Illustration created by Grace Gazette Media Editors
As Thanksgiving approaches and we indulge in turkey and apple pie, remember the people who this holiday is about, the Native people of this country who are still suffering today. The month of November is Indigenous Heritage Month; a month commemorated since the 1990s. This is an important month for Native people as it is an acknowledgement of the many hardships that Native people face daily in this country. This month begs all American residents to acknowledge the successes and struggles of the people native to this land. This article dives into the reforms made this year when it has come to Indigenous activism. What has worked and what hasn’t? Before exploring this question, it is important to see how aware the Grace community is of these events. The Grace Gazette conducted a poll and, when asked if students and faculty knew about any Indigenous progress made this year (aside from changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day), 68.4% of the poll takers said that they didn’t. Additionally, 73.7% of those polled stated that when seeing a post about Indigenous activism on social media, most of the time students and faculty skip through it. The lack of Indigenous awareness is not only a reflection of the Grace community but also represents the larger society’s awareness of these issues. It is crucial to continue learning about current events that affect Indigenous people’s land, health, and identity.
Two of the major developments this year that surround Indigenous rights are the changing of Columbus day to Indigenous People’s Day and the increased land recognition. In recent years, various activist groups have called to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, many feeling that the name honored genocide. The name change provides new insight into the “discovery” of this country and is, hopefully, the inception of rightfully recognizing Native people.
Another form of progress made this year is the fact that land is now being named after the nation it belongs to. For example, Grace Church School is on Lenape Land. This year, land acknowledgments are starting to become more common, even happening at national events and being acknowledged in email signatures. One example of this movement occurred at the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon path runs right through Native land and, to begin the event this year, the marathon began with an acknowledgment of the land. In addition, Navajo women danced, and there was a performance by singers and drummers with the Nipmuc Nation, indigenous peoples native to the Boston area. These simple acts contribute to the recognition of Native people. According to a New York Times reporting of the Boston Marathon, Larry Spotted Crow Mann, the Director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center claimed, “I hope this is just the beginning of more press . . . ” These new waves of progress do not fix the years of discrimination towards and stealing from Native people but is the first step towards acknowledging that there is an issue and that steps must be taken.
Although there has been a lot of progress made this year, there has also been a lot of regress. Currently, there is an epidemic of missing Native women and children. According to US News article reporting on this epidemic, in 2020, there were 5,295 missing Native women and 4,276 missing Native men. This epidemic has sparked a movement known as MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). This epidemic has been an issue for years but has surged recently. A red hand print over the mouth and on clothing is often used by MMIW activists to represent solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous Women. This movement is starting to gain traction but is still being largely ignored by the media and various governing bodies.
In addition to this epidemic, there has also been a lot of regress within sport communities. It is known that the Washington Football Team changed their name from a Native slur and the Cleveland Indians will soon change their name to The Guardians. Although this is good progress, there remains a lot of Indigenous cultural appropriation in sports. One example of this is The World Series. According to the New York Times reporting on the Native appropriation in sports, The Atlanta Braves have not made any efforts to change their fans’ behavior at their games; fans participate in a “Tomahawk Chop” and imitate Native chants. A stadium of mostly white fans mocking Indigenous culture is in no way a step in the right direction.
A monumental form of progress that happened as a result of Biden winning the election was the appointment of Deb Haaland as the Interior Secretary, the first Native person in the executive branch. Although this is amazing progress, it is important to ask how this position is being used and how it impacts Native people. In an NPR article on an Indigenous protest of building a lithium mine on sacred land, Indigenous activist Daranda Hinkey said, “I think it’s maybe just to get political gain . . . like, ‘oh we are listening to people,’ but are you?” This appointment is monumental in Indigenous representation, however, this could be a performative action; checking a box when attention and resources must be directed to more pressing issues. Stealing Native land for mines, killing women and children, mocking Indigenous culture, and lack of Indigenous health care are all ways that Indigenous people are still hurting.
In an interview, Dr. Toby Nathan, who teachers the 10th grade course History of the Americas, claimed, “The power dynamics of our present are inherited from the past, and if those dynamics aren’t interrupted, they are carried forward, largely unchanged.” It is so important to “interrupt” violence against Native people and mockery of Native culture. Without actively pushing against it, this regress will continue to happen.
As Indigenous Heritage Month continues, it is important for the Grace community to reexamine its awareness surrounding Indigenous issues. It is vital that we continue to educate ourselves on these subjects because, although progress when relating to Native people is happening, there is much left to do and learn about.