This month, IDEA Public Schools is proud to celebrate the rich ancestry, culture, traditions, and contributions of American Indian and Indigenous Communities during Native American Heritage Month. This celebration is also an important opportunity to educate our community about Indigenous Tribes, raise awareness about the unique challenges Native People have faced both historically and today, and the ways in which Native American citizens have worked to overcome these challenges.
The first state American Indian Day was declared in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday. However, IDEA Public Schools proudly observes Indigenous Peoples Day as a holiday across our organization!
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variations of the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”), have been issued each year since 1994.
“We at IDEA Public Schools sit on Indigenous land, and it is incumbent upon us as educators to create open dialogue about our history and prepare our scholars to take ownership over creating a more inclusive future,” says JoAnn Gama, CEO of IDEA Public Schools. “As our organization continues its journey toward becoming an even stronger voice in the anti-racist and anti-prejudice movement, we honor the long-standing contributions and identities of Indigenous Peoples, and fight for Indigenous representation, equality, and justice.”
Our collective identity as a nation is rooted in the traditions and contributions of our native predecessors. During Native American Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of Indigenous leaders’ past and present, including:
Standing Bear, Ponca chief and Indigenous civil rights leader of the 19th century who successfully challenged the legal framework of the 14th Amendment in defense of Native People. The 1879 case of Standing Bear v. Crook asserted that Native Americans had the right to equal protection under the Constitution and that the federal government could not prevent Native Americans from leaving reservations.
More recently, Wilma Mankiller was the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She organized her community to build the Bell Waterline Project, an 18-mile water system that brought running water to tribal members. In 1998, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
And today, Sharice Davids is one of two Native women elected to Congress in 2018. As Kansas’ first U.S. Congressmember to publicly identify as LGBTQ, she advocates for “greater inclusion of tribal voices in federal policy on national infrastructure issues.”
Read more about the history and celebration of Native American Heritage Month, find resources for teachers or to celebrate at home and more at nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov. Use this great resource from the National Congress of American Indians to learn more about Tribal Communities.