Citlaly Escobar, opinions editor
Since the 1990s, the United States has declared November as Native American Heritage Month. It aims to highlight the contributions of Native Americans in the United States as well as honor their various tribes’ cultures, customs and ways of life.
However, the sentiment of Native American Heritage Month needs to go much beyond this if we, as a society, truly want to acknowledge and honor Native Americans in the United States. Why? Because if we non-Natives do not, we are agreeing with the white canon that their existence is a historical one. We are allowing the cycle of genocide to continue as we ignore their current cultures, traditions and customs. We are allowing their existence to be referred to in the past tense and we are denying their existence in our present social circles. We become passive supporters of these violent narratives and instead become active agents in erasing their histories and active in silencing current Native American voices in the United States.
Native Americans do not exist solely in the past, but within the fully present now: their various tribal customs, traditions and ways of life are being practiced and handed down generation-to-generation. At Augsburg, we have a thriving Agsburg’s Indigenous Student Association and our Student Body President, Arianna Antone-Ramirez, is a Native woman from the Tohono O’odham Nation. Native Americans have stood at the forefront of social justice issues long before they were even deemed social justice issues, and definitely long before Greta Thunberg advocated for climate resolutions.
Because of this, one important action non-Native people must do is actively acknowledge the Indigenous inhabitants of the land we occupy. This is often called a “land acknowledgment” and this act commemorates the connection that indigenous people had to the land before European colonizers came and stole their land from them. It pushes back against the white, colonial narratives of U.S. eternalness by radically redefining the land experience to include Native history. This seemingly-small act of land acknowledgment helps in the long-run of questioning the colonial construction of the United States and assists in highlighting the current resistance of Native Americans.
A land acknowledgment must be done if non-Native people desire to be a better supporter of Native American people. If non-Natives choose to not do this, we are leaving this onto Native Americans to define it for us and are furthering burdening them with the need to define their cultural existence every day. By not acknowledging the land, we actively ignore the governance and autonomy of Native Americans in the United States.
However, these land acknowledgments must go beyond the simple, “We rest on x’s land.” The land acknowledgments should also discuss the tribe’s historical resilience and their present-day culture and experiences. It should always be an intentional act that truly commemorates the community your acknowledging and should include the community at hand in your land acknowledgment. A shallow land-acknowledgment does not do anyone, especially the Native American community, justice. It must actively challenge the negative stereotypes of Native Americans, state their current existence and celebrate and honor their current experiences and stories. Without this, the land acknowledgment is one that is filled with empty promises and continues to fill the cycles of violence and erasure.
Every month is Native American Heritage Month!