- By Levi Rickert
Opinion. Last Thursday evening, I did a reading at the Wyoming Public Library of Visions for a Better Indian Country: One Potawatomi Editor’s Opinions, a book I authored last year. I was happy to do so because the reading was at the location of the library in Wyoming, Michigan where I grew up. It’s where I fell in love with learning and reading because my mother took me and my siblings there on a weekly basis.
In my introductory remarks, I mentioned we are now in Native American Heritage Month. By the look on the faces of the crowd of 45, I detected more than a few were oblivious that November is celebrated as Native American Heritage Month. So I asked how many knew November is a month devoted to celebrating Native Americans. Roughly half of the crowd raised their hands.
The designation of November as “National American Indian Heritage Month” goes back to a joint congressional resolution signed by President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990. Similar proclamations have been issued every year since 1994.
Over the years, the name shifted to National Native American Heritage Month. Regardless of your preference between the labels, it is a great time to celebrate being Indigenous. Personally, I am pleased that the month is designated to recognize our wonderful culture and heritage.
This past Tuesday, President Joe Biden in a presidential proclamation declaring November as Native American Heritage Month writes:
“Despite centuries of violence and oppression, Native peoples remain resilient and proud. Today, Native Americans are essential to the fabric of the United States. They serve in the United States Armed Forces at higher rates than any other ethnic group. They continue to steward so many of our great lands. Their contributions to science, humanities, arts, public service, and more have brought prosperity for all of us. Their diverse cultures and communities continue to thrive and lead us forward.”
I liked President Biden’s mention of Native Americans' contributions to American society.
This year as I have thought about Native American Heritage Month, I have been thinking about Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman in space. What a contribution she made as she spent 157 days in space from October 5, 2022 until March 11, 2023. While in space she served as the mission commander on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 space mission on the Dragon spacecraft named Endurance.
According to NASA, the Mann and crew circled the Earth some 2,512 times aboard the space station, traveling more than 66 million miles before returning home.
“That was one heck of a ride,” Mann, a tribal citizen of Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in northern California, said via radio moments after splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa, Florida on March 11. “We're happy to be home. Looking forward to next time.”
On September 23, 2023 Mann was honored in a parade as part of Indian Days festivities in Covelo, California, near her tribe’s headquarters.
The picture of Mann in her NASA gear is such a contrast to the stereotypical view of a Native American woman wrapped in a blanket. That in itself is a powerful statement of just how far Native Americans have come when our ancestors were part of concerted efforts of genocidal practices and forced removal from homes and put into Indian boarding schools in the name of assimilation.
There are many others, besides Mann, I have thought about during the first part of Native American Heritage Month.
Early last week something I received from the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council caught my attention. The correspondence described the “guiding principles” of the Anishnawbe Mushkiki, a health center in Canada. I immediately thought they are appropriate to reflect upon during Native American Heritage Month.
Many will recognize the core values as the seven teachings of the Grandfathers, which are:
- Zoongidewin (bravery) – “we take risks and are accountable for ourselves and our actions.”
- Gwekawaatiziwin (honesty) – “We are transparent and dependable; we say what we mean, and do what we say.”
- Manaaji’itiwin (respect) – “Everyone deserves to be valued, and treated with dignity and love.”
- Nibwaakaawin (wisdom) – “We gain wisdom by listening and learning in a never- ending process.”
- Zaagi’itiwin (love) – “We were created to take care of the land and each other.”
- Dabasendisowin (humility) – “No one is more valuable or important than anyone else.”
- Debwewin (truth) – “Facts and evidence support truthful perception.”
I thought to myself: "Our world would be a better place if we all practiced these core values throughout our lives and throughout the year."
As all of us — Natives and non-Native allies and friends — celebrate Native American Heritage Month, let us remember the values of bravery, honesty, respect, wisdom, love, humility, and truth, and strive to embody them in our lives year-round, not just during the month of November
Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.
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