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Native American Studies Research Guide: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month


Native American Heritage Month.  A web portal provided by the Library of Congress.

National American Indian Heritage Month.  A web portal provided by the National Park Service which includes many web links

Poster Art

Native American Heritage Month poster by the U.S. Department of Agriculture focuses on preserving the water.

Shirley M. Brauker/Natural Resources Conservation Service

Native American Heritage Month poster by the U.S. Department of Agriculture focuses on preserving the water.

In Anishinabown, the word “Michigan” means “Land of Great Water,” and this month the Natural Resources Conservation Service has intertwined water in its celebration of Native American History Month.

The agency—the U.S. Department of Agriculture arm that assists in natural resource preservation on private and tribal lands—commissioned a poster based on a painting by Shirley M. Brauker of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, Michigan, by way of recognizing “that clean water is crucial for sustaining life.”

The month’s theme is “Land of Great Water—Sustainer of Life,” and the acrylic-on-canvas painting The Rice Gatherers “depicts three Native American women harvesting wild rice with beaters in a birch bark canoe, while the rice spirit (whose hair is wild rice) looks on from the surface of the water,” the conservation service’s Alabama arm said on its website. “It shows the importance of Manoomin, or wild rice, in the culture and diet of the Anishinaabe (or Ojibwe.)”

“It is widely acknowledged that colonists would not have survived in the New World without the support and knowledge gained from American Indian agricultural techniques,” the conservation service said. “American Indians practiced crop rotation, minimum tillage, hybridizations, seed development, irrigation methods and many other agricultural techniques that are still used today.”

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month: Recommended Reading

How to celebrate Native American Heritage Month? One of the best ways is simply by reading. There are so many books out there about American Indians, but figuring out which ones can best inform us about Native American history and heritage is no small task. Many books about Indians are academic, written by college professors looking to get their doctorates, and appropriately dry as a result. Moreover they tend to focus on how Indians have fared under U.S. stewardship over the centuries rather than explore the rich heritage that existed on Turtle Island before the first settlers, and smallpox, arrived. Still more books have been published about various aspects of life since this country was created. But most Native history lies outside that narrow band of existence. The books listed here serve as a broad overview for Natives and non-Natives alike, giving a bit of ancient history, post-colonial history and a snapshot of modern-day life.

For a good overview of how all the nations, both in North America and South America, used to live, contrasted with how they fared after contact, one can start with Charles C. Mann’s twin volumes, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Knopf, 2005) and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Knopf, 2011). American Indians, of course, do not need to be reminded of the rich heritage that greeted Christopher Columbus and his ilk when they first touched these shores. Likewise, the cultural devastation that followed isn’t news. But the two books serve to give the many nations that inhabit Turtle Island an overview of all the cultures that coexisted here, and their history, while providing new perspective for a wider audience as well, enabling understanding beyond Indian country.

“You wouldn’t think there was another revelatory, perspective-shifting book to be gotten out of the arrival of Columbus in the New World, but 1493 is just that,” Time magazine said in naming it the best nonfiction book of 2011. “With immense energy and curiosity, Mann chronicles what amounts to the birth of a truly global ecosphere struggling to find a new equilibrium. It was a bloody birth. These forces were hugely powerful historical actors, and every trade turned out to be a trade-off too.”

For a more detailed look at events shaping pre-contact Turtle Island, This Day in North American Indian History: Important Dates in the History of North America’s Native Peoples for Every Calendar Day (Da Capo Press, 2002) (on order) by Phil Konstantin also provides an overview, detailing more than 5,000 events important to North America’s Native peoples from 715 a.d. to the present.

Then there is the retooling, the books that remind us not of what was lost but of what survived, often in surprising ways. Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (Rethinking Schools Ltd., 1998) by Bill Bigelow turns notions of life at Columbus’s arrival on their head. Bonus: It is also among the books banned in Arizona schools earlier this year after the Tucson Unified School District School Board voted to eliminate so-called ethnic education.

As overlooked and forgotten as the sophisticated history of American Indians often is, so too are the contributions that Indigenous Peoples made to the formation of what is today the United States, and beyond. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (Crown Publishers, 1988) by Jack Weatherford, is a key volume reminding us of all the things we take for granted that are actually Native inventions. Along political lines, Forgotten Founders: Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois, and the rationale for the American Revolution by Bruce Johansen (Harvard Common Press, 1982) details the Great Law of Peace and the role it played in forming the U.S. Constitution.

Putting the finishing touches on Heritage 101 are books dispelling the stereotypes that surprisingly persist to this day. One such title is Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, by Anton Treuer (Borealis Books, 2012), a Q&A-style book that sets the record straight. Another myth buster is Do All Indians Live in Tipis? Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian (Harper Perennials, 2007), another straightforward Q&A.

The perfect juxtaposition of old and new can be found in modern-day accounts of how Indians are living in two worlds. A prime example is the standout memoir by David Treuer, Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012) which speaks to what many modern-day Indians, Ojibwe like him or not, go through. (Read an excerpt here and a profile of the author here.) Taken together, these books form the perfect primer, putting readers on the road to understanding what Native American heritage is all about.

Courtesy of Indian Country Media Network

Poster Art 2

National Native American Heritage Month Poster, 2004

U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey Poster

The 2004 Native American Heritage Month Poster portrays an image of a male Native American dancer titled "Lakota Dancer" by Regina One Star (Rosebud (Sicangu) Lakota).

"Humankind has not woven the web of life. But we are one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, all things connect" -- Seattle, Squamish Chief

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