4 Ways to Explore Native American Heritage

In the month of November every year, the United States marks Native American Heritage month. Here are four ways to join in.

Visit

Visit a museum that focuses on Native Americans, such as Ah-Ta-Thi-Ki Museum in Florida and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indiana. Seek out Native American exhibits in museums which have broader areas of coverage.

dreamcatcher native american sunlight

Find out if there are reservations near you which welcome visits.Here are a few tips on making a visit to a reservation. You might be welcomed to a pow wow or other celebration. Here’s a bit to know about pow wow etiquette. Taos Pueblo in Northern New Mexico is a community which welcomes visits at certain times of year, and is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America.

native american statue wisconsin

Look for statues and murals which honor Native heritage. My colleague Sheila was inspired by her encounter with the Keeper of the Plains in Kansas; outside the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee there are statues of Seminole people walking through time; the statue in the photograph above is in Wisconsin.

Read and Watch

There are many fiction and non fiction accounts of Native American life in print, on the web, and in film. One interesting place to start you explorations is the Native American Heritage Month site from the Smithsonian, which has links to all sorts of resources. The current US Poet Laureate is Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek nation. There’s an introduction to her work at that site as well.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a classic children’s novel which tells the story of a young woman on the California coast. Fry Bread is a recent Native American family story for children, told in verse. National Geographic offers the National Geographic Kids Encyclopedia of American Indian History and Culture.

native american dancer

For adults, National Geographic is in the mix too, having published several books on Native American culture and history, including the Atlas of Indian Nations. Tony Hillerman is known for his series of novels set in Indian country of the southwest with Native protagonists; the first one is called The Blessing Way. After his death, his daughter Anne Hillerman has continued to write stories of his characters with her own unique viewpoint. One of these is The Tale Teller.

American Indian life has found accurate and inaccurate portrayals on screen. Dances with Wolves, set just after the US Civil War, is considered to be a reasonably accurate drama. The long running series Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman showed ways settlers and tribal peoples came to interact with each other at that time period too. On a more recent note, in the television series Outlander, a point has been made to hire Native actors for Native roles, and to use accurate Native language. PBS has a gathering of its non fiction films about Native heritage and contemporary Native life.

Listen

There are many Native Americans active in sharing their traditions through music, in styles raging from pow-wow dance music to country two step to heartfelt ballads to equally heartfelt Native flute compositions. A few ideas to get you started on exploring Native music:

The joyous celebration that’s often included in pow wow gatherings is central to the music of Northern Cree on their album Still Rezin’, which was in fact recorded live at a pow wow.

Radmilla Cody creates a mystical atmosphere with songs of family, love, landscape, and heritage, which comes through whether you understand the words (she sings most often in Navajo) or not.

Randall Paskemin welcomes children into the world of Native America and to the world of loving family, with his songs in English and in Cree on his recording Good Night, Sweet Dreams I Love You.

Joanne Shenandoah is of the Oneida/Iroquois people of New York State. Her music has taken her across the country and across the world as she shares and finds connections with her people’s stories. Peace and Power: The Best of Joanne Shenandoah is one place to learn of her work.

R. Carlos Nakai has connected with many people and places through his music also. The heart of it all remains his native southwest, whose people and landscapes he paints in melodies on Native flutes. One place to begin is his album Talisman.

Taste
As with most sorts of food in the Americas, Native American dishes today incorporate a mix of influences. They are also influenced by what is available in different regions of the country. Common to many regions, you’ll find dishes based on corn, varieties of squash, and many sorts of beans. Regional fruits and berries figure in as well as meat and fish, and items such as green chiles in the southwest and cranberries in the east.

Native America autumn harvest

You may find restaurants which serve Native based dishes, such as the Pueblo Harvest Cafe at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, the Tiwa Restaurant in Taos, The Pequot Cafe in Connecticut, and The Sioux Chef in Minneapolis.

You could also try your hand at making Native dishes yourself. The Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC has published The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook, which will get you started.

native american pumpkin soup

You might think of adding Native dishes to your Thanksgiving table. Does that honor Native peoples? Maybe — and maybe not. This article that presents perspectives on ways Native Americans honor the Thanksgiving holiday.

blue jay feather native american

There is a wealth of knowledge to be learned, a wealth of respect to be be given, and a wealth of connection to be shared during Native American Heritage Month, and through the rest of the year. These four ideas work when learning about about native peoples in other areas of the world, as well. See what you may discover.

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