The controversy around Columbus Day has come to light in the past few years, and people are starting to question why we celebrate it at all. Originally, the holiday was meant to recognize the achievements of Christopher Columbus in his “discovery” of the Americas. Columbus intended to discover a new trade route to the eastern countries but inadvertently found the Caribbean, and after later expeditions, South America. Let’s elaborate on why this might be controversial.
While not the first to come upon it, Columbus was credited with the discovery of western land, and with that, the indigenous peoples of that land. His treatment in first contact with indigenous peoples was less than honorable. Some of Columbus’ own journals unveil how he saw these people as little more than animals and he documented how Europeans could easily convert them into a workforce, among other roles. He treated the indigenous people with deceit, abuse, and most of all, a lack of basic human courtesy. More recently, scholars have been more forthcoming about the realities of Columbus’ relationship with indigenous people, prompting people to ask, “Why are we celebrating this person?”
In many cases, the answer is unclear. However, it has given rise to alternative celebrations in respect to the western cultures that were deeply impacted by Columbus. This includes Native Americans Day, Indigenous Peoples Day and Día De La Raza, all celebrated the second Monday in October as an alternative to Columbus Day. Notably enough, the states or countries that have enacted these alternate holidays are those with sizeable indigenous populations that continue to face social injustices today.
Columbus Day reminds us that there are two sides to every story, and that without understanding how something affects all parties involved, recognition can be easily misgiven. The transition away from Columbus Day comes from an understanding that while he is credited with ‘discovering’ the Americas, he was not the first to discover or inhabit these lands, nor should he be celebrated for the inhumane actions he took following his ‘discovery.’
Accepting that Columbus performed horrible actions toward others and not the history taught in school has led to a shift in how we ‘celebrate’ this day by instead recognizing the survivors of his actions. Hopefully, the transition away from Columbus Day can bring more cultures together as we shouldn’t be afraid to recognize mistakes and learn from our past. By recognizing those mistakes, we can work toward fostering a more caring and inclusive future.
As we step into fall and get closer to election season, we’re seeing more focus on Native American issues in news headlines across the country. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite Native American headlines from the month of September for your enjoyment. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.
Inside a New Effort to Change What Schools Teach About Native American History via Smithsonian.com
- “Students who learn anything about Native Americans are often only offered the barest minimum: re-enacting the first Thanksgiving, building a California Spanish mission out of sugar cubes or memorizing a flashcard about the Trail of Tears just ahead of the AP U.S. History Test. Most students across the United States don’t get comprehensive, thoughtful or even accurate education in Native American history and culture. A 2015 study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that 87 percent of content taught about Native Americans includes only pre-1900 context. And 27 states did not name an individual Native American in their history standards.”
Groundbreaking set for National Native American Veterans Memorial via American Legion
- “The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host a day of events on Sept. 21 in conjunction with groundbreaking of the National Native American Veterans Memorial. The events include a webcast interview with Harvey Pratt, whose design concept for the new memorial was selected last year. Pratt is a Cheyenne and Arapaho artist based in Guthrie, Okla., and a member of Cheyenne and Arapaho American Legion Post 401 in Clinton, Okla. The memorial, located on the National Mall in Washington, will consist of an elevated, stainless steel circle balanced on an intricately carved stone drum. The design incorporates water for sacred ceremonies, benches for gathering and reflection, and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders, and others can tie cloths for prayers and healing.
Climate change report: Native Americans face unique challenges via Tulsa World
- “While climate change poses common risks across the United States, some scientists say Native American tribes in the southern Great Plains face unique challenges. Higher temperatures, extreme weather events and water resource constraints could severely affect the ability of Native Americans in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas to obtain food, water and shelter, as well as hamper their ability to preserve ancient cultural activities, according to the National Climate Assessment. In the southern Great Plains by the end of the century, temperatures are projected to increase between 3.6 and 5.1 degrees, and if greenhouse emissions are not cut, the region might endure up to 60 more days above 100 degrees than it does now, according to the report.”
- “Native American issues are in sharper focus in the 2020 presidential election cycle, particularly as Democratic contenders put more emphasis on policy proposals. The Native American electorate could end up being pivotal in seven major swing states: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Wisconsin, according to data from Four Directions. ‘We can make a difference,’ said Renee Lenore Fasthorse Iron Hawk, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. ‘There are swing states that will make a difference. We can and have mobilized our vote when it matters.’”
Feathers are a prominent symbol of the culture and history of Native Americans. Some of the most noteworthy achievements in the life of a Sioux citizen are those in which his family honors him for the things he has done. In the Sioux tribes and many other tribes across the country, Native Americans honor the achievements of their community, family and friends by awarding an eagle feather.
Eagle feathers today mark every modern-day milestone from military service to graduation, sobriety, life events or career achievement, and the award of an eagle feather is of great significance. To have enough eagle feathers to wear a headdress is a sign that the individual has performed great works in life.
However, the use of feathers originated in more serious and difficult times. They came when individuals guided communities, protected an encampment, captured resources from an enemy or necessarily took a life. They also served as symbols of celebration, such as when someone earned a name, got married or served the community. And not long ago, wearing a headdress was the equivalent of a decorated military veteran.
Traditionally, Bald Eagles or Golden Eagles were the source of these feathers and Native Americans took only what they needed. Today, there’s an additional kind of stewardship involved. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the spiritual and cultural significance of eagles to Native Americans and operates the National Eagle Repository to provide Native Americans with eagle feathers and other parts from naturally deceased eagles. Even then, a permit, proof of tribal enrollment and waiting period is required due to high demand.
Across America, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to feathers, headdresses and what they mean to the Native cultures from which they originated. For tribal members, no matter the reason, to be sporting these items as attire or costume dishonors our cultures and traditions.
Misunderstanding across cultures is common, so it’s important for Native Americans to clearly communicate the significance of feathers — one of the few traditions that still passes through our generations. Today, awarding feathers is about celebrating life and marking our accomplishments, while continuing something significant that Native peoples have done for centuries. This is important, as there was a time when celebrating our traditions was forbidden, and it took many years of activism for that restriction to be lifted.
All that can be asked of anyone is to remember the roles traditions play in Native cultures and to rethink that Halloween costume or headdress you might wear to the Redskins game. The intention behind an action does not make up for the disrespect it may carry, and the entire Native population had to fight for the right to continue the tradition of eagle feathers in honoring their people.
Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) season is upon us and PWNA is pleased to participate for the ninth consecutive year through our American Indian Education Fund (AIEF) program. The CFC employee-focused program is the largest and most successful workplace charity program in the world. The CFC online giving period is from now through Jan. 12, 2020. And while there are many reasons to pledge your support to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, we ask that you consider giving to a Native American-serving cause, such as AIEF.
AIEF supports K-12 and higher education for Native students, including students such as Jack, who remembers the challenge of getting basic school supplies, and Josie, who relied on scholarships for college tuition. The AIEF scholarship committee sensed Josie’s determination from the beginning and knew she would one day significantly impact others — and she sure has. Josie now develops teachers through her insights on fostering educational equity for all students.
If you’re in the federal workforce or the military, you have the chance to make a difference, too. Here are 10 timely reasons you should pledge your support to American Indian students:
- September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Native youth have the highest rate of teen suicide in the U.S.
- CFC’s Education Week is Sept. 30 through Oct. 4, and Teacher’s Day is Oct. 5, and both Native teachers and students need the most basic school supplies for the classrooms.
- World Obesity Day is Oct. 11 and many Native youth are impacted by obesity and diabetes due to inadequate diets and lack of access to affordable healthy foods.
- Native American Day is Oct. 14, and more states and schools are now celebrating this occasion instead of Columbus Day.
- November is American Indian Heritage Month and Native youth are the future of tribes and the solution to the many challenges they face today.
- Veteran’s Day is Nov. 11 and Native Americans serve the military at the highest rate of any population in the U.S. Not to mention, some of our AIEF scholars are also veterans.
- Native American Heritage Day is Nov. 29, commemorating nationwide the many contributions Native Americans have made to this country.
- December is Safe Toys and Gifts Month and surely there’s no greater gift than that of school supplies.
- Giving Tuesday is Dec. 3 and while Americans are largely focused on giving, less than one percent of their donations will benefit Native Americans — the most underserved population in our country.
- New Year’s Day is Jan. 1 and your resolution could be bringing resources and hope to Native students in 2020.
Be sure to catch our AIEF video under CFC charity code 54766.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognizes September as National Preparedness Month to bring attention to disaster emergency planning. This year’s theme is “Prepared, Not Scared” – which speaks directly to PWNA’s efforts to better prepare Native American communities when disaster strikes.
Fires, floods, blizzards, ice storms, hurricanes, tornados, high winds and extreme heat often impact Native American communities – even more so in recent years with the obvious climate change. Yet, despite the frequency of disaster events, tribes don’t often have the resources, staffing or infrastructure to respond accordingly.
Some tribes – especially those that are geographically isolated – often lack local first responders (e.g. fire and rescue teams, emergency medical technicians, physicians) to assist those affected by disasters. It can sometimes be days before outside relief organizations respond to these communities with critical supplies and much-needed aid.
Considering the difficult realities that affect impoverished tribal communities, every day can feel like a crisis. The historical trauma and daily struggle to survive can take its toll on communities even though Native Americans are resilient. What’s more, tribal communities are proactively implementing emergency preparedness initiatives to equip residents to respond when disaster strikes — and PWNA is helping.
In addition to serving as a first responder, PWNA launched a new capacity building program to specifically help South Dakota tribes better prepare to respond to local disasters. Through support of the American Red Cross and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, PWNA worked with several partners and disaster relief organizations to develop a curriculum, recruit expert trainers, and bring outside resources to these tribal communities. The resulting program is endorsed and supported by tribal emergency managers. As a result:
- Tribal residents are trained in first Aid, CPR, Automated External Defibrillator (AED) use, weather spotting and sheltering.
- Individual tribal members (young and old) are specifically trained as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and equipped with basic disaster response skills, including fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations
- Several CERT trainees are now sharing the training with others in neighboring tribal communities
Disaster preparedness can serve as a gateway for residents to address other community issues and these recent efforts have united and motivated tribal members to tackle other critical issues in Indian Country, such as food insecurity and mental health. For instance, the Wanblee community on the Pine Ridge Reservation worked with Camp Noah – a camp for kids impacted by disaster – to help Native youth who’d been impacted by the recent devastating flood in their community. The camp provided an avenue for coping, healing and renewed hope.
This National Preparedness Month, it’s reassuring to know we’re implementing a new emergency preparedness model in Indian Country and empowering the tribes to have responders ready and equipped with the skills and tools needed to provide critical relief at a moment’s notice.
Yesterday, Americans celebrated Labor Day – a public holiday that honors American labor and the work of individuals that supports the economic development, prosperity and well-being of our country. This holiday also reminds us to consider how Native Americans fare in the U.S. labor market.
While the current employment rate in the U.S. is more than 60 percent, job and income disparities on Native American reservations have always existed, and not much has changed in recent years. The numbers speak for themselves. The unemployment and impoverishment levels on reservations can be traced to federal policies impacting socio-economic conditions.
Unemployment exceeds 40 percent on some Native American reservations. More specifically, two thirds of the 27 counties with a majority Native American population have higher unemployment rates than the national average. Many of these counties are in North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska. And in certain communities such as on the Pine Ridge Reservation, unemployment can exceed 80 percent.
Contrary to widespread belief, casinos do not employ all Native Americans, not all are as profitable as one might expect, and not all tribes operate casinos. Housing shortages also create additional problems. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has reported a lack of funding to build enough homes for Native Americans, despite U.S. treaties and agreements with tribes. As an example, a 1,500 square-foot home that may be suitable for a family of four in mainstream America often houses several generations on a reservation.
Unemployment also goes hand in hand with impoverishment. In fact, more than 30 percent of Americans who were unemployed in 2017 lived in poverty. Unfortunately, this is all too common in Indian Country and understandably so, considering the lack of jobs and access to other opportunities for economic independence. With the remote location of many reservation communities, transportation is also critical to finding work. A known contributing factor is the lack of access to capital or credit for on-reservation citizens. “Credit deserts” as they are called have resulted in rampant predatory lending companies preying on Native citizens.
These conditions set up a daunting, vicious cycle for Native Americans… because long-standing unemployment means poverty, which often means lack of access to education for the next generation, which typically leads to lower wages and fewer career opportunities, and therefore a higher likelihood of unemployment.
As more employers invest in diverse and inclusive workplaces, we hope they will consider contributing to the economic development and progress of Native Americans to foster a new generation of American labor and build a brighter future for all Americans.
Native Americans have been making headlines this month across the country for their contributions to society through Native art and culture. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite Native American news headlines from the month of August for your enjoyment. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and stay up to date with the latest headlines all year long.
Summit equips Native youths, communities for healthy living via Rapid City Journal
- “Native American teens got a summer camp-style crash course in weaving traditional Lakota culture and timeless skills into a healthy 21st century lifestyle. The second Native Youth Food Sovereignty Summit immerses kids in lessons about nutrition, cooking, Lakota culture, health and life skills. About 40 kids, ages 13 to 17 from the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge reservations, were chosen by their community leaders to attend the invitation-only summit. The teens spent July 29-31 at Storm Mountain near Rapid City learning how to cultivate positive physical and mental health.”
Native American powwow a colorful celebration of culture via Cheyenne Edition
- “The 11th annual Colorado Springs Native American Intertribal Powwow celebrated American Indian culture and heritage through colorful [outfits], and traditional dance and song. More than 2,000 people from throughout Colorado and neighboring states attended the cultural sights and sounds celebration Saturday at the Norris-Penrose Events Center. For Diane Reynolds, the powwow was the perfect vehicle from which to learn about the nation’s native peoples.”
- “Seeing Joy Harjo perform live is a transformational experience. The internationally acclaimed performer and poet of the Muscogee (Mvskoke)/Creek nation transports you by word and by sound into a womb-like environment, echoing a traditional healing ritual. The golden notes of Harjo’s alto saxophone fill the dark corners of a drab university auditorium as the audience breathes in her music… She first expressed herself through painting before burying herself in books, art and theater as a means of survival…”
The Artistic Achievements of Native Americans Through the Ages via Hyperallergic
- “It was a big deal when the Metropolitan Museum of Art began displaying work by Indigenous artists in its American Wing in 2018. As Hyperallergic wrote at the time of the acquisition of Charles and Valerie Diker Collection’s 116 works by Indigenous artists: ‘Frequently in American museums, Indigenous art is excluded from the visual narrative of this country,’ and ‘in spaces like the Met’s American Wing, often the only images of Native American people and culture were by non-Indigenous creators.’ The acquisition and subsequent 2018 exhibition sought to correct that discrepancy in the Met, as well as locate work by Indigenous artists firmly within the context of ‘American art.’”
Last month, Native American youth from five tribes convened in the sacred He Sapa (Black Hills) for PWNA’s second Native Youth Food Sovereignty Summit. The summit afforded a shared platform where program partners, staff, and alumni who were previously trained by PWNA could mentor the students on wellness, nutrition and Native traditions, and volunteers could help chaperone.
Each of the meals provided during the summit emphasized healthy food choices inspired by traditional Native ingredients, such as using ground buffalo to reinvigorate typical entrées like chili, meatloaf and nachos. Breakfast at sunrise also consisted of healthy superfoods, including oats, berries and chia seeds.
The overnight program commenced with a group dinner and evening hike to a naturally sloped amphitheater, where several interpretations of stories told for generations were shared around the campfire. The following day, the group broke into four teams with eight presenters and tackled an aggressive itinerary, including:
- Life Celebrations: Yvonne Decory and Eileen Janis from Pine Ridge led an exercise in assessing resources and being a good neighbor and relative. Participants created their own community by identifying the resources needed to support their citizens and discussed difficult encounters they face daily and the impact of bullying. As part of this discussion, students were empowered to become change agents and support one another.
- Foraging: Daniel Butcher and Austin Red Dog from Cheyenne River led a foraging hike, where they showed students how to identify wild foods and medicines available in the homelands of the Oceti Sakowin (Lakota, Nakota and Dakota tribes of the Northern Plains). They used locally found herbs to brew different teas for participants each day and highlight their healing properties. Instructors also slow-cooked foraged burdock, plantains and mint soaked in coconut oil and beeswax to create natural lip balm that was then placed in small tins and given to each student.
- Portion Control: Emily Good Weasel (Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Community) and Maretta Champagne (Pine Ridge, PWNA emergency partner) presented on the “Science of Sugar” and provided easy, teen-friendly ways to introduce portion control into their daily lives. For example, teens learned that a cup of chokecherries is the same size as a baseball and an ounce of salad dressing is the same size as a AA battery. They also measured the amount of sugar consumed in their morning cereal and were shocked by the results. (“I had no idea my favorite cereal had so much sugar!”)
- Storytelling: Phyllis Swift Hawk and Monica Terkildsen (Pine Ridge) employed storytelling to feature the tales of tinpsila (wild turnips harvested in summer as a mainstay of Native diets) and sacred animals (sources of protein, tools and warmth). This helped the youth link these stories to both nutrition and culture.
A friendly game of “Chopped” Indigenous style capped off the day as alumni and youth paired up and faced off against one another to claim the winning prize for making something delicious and edible with not-so-appealing ingredients (e.g., canned menudo and dill pickles).
This special gathering on their ancestral homelands was free from televisions, cell phones and social media, offering instead quality time spend amongst good people who shared their ancestral knowledge with a younger generation in hopes of carrying these traditions to others in their communities. PWNA has expanded nutrition support and nutrition-focused experiences such as the youth summit with support of the Newman’s Own Foundation, founded by the late actor Paul Newman.
For generations, Native Americans have marked cycles of the moon to signify certain times of the year. In August, we welcome the Sturgeon Moon – also known as the Green Corn Moon, the Red Moon and the Grain Moon. The full Sturgeon Moon (occurring on Aug. 15 this year) marks the time for noted ease in catching fish in Great Lakes area. Ironically, this year’s Sturgeon Moon is in the sign of Pisces, which is often symbolized by two fish.
The legend of the moon varies across tribes; however, something all tribes seem to have in common is the use of a lunar calendar. Tribal winter counts were done by using the lunar calendar to record notable events throughout the year — and each moon signified something different for each tribe that named it.
One of the Lakota names for the moon is ‘Hanhepi Win’ (meaning Night Woman). And according to legend, ‘Nunda’ is the Cherokee name for both the sun and the moon. Some say the sun and moon are related as brother and sister; others say they are lovers forced to chase each other back and forth across the sky, while some still say they are simply balls thrown into the sky after a great game.
Traditional full-moon names can also signify the harvest time of various crops for indigenous people in America and around the world. August, for example, is seen as the time to harvest barley, corn, fruit, and other grains.
The significance of a moon can also vary widely depending on geography and season, which may be confusing for those who did not name the moons and may even have contributed to the introduction of standardized timekeeping, such as the Gregorian calendar. Still, much of the history for these cultures around the world is marked based on the names of the moons by which they lived.
August 14 is National Navajo Code Talkers Day. Established by President Reagan in 1982, this day recognizes the service of the Navajo Code Talkers and their vital contributions during World War II (WWII). The first 29 Navajo Code Talkers of the 382nd Platoon, USMC have passed, but today we remember them and preserve the honor they brought to themselves, their people and their country.
The original Native American Code Talkers served the US Army during World War I (WWI) and included Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi and Cherokee veterans. In the early 1940’s, WWI veteran Philip Johnston recalled the value of these code talkers and their languages and suggested the U.S. Marines use a similar communications strategy in WWII. After previewing the language, the Marines recruited the entire 382nd Platoon to develop and memorize the Navajo-coded language, which became one of many Type-One codes that translated English to construct a coded message.
Native Americans hold the distinction of the highest rate of military service of any ethnic group in the U.S., something instilled in us as warriors from our not-so-old ways. In times of war, many Native Americans were drafted, but many also volunteered, and some even lied about their age – some as young as 15 – in order to be able to serve.
By the end of WWI, more than 25 percent of the Native American male population was active in the military, and their contributions are credited for many key victories in the war. By WWII, an estimated 44,000 Native Americans served their country, and more than 400 of them were Code Talkers.
The Navajo Code Talkers contributed significantly to the WWII war effort and were a major resource in the capture of Iwo Jima island from the Japanese. However, for years, many Americans did not know about the Code Talkers’ critical contributions. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Navajo Code Talker operation was declassified.
Today, there are few Code Talkers left to thank in person, but we will always remember the security they brought us. We appreciate their service and cultures, knowing our world could have been much different if not for the sacrifices they made. To those left, we thank you. To those gone, we remain grateful and know you still watch from afar.