Every November marks the celebration of American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, a time to “celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories, and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people,” as a new website states. What began as American Indian Week by an act of Congress in 1986 has blossomed into National American Indian Heritage Month by 1990. In October of 2010, President Obama declared National Native American Heritage Day at the end of November as well.
This year’s theme, which was recently announced by a group of leading national American Indian and Alaska Native organizations in collaboration with several tribal and federal offices is focused on Native youth. The group also announced the launch of website designed to serve as a resource for youth, the general public, and organizers of the Heritage month events: AIANHeritageMonth.org.
“November is an important time for everyone to celebrate and reflect on the contributions of American Indian and Alaska Native peoples. The next generation of tribal leaders and citizens have held and will always hold a revered place in Native culture and society,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, one of the organizations leading Heritage Month efforts in a press release. Keel is the Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, as well as serving on the board of advisors at the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, which is an organizing partner with Heritage Month.
The most recent 2010 census report shows that Native youth are a growing population in Indian Country, representing 31.6 percent of the 5.2 million American Indian and Alaska Natives. There are currently 1.7 million Native youth in the country under the age of 18. These numbers show that the Native youth population will soon become active in society, including participating in the work force, voting in elections, and seeking higher education.
The above video, That’s My People, was created by Native Youth at the National Intertribal Youth Summit. It is featured on the newly launched Heritage Month site. That’s My People is a public service announcement that represents “many voices and vocalizes issues that tribal youth across all regions identified as important to address in their communities,” as the synopsis explains. It was filmed on site during the NIYS at the Santa Fe Indian School.
In November, the Center for Native American Youth and the National Association of Broadcasters will release a public service announcement featuring Red Sox’s star Jacoby Ellsbury, Navajo, former Senator Byron Dorgan, and NCAI President Keel to raise awareness about issues facing Native youth.
“Native youth are our most sacred resource and a focus on youth must start in our homes. The home is the center of our family and it’s where teaching begins,” said National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) Chairwoman Cheryl A. Causley, Bay Mills Tribes of Chippewa. “As Native nations we must share with the world our reverence for Native youth, and continue to educate our youth about our cultures and traditions, and the importance of community involvement.”
Heritage Month will focus on Native youth living in urban and rural areas.“The National Council of Urban Indian Health believes that it is important for our Native youth to celebrate and share their culture wherever they may be living, furthering their education, or working. We are looking forward to collaborating with our fellow national organizations and agencies during Native American Heritage Month to celebrate Native youth and wellness,” said D’Shane Barnett, Mandan/Arikara, Executive Director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH).
The groups of Native organizations that are involved with Heritage month include the Center for American Youth at the Aspen Institute, National American Indian Housing Council, National Congress of American Indians, National Council of Urban Indian Health, and the Washington Internships for Native Students.
For a list of events being held in the month of November in the Washington, DC region and for a national calendar of events, visit the website: www.AIANHeritageMonth.org