5 Ways To (Respectfully) Celebrate American Indian Heritage Month

American Indian

In grade school, students learn all about the history of the United States of America. Often the story centers on Christopher Columbus and how the Italian explorer “discovered” America— despite the fact that there were already people here. Columbus found a community of people, who are now commonly known as Native Americans or American Indians, and colonized their land. While a few Europeans had touched down in the Americas, Columbus’ journey in 1492 marked the start of exploration, exploitation, and colonization.

Nearly 530 years later, Native Americans have become a severe minority in the United States, making up only 1.5% of the population. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated November “National American Indian Heritage Month” as a way to acknowledge and pay homage to the Native Americans that sacrificed their communities for the formation of the Americas. As well as a way to celebrate the American Indian community that exists today. Ahead of Thanksgiving, here are a few ways to respectfully celebrate and honor American Indians.

By Christianna Wiggins

Visit a Cultural Center

American Indian Cultural Centers can be found in almost every major city. These centers are a space for Native Americans to gather and celebrate their culture, as well as for outsiders to come in and experience Native American art, music, and food. The centers often host events, workshops, and presentations where people can learn more about individual tribes and tradition. A lot of centers also accept donations and volunteers to help out American Indian local communities.

Try A Native American Recipe

Perhaps the most fun way to experience a new culture, is to try the food. Luckily, there are several delicious Native American recipes to recreate. A few popular options are:

  • Pemmican, a pastry-like dish that is a mixture of meat, fruit, and fat. Pemmican is a great source of energy and concentrated protein.

  • Three Sisters Soup, a squash, bean, and vegetable soup that was eaten to combat harsh winters.

  • Frybread, a simple but delicious fried bread.

Find these recipes and more on the AllRecipes or LittleThings websites.

Read A Book

A simple but important task: pick up a book. American students aren’t taught the full extent of what Native Americans endured while their land was taken. Schools in the United States specifically often focus on Columbus’s journey and credit him with finding the land that ultimately became the Americas. There is discourse focused on Native Americans and their contribution but for many years, Columbus was seen as a hero. There is plenty of literature that says otherwise.

Not sure where to start? Try The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens or In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI's War on the American Indian Movement by Peter Matthiessen.

Watch a Documentary

If your book list is all filled up, watch a documentary instead. There are several films that cover specific tribes, cultural traditions, and overall history. A few popular options are:

  • Welcome to the Reservation (2011)

  • Code of Honor: Comanche Code Talkers of World War II (2013)

  • Unconquered; Allan Houser and the Legacy of One Apache Family (2008)

  • Wacipi – Pow Wow (1995)

  • Dakota 38 (2012)

Take A Tour of a Reservation or American Indian Monument

If you still aren’t satisfied after the cultural centers, food, or educating yourself via books and movies, try visiting a reservation or local American Indian monument. On a reservation, visitors can be immersed in Native American culture and experience the culture firsthand. At many reservations, visitors can book tours and interact with local residents. By paying for a tour, it also gives back to the community.

If there isn’t a reservation nearby, check if there is an American Indian monument or hiking trail locally. Monuments and hiking trails offer a rich narrative of Native American history, as visitors can walk through historical structures. Be sure to be respectful of the space and the community in both areas.