National Native American Heritage Month celebrates the culture and history of the Native American Peoples. It was federally recognized in 1990 for the first time by then-President Bush. However, many Natives pushed for days of recognition prior to this. In addition, the United States also celebrates Indigenous People’s Day, Native American Day, and Indigenous Resistance Day. In honoring the indigenous peoples, it is important to honor the diversity of the 574 federally recognized tribal nations. Read more for tips on how to observe the holiday with culturally appropriating or perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
What is the difference between the terms Native American and / or Indigenous people?
The term Native American specifically refers to the non-European peoples of modern-day Canada, the United States, and Mexico before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Their inhabitance of the land pre-dates colonists or settlers. Indigenous is a broader term- when referring to ethnic groups, it means “of or relating to the earliest known inhabitants of a place and especially of a place that was colonized by a now-dominant group”. Some other Inidgenous Peoples across the world include the Aboriginal people of Australia, the Maya of Guatemala, and the Sa(a)mi people of Scandinavia.
Why is Indigeneity an important concept?
As a concept, indigeneity encourages a re-framing of simply designating a group to be an ethnic minority by considering their connection to a homeland or resistance to assimilation. Often their oppression includes forced relocation– whether by housing discrimination, removal, or death. Read the United Nations Forum on Indigenous Issues here. It is also a reminder not only to think of genocide as a measure of deaths, but an intent to erase a culture.
Historical Figure Spotlight: Jim Thorpe
Perhaps one of the most famous Native Americans of Pennsylvania is Jim Thorpe, the Olympian and professional football player. He was a member of the Sac and Fox nation. Born in 1888 in Oklahoma, he attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School under coach Pop Warner. A triathlete, he went on to play professional baseball in addition to winning gold medals at the Olympics in the decathlon and the pentathlon.
Looking for Library Resources?
Just Browsing the Stacks
Native Americans and the history of Pre-Columbian America falls under the call number range E51-110. For the laws and treaties of tribal sovereignty, you’ll be looking for subclasses KIF-KIK of E and F.
Classics and Contemporary Reads
- Converging Streams: Art of the Hispanic and Native American Southwest
- Making the White Man’s Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies by Angela Aleiss
- Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago, 1945-75 by James B. Lagrand
- That’s What She Said: Contemporary Poetry and Fiction by Native American Women edited by Rayna Green
- Another America: Native American Maps and the History of Our Land by Mark Warhus
- Splendid Heritage: Perspectives on American Indian Art by Clinton Nagy
- There, There by Tommy Orange
Selections from the Children’s Section
- Jingle dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith
- Undefeated : Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School football team by Steve Sheinkin
- Maria Tallchief : Native American Ballerina by Paul Lang
In need of some digital resources?
- Native American Studies by Clara Sue Kidwell
- Native American Times
- American Indian Quarterly
- Journal of the Native American And Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
- American Indian Culture & Research Journal
- American Indian Law Review
- Journal of American Indian Education
- North American Indian Thought and Culture from Alexander Street by Proquest
- Native People collection from Ethnic NewsWatch
- European Views of the Americas: 1493 to 1750
In need of some primary sources?
- View the digital collections of the National Museum of the American Indian
- Explore the Sequoyah National Research Center
- Visit the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC)
- Check out the Indians of North America: Selected Resources from the Library of Congress
- Indian Peoples of the Northern Great Plains Digital Collection
Resources on Current Issues
An important phrase to understand this Native American Heritage Month is “Land Recognition and Restitution”. Land recognition is simply that, recognizing the tribes whose ancestral lands we live on and honoring the people and their relationship to the area. It also means investigating and understanding the ways in which tribes have been separated from their territory and the impact that has had on their history and culture. The land where Eastern University currently is located used to be the territory of the Lenape Haki-nk, also called the Lenni-Lenape or Delaware people. See which tribal lands you are located in with this fun tool. Historically, Pennsylvania was once the home of the Lenape, Susquehannock, Shawnee, and Iroquois tribes although it does not currently recognize any tribal lands or governments.
- Learn more about Native American history in PA.
- Visit the Museum of Indian Culture
- Learn more about Radnor’s decision to retire its Native American mascot.
Land Restitution: an abbreviated explainer
Land restitution can take many forms and is a type of transformative justice. It redresses the theft of indigenous lands as new agreements and solutions. An example that you’ve probably heard of in the news is Standing Rock and its Water Protectors. Blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline was a critical issue because of the potential impact for clean water access, infringing upon the sovereignty of tribal nations. Read more about the history of Standing Rock.
- Read more about the history of Standing Rock
- Learn about the history of Indigenous Resistance from the American Indian Movement
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