10 Ways to Celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Explore the histories, arts, and cultures of Indigenous communities across the Americas

By Google Arts & Culture

by Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo/Isante Dakota), Writer and Cultural Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

November is when the United States celebrates the cultures, accomplishments, and contributions the original peoples of this land and the attributes that make them unique within the fabric of a diverse American society.

How the Heritage Month began:

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage (AIAN) Month has evolved from its inception, as a week-long celebration in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the week of November 23-30, 1986 as, ”American Indian Week.” Since 1995, every subsequent United States President has issued annual proclamations designating the month of November as the time to celebrate the cultures, accomplishments, and contributions of American Indian and Alaska Natives.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990, “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, such as “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month” and the present “Native American Heritage Month” have been issued each year since 1994.

Here's how to celebrate!

Native American Heritage Month allows us to spread awareness and to educate people about the diversity of Native Americans in the past and present. This year Google Arts and Culture in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), would like to feature 10 ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

Corporal Henry Bahe Jr. and Private First Class George H. Kirk, Bougainville, December 1943 (1943)Original Source: National Archives and Records Administration

1. Honor Native Code Talkers

During World War I and World War II, hundreds of Indigenous peoples joined the United States armed forces and used words from their traditional tribal languages as weapons.

their bravery and contributions

Mesa Verde by Kacey HadickCyArk

2. Take a trip to Mesa Verde National Park

There are over four thousand archaeological sites at Mesa Verde National Park that together tell the story of more than 700 years of Native American history. 

Even though Mesa Verde's structures are centuries old, the park is still an important place for communities today. Many of the sovereign Pueblo nations in New Mexico and Colorado can trace their ancestry back here.  

Indian Power (1972) by Fritz ScholderDenver Art Museum

3. Dive into contemporary Indigenous art

Artists have ways of shedding light onto histories and truths in ways that leave lasting impressions. From forced relocation to the generational traumas of residential schools to internal strength and self-awareness, Indigenous contemporary artists add to our understanding of such histories, truths, and lived experiences.

Kiviuq (c.2000) by Pierre Aupilardjuk and Leo NapayokGardiner Museum

4. Learn about the stories behind contemporary Inuit ceramic

Masterfully hand-modeled, the ceramics created by the artist of Rankin Inlet (Kangirliniq, Nunavut) offer a glimpse into their rich cultural legacy. Inuit narratives, identity, and ethos; admiration for the land and the creatures that roam it; reverence for past traditions, and devotion to their communities lie at the heart of these artists’ inspiration.

Las mujeres Totonacas en la preservación del patrimonio by Alejandra CerdeñoCentro de las Artes Indígenas y Mujeres de Humo

5. Tavel to Mexico to learn about Totonac Spiritual Cuisine

Meet the Mujeres de Humo (Women of Smoke), masters of the House of Traditional Totonac Cuisine and represent over 200 traditional cooks of Totonacapan in Vera Cruz.

Totonac Spiritual Cuisine

Mulheres da Aldeia Pukany na roça (2019) by Cleber Oliveira de AraújoMemorial dos Povos Indígenas

6. Meet the women from the Kayapó tribe

Kayapó women are known in Brazil as Warrior Women, fighting for justice for their land and people. Explore more of the life, work, and intricate artisan work by the women of the Kayapó people.

Cherokee Phoenix DeskGeorgia Public Broadcasting

7. Discover the history of the Cherokee Phoenix

Learn about the print shop at New Echota, which was the home of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by Indigenous peoples in the United States, and the first newspaper to be printed in the Cherokee language.

Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan) and Nanticoke leaders (1922) by Frank G. SpeckSmithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

8. Celebrate Indigenous women

Honor the contributions of women in building and sustaining America through a selection of objects and images from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian collections.

Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Child Welfare Program (picture by SeattleTimes)Honoring Nations

9. Honor successes in self-governance

Throughout the 21st century, Indian Country has been a part of a renaissance of governmental successes. From health care and community development, to justice and education, nations are (re)building their communities. 

Bison on the National Bison Range (2003-10-10) by Ryan HagertyOriginal Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library

10. Explore enduring symbols of Indigenous values

For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples hunted bison and relied heavily upon them for their survival. Every part of the bison was used for some purpose; nothing ever went to waste. 

Today, the bison remains as a symbol of resourcefulness, survival, and a deep connection to nature. 

Credits: Story

Authored by Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo/Isante Dakota) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Special thanks to Bethany Bentley and Danielle Lote at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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