by KIT B. FASSLER
Established in 1990, President George Bush declared the entire month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month. It’s a celebration that pays tribute to the rich history and traditions of Native Americans and their contribution to the growth of the United States.
Originally, it started as a day that celebrated Sept. 28, 1915 when an appeal was made to recognize Native American Indians as citizens. The first American Indian Day in the states was declared in 1916 on every second Saturday in May, by the governor of New York.
The ancestors of these Native Americans were the indigenous people who lived on this continent for thousands of years. They lived as hunter-gatherer societies and preserved their histories through oral traditions and artwork.
Native Americans lived in their communities peacefully until Spanish settlers came in the middle of 15th century. The settlers brought with them small pox epidemics which caused the greatest loss of lives for indigenous people.
In late 1800s to 1900s, Native Americans struggled and fought a tough battle in pursuit of protecting their lands. Eventually, they were forced out of their homeland which led to the infamous story of the “Trail of Tears.”
Native American culture continues to thrive and evolve within communities across the U.S. Tribal leaders are working hard to preserve their way of life and pass their ancient traditions to the younger generation.
Today, there are approximately 560 federally recognized Native American tribes within the states. Celebrating their history reminds us that their ancestors lived here before European immigrants came and they played an important role in the development of this nation.
There are local celebrations happening in Tucson, and college students will have opportunities to participate. The University of Arizona celebrated Native American Heritage month Nov. 6 with activities, a film showcase and public television programming. The UA has more than 1,000 students who are Navajo, Tohono O’odham, Pasqua Yaqui, Hopi, Cherokee and other native nations.
Pima Community College is also celebrating Native American Heritage Month. The Redhouse Family performed a native dance at the West Campus cafeteria on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m.
West Campus will also host a Yaqui deer dance performance on Nov. 19.
Deljean Valentine, the vice chairman of Native American Students Association at Pima Community College, felt it’s a huge honor for the U.S. to acknowledge November as Native American Heritage Month.
“It gives awareness of who we are and also reminds our youth to preserve our culture and traditions,” she said. “My father is a veteran, and he has helped shaped the Tohono O’odham community as a council member.”
Daniel Joaquin, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and also a performer in “The Joaquin Brothers Band,” thinks November makes sense to celebrate native heritage, given the history.
“It is good having this celebration in November because it reminds us of the very first Thanksgiving celebrated between the pilgrims and the Indians,” Joaquin said.
One of the greatest contributions that the Native Americans played was the Navajo code talkers in World War II. In today’s society, Native Americans are leaders not only in their own tribe, but in the United States as a whole.