November is National Native American Heritage Month. It is a time to explore the history, heritage, traditions, and diverse cultures of indigenous peoples.
The first formal American Indian Day was celebrated in New York in May 1916. The journey to this initial celebration began with Indian rights advocate Red Fox James. In 1914, Red Fox began a 4,000-mile trek on horseback to Washington, D.C., to petition the president for an “Indian Day.” The next year, he traveled state to state seeking approval from 24 governors to have a day to honor Native Americans.
That day of recognition became a month in 1990 when President George H. W. Bush signed a resolution designating November “National American Indian Heritage Month.”
Native Americans represent people who lived and flourished in North America for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. They lived off the land and maintained strong family and cultural traditions within their respective tribes. Today, tribal elders strive to pass down a rich cultural heritage from generation to generation.
More than 3 million people in the U.S. are Native people. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 574 federally recognized Indian tribes in 2020. The largest are Navajo, Cherokee, and Sioux. Each tribe has its own unique culture, languages, spiritual, and health practices.
Wisconsin is home to 11 federally recognized tribes. Each tribe maintains a government-to-government relationship with the state. The federally recognized tribes include Bad River Band, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band, Lac du Flambeau Band, Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation, Forest County Potawatomi, Red Cliff Band, St. Croix Chippewa, Sokaogon Chippewa, and Stockbridge-Munsee.
The difference between Cultural Appreciation and Cultural Appropriation and why it matters.
When talking about the importance of preserving and understanding the cultures of Native American Tribes, it is relevant to talk about the difference between Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation.
Culture Appreciation is taking interest in learning and understanding about another culture to connect and exchange perspectives with others cross-culturally. It also means to show and share with others the importance and appreciation of their rituals or events by participating or observing respectfully.
Culture Appropriation is taking one or many aspects of a culture that is not your own and using it for your interest. Taking, using, or sharing elements of another culture without understanding what they mean is harmful and offensive to that culture, its people, and everyone.
How can you avoid cultural appropriation?
- Explore your own culture. Is there something central to your identity or sacred in your culture that would offend you if people used it without knowing what it means? Consider that people from other cultures may feel the same way.
- Learn about other cultures. Listen to their stories, understand the history of their culture, and the importance of symbols, rituals, and traditions.
- Be mindful. Before using elements from another culture, ask about or research the meaning and the background. Consider if it is appropriate and if it fits into the context of your actions.
- Share and exchange cultures. Mutual appreciation and learning about traditions will help us understand other cultures. When we share our language, food, customs, and traditions, we take part in cultural exchange and appreciation.