National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in praise of the white man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens. Native people from throughout the Americas came to Plymouth, where they mourned their forebears who had been sold into slavery, burned alive, massacred, cheated, and mistreated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.This year, Native American Heritage Day falls on Nov. 29, which happens to be the 149th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado when several hundred Arapaho and Cheyenne men, women and children were murdered and mutilated by the Third Colorado Volunteers commanded by Colonel. J.M. Chivington, a Methodist minister. (Winter Rabbit has a post on Sand Creek here.)
Efforts to set aside a day to honor "First Americans" dates back more than a century. Arthur C. Parker (Seneca), who co-founded the Society of American Indians in 1911, urged the Boy Scouts to establish such commemoration, which the organization did from 1912 to 1915. In 1914, Red Fox Skiukusha, an Indian activist of unknown lineage who had ridden 4,000 miles on horseback, asked President Wilson to declare an Indian Day. In 1915, the president of the Congress of the American Indian Association, Sherman Coolidge (Arapaho), issued a proclamation declaring the second Saturday of each May as “American Indian Day.”
The first official American Indian Day designation came in 1916 when the governor of New York also set the second Saturday of May for a statewide observance. In 1919, Illinois set the fourth Saturday in September as the commemorative day, and a few other states did so as well. Since 1990 in South Dakota, Native Americans' Day, and since 1992 in California, Indigenous People's Day, have been statewide holidays in the second week of October, a counter-balance to Columbus Day commemorations. Numerous other states have adopted their own American Indian or Native American days on various dates in different months since then.
In 1991, Congress passed a resolution and President George H.W. Bush issued an executive order declaring each November American Indian Heritage Month. In 2009, Congress passed a resolution changing that designation to Native American Heritage Month and President Barack Obama signed on. That same year, spurred by the urging of Archie Buttram (Cherokee) and Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and the late Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Congress passed and Obama signed legislation designating the day after Thanksgiving as national Native American Heritage Day.
In his proclamation of both day and month this year, the president said:
From Alaskan mountain peaks to the Argentinian pampas to the rocky shores of Newfoundland, Native Americans were the first to carve out cities, domesticate crops, and establish great civilizations. When the Framers gathered to write the United States Constitution, they drew inspiration from the Iroquois Confederacy, and in the centuries since, American Indians and Alaska Natives from hundreds of tribes have shaped our national life. During Native American Heritage Month, we honor their vibrant cultures and strengthen the government-to-government relationship between the United States and each tribal nation.President Obama has taken important, positive steps to change U.S. policy regarding American Indians, not the least of which has been speeding financial settlements of long-standing government disputes with the tribes, some dating back decades. He has also done something all too rare in our history, actually listening open-mindedly to Indian concerns.
As we observe this month, we must not ignore the painful history Native Americans have endured—a history of violence, marginalization, broken promises, and upended justice. There was a time when native languages and religions were banned as part of a forced assimilation policy that attacked the political, social, and cultural identities of Native Americans in the United States. Through generations of struggle, American Indians and Alaska Natives held fast to their traditions, and eventually the United States Government repudiated its destructive policies and began to turn the page on a troubled past. [...]
Please read below the frybread thingey for more on this subject.
Sadly, the National Day of Mourning, Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day don't garner many headlines, and even when they do, the coverage is superficial.
Red Road Woman, also known as Ruth Hopkins (an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe on the Lake Traverse Reservation of South Dakota) writes at Last Real Indians that so very much of mainstream coverage focuses on what is wrong in Indian country instead of the good. And then there is the continuing stereotyping and worse:
You know, in the United States of America, November is officially designated “Native American Heritage Month”- but with all the exploitation and denigration of American Indian culture and identity that’s been perpetrated by mainstream society lately, perhaps they should cut the bull and go ahead and call it “Native Appropriation Month.” The past several weeks have been absolutely replete with full on character assaults against real Indigenous people. Contrary to what pop culture would have you believe, we are very much alive, and our existence is much richer and more vibrant than any of their fabricated portrayals of us.Native American Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Day could benefit greatly by following the advice offered by Susan Rohwer in her Los Angeles Times Op-Ed this week, How to talk to your children about Thanksgiving's ugly history. Thanksgiving is just a jumping-off place:
There have been so many incidences of Native appropriation over the past 30 days (literally thousands) that it’s impossible to discuss them all, so I’m opting to highlight a few here [...]
3.) Pub crawls and Thanksgiving bashes across the U.S. promoted turkey day events where people are encouraged to dress up like pilgrims and Indians by posting advertisements with pictures of scantily clad white women dressed as pochahotties, once again hypersexualizing and objectifying Native women. Furthermore, any half-wit should understand why Natives have no desire to be associated with drunkenness. The stereotype of the drunken Indian is one of the worst, by far.
Recently, I went to my local library for books about Thanksgiving to read to my daughter. I was disappointed with how simplistic and watered-down the images of Native Americans were, even for children’s books. For example, nowhere were the Wampanoag named; instead, they were called simply “Indian” or “Native American.” And these stories ignore the tensions that existed between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, focusing only on a single Thanksgiving meal, as if that moment was representative of the broader complex history. [...]Changing the next generation's perspective could do a great deal to squelch stereotypes and end the invisibility of modern American Indians. But that requires the will to do so. Designating a special month and a special day and then generally ignoring them doesn't demonstrate any such will.
Fortunately, there are resources that could be helpful in countering this unsavory American tradition of ignoring Native American cultures and history during Thanksgiving. The Indian Country Today Media Network has some helpful pieces on how to talk to children about Thanksgiving. One includes a list adapted from “Teaching Young Children About Native Americans,” by Dr. Debbie Reese, a Pueblo Nambé educator and author of the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Reese suggests that we shift the focus from reenacting the first Thanksgiving and, rather than preserving the idea that Native Americans are only from the past, balance these discussions by talking about contemporary Native Americans.