The month of November is National Native American Heritage month, but it hasn’t been that way until recently. In 1990 President George H.W. Bush proclaimed that November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Then starting in 1994 and every year since similar proclamations have been made, but under different names that make November Native American Heritage month.
In 1915, the first “American Indian Day” was proposed by the American Indian Association. The president of the American Indian Association, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe Indian, proposed the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day. It was also the first time a formal appeal was made to have Indians recognized as citizens. However, a year before this, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback to each state in the country seeking help to make a day to honor Indians. At the end of 1915 he presented the endorsements of 24 states to the White House, but there are no records stating if his efforts were successful or not. His efforts most likely helped Indians gain ground in getting a day to honor them. In 1916, the very first “American Indian Day” was declared on the second Saturday in May by the Governor of New York. Others states would follow suit after New York by declaring the fourth Friday in September a day to honor Indians. Our own state of Illinois would eventually enact a day to honor Indians in 1919.
Lewis and Clark Community College hosted its own Native American Heritage month event on Nov. 14 in the Ann Whitney Olin Theatre. Two Native American speakers came to campus to share stories and speak about Native American culture. The first speaker was Dolores Santha, but she went by her storytelling name “Grandma Coyote” for this event. Grandma Coyote shared different Native American stories that she had heard from her parents and other family members growing up. The stories she shared had underlining lessons to be learned from them, like many stories older generations would tell their children. One story was about an opossum that would flaunt his beautiful tail around in an attempt to make everyone else feel jealous. However, one day his tail was taken from him a replaced with an ugly one. The lesson to be learned was that you should always appreciate what you have because one day you could have nothing. “Grandma Coyote was sweet as pie”, said L&C Student Val Blandina. “She told me all about the beautiful turquoise jewelry she made. It was interesting to have the opportunity to talk somebody about Native American culture during Native American Heritage month.”
The other speaker was Sherry Echo-Hawk Taluc of the Pawnee Nation. She explained how Native American beading is done and showed the crowd different examples of beading that she has made over the years. Beads were an important part of Native American culture because they heavily used them in the creation of necklaces, jewelry, and other accessories. She also discussed the importance of agriculture in the Pawnee heritage. The Pawnee people used to have over 25 different varieties of corn, but today they are only down to a handful. However, thanks to people like Sherry efforts have been made to start regrowing the remaining variations of corn the Pawnee people have. They are trying to regrow the corn in the same lands the Pawnee people occupied years ago to keep the crop the same as it’s always been. “It was a treat to learn about other people’s culture,” said, L&C student Shelby Clayton. “It was also nice to know that efforts are being made to bring back native agriculture as well.”
ALEX ST. PETERS