty years ago the first Native American Heritage Month became official. Now, November is a time to recognize the histories, challenges and injustices, achievements and accomplishments, and modern-day lives of the hundreds of American Indian nations that reside within the borders of the country we know as the United States.
In this blog entry I will identify ways to commemorate this month in your community and in your home. Along the way I will provide recommendations for reading and viewing. Check in with your school or public librarian to locate these—or similar titles.
Begin your celebration of Native American Heritage Month by discovering and participating in events that may be planned in your local community. My own town of Austin, Texas, hosts the largest one-day free powwow, attracting an audience of 50,000. (This year our powwow takes place on Saturday, November 6.) Powwows are contemporary pan-Indian, inter-tribal gatherings featuring dance, clothing and regalia, music, and often food, shopping, storytelling, art instruction, and displays of etiquette and humor.
You might want to prepare for your powwow attendance. Three of my favorite publications about powwows are children’s picture books:
- Ancona, George. Powwow. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993.
- King, Sandra. Shannon: An Ojibway Dancer. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1993.
- Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Jingle Dancer. New York: Morrow, 2000.
At this point you might have a number of basic questions. The most common question I hear is “What is the correct way to refer to American Indians?” I, myself, prefer the general use of the phrases, “American Indian” or “Native” to refer to indigenous peoples of the United States, while I use “First Nation” or “aboriginal” to refer to indigenous peoples in Canada, aboriginal to refer to indigenous peoples of Australia, and “indigenous” to refer to Native peoples in various areas of the world. When referring to a specific person, I use that person’s tribal affiliation. The best rule of thumb is to ask what is appropriate or what someone’s preference is. You can read an answer to this and other frequently asked questions in this book: Do All Indians Live in Tipis? Questions & Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian. New York: Collins, 2007.
A second good source to help the general public learn about tribal nations within the United States is “The American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States Wall Map” that is available on the U.S. Bureau of the Census website.
One of my favorite sources of information about protocol, or etiquette, in working with Native communities is the many publications of the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. The “Guidelines for Respecting Cultural Knowledge” is especially useful in that it provides advice for authors and illustrators, curriculum developers and administrators, educators, researchers, and others.
Another great activity to plan in National Native American Heritage Month is to view a film about Native peoples. Check the programming schedule for your public television program. This month, KLRU, our PBS affiliate in Austin, Texas, is rebroadcasting “We Shall Remain,” the five-episode American Experience Series that first aired in late spring 2009. “We Shall Remain” tracks the themes of leadership and resistance through key events occurring from the 1600s to the 1970s. You can view the full episodes (and their transcripts) on the “We Shall Remain” website, which hosts a teacher’s guide and other content, including ReelNative. ReelNative is a collection of videos produced by Native people today. A twenty-six page library event kit for “We Shall Remain” is located here. You can use the event kit to plan activities such as storytelling events, reading circles, workshops, art contests, discussion forums, and film festivals. One of the unique features of the library event kit is the one-page “Guidelines for Evaluating Media about Native Peoples.”
This November, another film that may air on your public television station is part of the Independent Lens series. “Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian” traces the depiction of American Indians in film from the silent film area to today.
Libraries, museums, and archives might sponsor speaker events and/or exhibits during the month. Even if your community cultural heritage centers are hosting such activities, you can participate by visiting online exhibits. The online exhibits of the National Museum of the American Indian are located here.
You can supplement these visits and viewings by reading and listening! Two national radio programs that may air live (or provide episodes in archived podcasts) are “Native America Calling: The National Electronic Talking Circle" and “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond”. Recent topics covered on these radio programs include music, national and local elections, education issues, and an ongoing book of the month and “Native in the Spotlight” features.
Contemporary issues are covered online in newspapers. If you are following the activities of a specific tribe, check to see if they have a tribal newspaper that has an electronic presence. For example, the Navajo Times. You might receive updates from these and other media sources through Facebook pages or electronic media lists.
Libraries will have many resources by and about American Indians. If you are looking for recommendations for young readers, you can start with the books that have received the American Indian Youth Literature Services Awards, given every other year since 2006 by the American Indian Library Association (AILA). Useful information on selecting culturally appropriate materials for you on American Indians is also found on the AILA website. The link to the “Selective Bibliography and Guide for "I" Is Not for Indian: The Portrayal of Native Americans in Books for Young People” is located here. AILA has also co-developed the “Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture” website with the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA). You can use content on the “Talk Story” website to plan community or family storytelling events and included are lists of recommended books.
Finally, I would like to share my personal “Ten To Watch” list of indigenous authors whose writings I follow. The list includes authors from North America (the United States and Canada), Australia, and New Zealand.
• Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene). Her collection of short stories and poetry was published as War Dances (New York: Grove Press, 2009).
• Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Anishinabe). Her latest novel is Shadow Tag (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
• Patricia Grace (Maori; New Zealand). She wrote a biography of a Maori World War II soldier and his Greek bride in Ned & Katina: A True Love Story (New York: Penguin, 2009).
• Joy Harjo’s (Muskogee Creek). She published a picture book, For a Girl Becoming (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009).
• Anita Heiss (Wiradjuri Nation, Australia). She writes chick-lit novels, the latest of which is Manhattan Dreaming (Sydney, Australia: Bantam, 2010).
• Leslie Marmon Silko’s (Pueblo of Laguna/Cherokee). Her latest book is a memoir, The Turquoise Ledge (New York: Penguin, 2010).
• Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muskogee Creek). She published a picture book, Holler Loudly (New York: Dutton, 2010).
• Larry Loyie (Creek; Canada). Larry's young adult nonfiction work is his autobiography, Goodbye Buffalo Bay (Oroville, Washington: Theytus Books, 2008).
• Luci Tapahonso (Navajo). Her collections of poetry include Blue Horses Rush In (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997).
• Tim Tingle (Choctaw). His latest picture book, Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press) is his autobiography.
Whether you are new to powwows or public events, or new to reading, listening or viewing about Native peoples, or you have been a student for some length of time, this month is the time to join with American Indians to celebrate and commemorate their cultures.
Dr. Loriene Roy, PhD, is professor in the School of Information at The University of Texas, Austin, TX, and advisory editor for The American Indian Experience. She is Anishinabe, enrolled on the White Earth Reservation, and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She was elected to serve as the 2007-2008 president of the American Library Association. Dr. Roy is the recipient of numerous awards, including two "excellences in teaching" and two "excellences in advising" from the University of Texas at Austin and of the Equality Award from the American Library Association. She is the founder and director of "If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything," a national reading club for Native American children.