Honoring the Indigenous during Native American History Month

November is Native American History Month, and as Monterey sits on top of Ohlone and Rumsen land, members of the California State University, Monterey Bay community have the opportunity to learn more about the history of their home during this one-month celebration. 

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Resilient and Enduring: We Are Native People,” according to the U.S. Department of the Interior: Indian Affairs department. The recognition is meant to celebrate the United State’s first people and all their contributions to American culture and society. 

This is a time for celebration of Native tribes. There are many ways to celebrate this momentous month. While folks celebrate, it’s important for them to remain respectful and abstain from appropriative behavior. 

For people who do not identify as Native, they should refrain from dressing up in Native regalia. Tribes have specific customs for their regalia and are often reserved for special traditions or honors. That being said, there is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. 

Buying Native jewelry or art directly from a Native artisan will help financially support that person’s family and craft and allow them to continue working in their tradition. This requires a bit of research, but in the end results in offering financial support directly to the Native community. 

Pueblodirect.com is a database that hosts the wares of over 100 Native artisans. The website features jewelry and pottery in the traditions of many tribes. The website is a member of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association, which works to certify the authenticity of Native crafts and artisanry. 

Living amidst a pandemic poses many challenges for Native Americans who live in high-risk areas with limited access to food. For example, there are only 13 supermarkets in the Navajo nation, and the prices are astronomical because of the expenses it takes to supply food there. This makes tribes more vulnerable to the consequences of COVID-19. Donating to Native communities is a great way to celebrate Native American History Month that will allow them to purchase the food they need.

The Navajo nation, as well as many other tribes, live in large areas without access to running water. The Navajo Pater project is an organization that brings clean running water to families across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The Navajo and Hopi Covid-19 Relief fund was started on Go-Fund me by Ethel Branch and Cassandra Begay. This fund is working to alleviate the stress of food insecurity and the consequences of COVID-19. 

If using social media to discover ways to support Native peoples, search for Allen Salway, a young Navajo scholar and activist. His Instagram @lilnativeboy provides countless resources for how to help affected and vulnerable Native communities. 

If one does not have the means to financially support Native communities, another way to help them is through educating oneself and their cohorts. One way to do this is by recognizing whose land is being occupied, otherwise known as a land acknowledgment. If one is unsure of the tribe whose land they are on, text the number (907) 312-5085 with a city or zip code and it will text back with the name of the tribe who previously inhabited that land. The number is monitored by a Canadian not-for-profit organization called Native Land. It should be noted that confirmation by tribes is pending and the data is updated weekly.

There is nothing more celebratory than honoring the struggles and the needs of Native communities. There is a need to uplift and amplify Native voices, both in celebration and to also recognize their struggles and the solutions to their struggles. 

The tag “MMIW” has been trending over social media to spread awareness about Indigenous women. This acronym stands for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, which is a campaign whose main goal is to recognize that Native women and girls face much higher rates of physical and sexual violence. In fact, Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than women of other ethnicities. 

Murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women. Many women and girls disappear without a trace and due to a lack of cooperation and communication between tribal, state and local law enforcement, these cases are rarely solved. But, people can use their privilege to demand investigations and amplify the needs of the community.

There are many ways to bring conversations about these communities to the forefront of the national conversation about equity and race. Americans can decide to hold themselves accountable for living on stolen land. They may also ensure that they are honoring Native communities and their desire for respect and accountability. 

Donating time and money to Native causes are great, tangible ways to celebrate Native American History Month. But other ways to celebrate are by unlearning and re-educating oneself about what it means to be Native in modern times. 

One way this can be achieved is by seeking out and compensating Native Americans for their educational and emotional labor. This Native American History Month, people can join the movement and celebrate Native siblings in meaningful, heartfelt ways. 

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