Honoring Native American Heritage

Tuesday, November 04 2008 22:08 Mike Harris   Native Americans
November is Native American Heritage Month, and this year's theme is "Celebrating Tribal Nations: America's Great Partners."

Today we can talk about the relationship between the tribes and state and federal governments in terms of being partners, but historically we're not that far from the days of brutal conflict, racism and, in some frontier military campaigns, outright massacre.

Many tribes were decimated, forced to move off their land, to march long distances for relocation, while many starved, or died of disease, and then sometimes were allowed to return to tribal lands. When they returned it was to reservations where their treatment by some government bureaucrats was shameful.

Any observance of Native American Heritage Month must include a look at the brutal history of two cultures clashing against each other, but it should also include a look at the tribal histories and cultures themselves.

More and more, the public is being invited to look at tribal life through festivals, museum collections and exhibits, and tribal gatherings, and in the art of today's American Indian artists.

We hope you will take time in November to visit a museum in your area that includes Native American exhibits, go online to explore the history of the American Indian in the West, or plan on attending tribal gatherings, pow-wows and displays during 2009.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 562 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives in the United States.

We also have a quiz for you (see our home page): Which state has the most Native Americans? Do you know, or can you guess? Click on one of the five states we list - Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, or Arizona - then go to "results" for the answer. You may be surprised!

A great resource for exploring America's history involving the tribes is the National Park Service (
www.nps.gov). The park service's Web site can virtually take you to many historic locations, including some not so pleasant.

Two we suggest you visit include the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (
www.nps.gov/sand/) in Colorado and Wupatki National Monument (www.nps.gov/wupa/) in Arizona.

If you plan to travel to either, be aware that Sand Creek is closed from December 1 through April 1, but Wupatki is open year-round.

The two Web sites give you a sample of American Indian history: the violent conflict between the Army, and  then the ancient Indian history that spans thousands of years.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site details one of the ugliest events in U.S. history. On November 29, 1864, soldiers from the US military attacked a peaceful encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho along Sand Creek. More than 150 Indians were killed in the attack, most of whom were women, children, or elderly.

Wupatki National Monument preserves a cultural crossroads, home to numerous groups of people over thousands of years. Wupatki is the largest pueblo in the park. People gathered there during the 1100s, gradually building the 100-room pueblo with a community room and ballcourt. By 1182, perhaps 85 to 100 people lived at Wupatki Pueblo. It was the largest building for at least 50 miles. A population of several thousand surrounded Wupatki.

There are other great places and Web sites to visit, including The Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center )
www.bbhc.org/pim/index.cfm) in Cody, Wyo. And the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (www.americanindian.si.edu/).

There are other opportunities to explore and enjoy this country's American Indian heritage, and we will bring you a selection of those throughout the month. We hope you'll point your browser to some of them.


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