Native American Heritage Month encourages pride

President Obama has declared November to be Native American Heritage Month, and the American Indian Education and Cultural Center decided to host a few events to celebrate. While this month is not only a celebration of who we are as Native people and where we are going, it is also a moment to remember, or bring about awareness of the history that Native people throughout the Americas have endured. While Native American Heritage Month means different things throughout schools and colleges, the general idea behind this month goes beyond awareness for others, but it allows for Native students to feel visible but not necessarily in the spotlight. 

Throughout the country, Native people celebrated this month in different ways. Across college campuses, Native students hosted different speakers and artists highlighting the diversity in native issues and media; implemented workshops whether that was learning how to bead or do quillwork; engaged with each other in discussions, round dances, or powwows; to showcasing, nationwide, and pride by wearing a pair of moccasins. This month has been highlighted in different ways: as a celebration of where we come from, who we are, and where we are going. There is something meaningful and deep in these uniting moments where I would see people from all over the country sharing their stories about their moccasins. My hope is that the same feeling ripples into our own campus as we continue to celebrate this month.

I also found myself feeling pride in the departments and people on this campus, who were more than willing to collaborate to bring about awareness of Native American Heritage Month whether that was the staff at Briggs Library, The Collegian, or The Union. This sort of commitment is one to be celebrated by our university and I believe will continue to reflect a promise towards collaboration.

Likewise, I found pride in our students on campus. There is the joy of educating others through a variety of programs and workshops, but listening to students speak and share ideas that are meaningful to them has been my highlight thus far this month. Allowing for students to explore and hear their voices was inspiring while I watched their thought process as they engaged each other with new ideas on films – like the Dakota 38 – and the discussion of Native men’s roles in Higher Education. For me, the greater part of Native American Heritage Month is allowing for these opportunities for students to ask questions and engage with each other in a safe space.

For me, I think about who I am as a Lakota woman. There was something that I found to be somewhat simple, but meaningful in my work with this month, when we posted Lakota/Dakota words at the AIECC. More than just words, the Lakota terms are considered values. Looking at terms like compassion, respect, courage, wisdom, and generosity, I hoped that it would remind each of us about our own values and what it means for not just recognizing it in others but asking the question, how am I compassionate? How do I respect others? When do I need to be more courageous? How am I generous? We need to allow ourselves to engage with those terms in a way that just reminds us in moments how to be. What they mean to me include reminding me of who I am, who I am accountable too, and how I am taking care of myself. Throughout this process, I think it brings about self-awareness that then truly allows us to engage with each other in dialogue whether that is about Native people, gender, sexuality, religion, or other similar topics. 

I am personally excited to see how things continue to unfold in the years to come with Native American Heritage Month, not only in K-12 schools and college campuses, but where we can see the same unity and pride across the Nation.

Kellyn James is a graduate student in the Counseling and Human Development master’s program. She can be reached at [email protected].