As we embark upon the Thanksgiving Holiday season, I encourage all to reflect upon the Native American history that helped forge this Holiday in America. Long known and celebrated as a day of family, festivities, and feasting, these were all attributes that the first Americans shared with those colonists who made their homes on Tribal land. The true story of this day is marked over 400 years ago, with the first Thanksgiving feast at Plymouth as a harvest celebration signifying the sharing and brotherhood extended by Native Americans to the first English settlers of Massachusetts.
On November 23, 2018, America will celebrate Native American Heritage Day. The National Indian Gaming Association worked hard to lobby Congress and former President George H. W. Bush to officially honor Native Americans' political, economic, and cultural contributions to the development of the United States of America. On October 31, 2018, the President proclaimed November 2018 as "National Native American Heritage Month" and called upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities to celebrate Native American Heritage Month
In his proclamation, President Trump said, “During National Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate the legacy of the first people to call this land home. America’s Native Americans have fortified our country with their traditions and values, making tremendous contributions to every aspect of our national life. We remain committed to preserving and protecting Native American cultures, languages, and history while ensuring prosperity and opportunity for all Native Americans."
He continued, “American Indians and Alaska Natives are both important components of the American mosaic. Native Americans are business owners creating good jobs for American workers, teachers educating our children, first responders assisting neighbors in need, and leaders serving their communities. This month, we especially recognize the immeasurable contribution of American Indians and Alaska Natives who serve in the Armed Forces at five times the national average. We also acknowledge the many American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of Federal, State, local, and tribal law enforcement and who sacrifice their safety for the security of all.”
Native American Heritage Month was first established in 1990, and since then, throughout many walks of life, schools, counties, and States have made it a standard to recognize Native American Heritage Month. Events and celebrations have taken place setting the stage to educate the public about Native American history, its diverse culture and significant contributions as the first Americans who called this continent home long before European settlers. While the recognition has offered an outstanding opportunity to tell the true story of Indian country, many aspects of our true story remain untold, which means we must continue to be dedicated to the education of America about Indian country history and our contributions to today’s American society.
Native Americans have a proud heritage of perseverance and achievement. Before Columbus landed in the Caribbean, our Indian nations made outstanding artistic, scientific, cultural and political achievements. The Founding Fathers of the United States came to the six nations confederacy in New York to learn about their unique system of federalism, which divided power among branches of government and provided checks and balances. The Founders used those lessons in framing the Constitution of the United States of America.
Ironically, just last week NIGA and many of the Tribes across the country; stood in front of the Capitol to fight for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts to have their reservation lands restored to trust status. The Wampanoag helped the first European settlers to survive in this land, which was unfamiliar to them.
Europeans were able to use Native American crops that today comprise over 60 percent of the food varieties grown in the world today. This includes the use of rotating crops, controlled burns, and achievements in agriculture and astronomy that were unique to the Northern Hemisphere. Native plants were used for medicinal purposes by Indians which came to be relied upon by pilgrims and settlers which are continued to be studied by pharmaceutical companies as potentials to curing many devastating diseases today.
Our Native American contributions to America include the willingness to answer the call of duty in protecting this country in all combat zones across the globe, throughout history, in every conflict long before they were citizens of the United States. Our Native American warriors were fighting on the front lines in record numbers, fighting for the sacred ideal of protecting family, home, and nation.
Our beliefs and our sovereign rights have endured and persevered through the passages of time. We are a people of strong cultural and family values, who maintain the spiritual beliefs of our ancestors and a way of life. We continue to be protectors of the precious resources of our land and water as sacred deities of our people and considered a core belief of the natural world and its life force.
As you gather in this holiday season, take a moment and reflect upon the sharing exhibited by our ancestors during that first Thanksgiving feast. Take a moment to think about how Native Americans indeed influenced this country. Native American Heritage Day/month is not just a celebration of past accomplishments. It is a celebration of Indian Country's continued existence and success. It is an honoring of the sacrifices our forefathers made that are enshrined in our Treaties and the U.S. Constitution. Let’s all resolve to continue the legacy of our forefathers who laid the foundation of this great country.