Teach For America's NAI Summit 2017
Dancers at the 2017 Native Alliance Initiative Summit

How We Can All Celebrate Native Heritage Month

This November, we celebrate the rich the legacy of Native communities and explore historical and cultural distinctions.


Monday, November 13, 2017

November is Native Heritage Month. Now and each coming day is an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the rich heritage and cultural contributions of this country’s Indigenous Nations and people as we dedicate ourselves to supporting Tribal Sovereignty and self-determination for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawai’ian students, families, and communities.

Many Americans have advocated over the past 100 years for national recognition to honor the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, and the cultural and historical legacy of this country's First People and Sovereign Nations. The quest for national recognition of American Indians and Alaska Natives began in the early 20th century as a private effort. Since the late 1980s, Congressional legislation and presidential executive orders have designated November as national Native American Heritage Month.  

There are more than 560 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages in the United States, totaling more than 2 million enrolled members; there are nearly 6 million U.S. citizens who identify at least in part as American Indian or Alaska Native. There is tremendous diversity within our Indigenous nations. Although we comprise only 1 percent of the total U.S. population, our nations make up 50 percent of the languages spoken in the U.S. and a significant portion of this nation’s diversity.

This Native Heritage Month, I invite you to build your knowledge about the political and historical status and sovereignty of tribes within this federal treaty/trust relationship, spanning more than 525 years of European colonial settlement on Indigenous land. Undoubtedly, there have been many broken promises in honoring our treaties over the centuries. However, we must be diligent in understanding and upholding their original purpose, which was to provide a nation-to-nation relationship between the U.S. government and the Sovereign Tribes. 


By gaining understanding of this history, you will better understand the distinction between communities of color and American Indians, and how this impacts American Indians’ relationship with the Civil Rights movement in our country.

During the height of the powerful Civil Rights movement, tribal leaders were asked to join this broad movement. Although American Indian Nations share many points of intersectionality with our brothers and sisters from communities of color, the oppression and efforts of forced assimilation that are specific to Native communities prevented tribes from joining as full partners in the movement. As the noted American Indian author and activist Vine Deloria Jr. wrote, “From American Indian perspectives, the struggle for freedom/liberty is not simply or even mainly about achieving equal civil rights with whites or overcoming class inequalities. We see full integration as cultural genocide.”


Assimilation and loss of tribal citizenship is real and has been fought on many fronts through many political changes and challenges. The right to self-determination and sovereignty for our Tribal Nations must be protected and respected. Education is key to empowerment and to rebuilding our communities to support the next generation of American Indian leaders. “Indian education for all” is a call to action for all students attending public schools to learn more about tribal citizens from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Examples of Iglu Tokcah—transformation—can be found in the grassroots movements for self-determination being led by young leaders at Thunder Valley CDC located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota who are challenging the narrative of intergenerational poverty and broken treaties. Visit www.thundervalley.org  to learn more.

Teach For America remains focused on recruiting more Native college graduates and professionals to become leaders who are committed, during their time in the corps and beyond, to advocating for and building coalitions with other stakeholders to ensure that all Native students have the agency and opportunities to choose their path in life and to become the next generation of leaders. We continue to work to expand our partnerships with tribal organizations such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, College Fund, National Indian Education Association, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Bureau of Indian Education, and Tribal Education National Assembly to ensure our work and advocacy aligns with our national and local stakeholders and organizations.   


This month and beyond, I encourage each of you to follow and engage in the conversation and awareness building. Here are a few ways you can help celebrate Native Heritage Month.

  • Please follow us on Facebook and follow #NativeHeritageMonth on Twitter. We are engaging on those platforms with critical issues such as Indigenous Peoples Day, insensitive and racist Halloween costumes, racist sports mascots (#NotYourMascot), the truth about “the real” Thanksgiving, and #NativeLivesMatter. We are also sharing highlights from the Fourth Annual Native Alliance Summit that took place on November 3-5 in South Dakota. This year’s summit focused on protecting tribal sovereignty through education and empowerment and featured an array of educational workshops and cultural events.
  • Visit the Native Alliance Initiative’s page on TFA’s website to learn more about the Native Alliance Initiative’s recruitment efforts, our work in Native regions, our national partnerships, and how you can get more involved. We encourage you to take action by recommending a leader you know to the corps and the Native Alliance.
  • Join the Native Alliance Book Discussion on critically acclaimed Native author Sherman Alexie’s latest book, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, a heart-wrenching story of his terminally ill mother and their relationship. Visit the Native Alliance Initiative’s Facebook page for details.
  • Learn about teaching Thanksgiving in a socially responsible way.   

Together we work for “Anpetu wanji, Oyate kin le itimahel, Wakanyeja kin iyuha waunspe waste’, Etkiya iyekicihantu yuhapi na yustan okihipi kte”—that’s One Day translated to Lakota.


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