Native American Heritage Day: Significance & Symbolism

To begin this article, it is important to acknowledge, as we should always do whether written or not, that Gustavus lies on the land of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ people.
Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, and despite COVID, for many of us this meant a celebration of some sorts. We understand it to be a day to spend time with others and eat good food. However, for many, Thanksgiving is not a holiday but rather a reminder of ongoing settler colonialism within a country whose roots are violent. In his article “Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning,” Allen Salway, organizer from the Navajo Nation, describes Thanksgiving as “a reminder of our resistance as Indigenous People navigating this settler society that continuously tries to erase and destroy us, yet we are still here.” He reminds us that Thanksgiving was declared a holiday first to celebrate a massacre of the Pequot people, and then again declared as a general celebration of the erasure of the Indigenous population.
Thanksgiving often overshadows the following Friday, designated Native American Heritage Day by Obama in 2009. Meant to “appreciate the contributions that First Americans have made and will continue to make to our Nation,” this designation carries a mixed message: while meant to pay respect to Indigenous communities, the choice to designate the day after Thanksgiving creates the feeling of an afterthought. On top of this, it also falls on Black Friday, a day of hyperconsumerism that tends to disregard the human element of much of our social web. This choice was especially troubling because the entirety of November is Native American Heritage Month, and as stated well by Brian Perry of the organization Native Hope, “there are 28 other days to select from with of course Thanksgiving having its long established day to itself. Why must we take a backseat to Thanksgiving? Why not the day before Thanksgiving?”
It’s still incredibly important to learn about the history, heritage, and ongoing work and resistance of Indigenous peoples. And this process of learning is definitely not a one day practice; it’s not even a one month or one year practice. There are a myriad of resources available online, and there are ways to learn locally as well as nationally (and globally!). Here at Gustavus, a Reconciliation Circle with Cânté Sütá-Francis Bettelyoun is hosted every two weeks in order to facilitate conversation devoted to building relationships and reconciliation between Minnesota’s Native and immigrant peoples. Beyond this, there are many different organizations in Minnesota as well as nationally that you can support and use to find resources.

How to Get Involved

In Minnesota, there are several
organizations that you can support:

– Honor the Earth (Winona LaDuke has great educational pieces and videos)
– Giniw Collective
– North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) (based in Minneapolis which is cool–they’re starting a Food Lab you should support!)

National organizations:

– Indigenous Rising
– The Red Nation
– Allen Salway’s Instagram is a great resource for finding ways to learn: @lilnativeboy

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