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November – National American Indian Heritage Month

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the celebration of our country’s National American Indian Heritage Month, NALA would like to celebrate and honor the important contributions, rich heritage, and diverse culture of our nation’s first people. The month of November is a time to educate and bring awareness to our native population, the challenges they continue to face, and their immeasurable contributions to our nation.

According to the census, there are 324 federally recognized American Indian reservations as of 2019. There are 574 federally recognized Indian tribes as of 2020. From the arrival of the first people, through the emergence of distinct tribal nations who faced the upheaval of European settlement, and into the modern-day, the history of Native Americans is complex. There are many historical places across the country that tell the stories of native peoples.

In 2020, as we strive for acknowledgment and a better understanding of the challenges faced by many in this country, we also want to continue to observe the progress being accomplished. We salute the sacrifices many tribal citizens have made in defense of our great nation. The following are a few among many who have significantly contributed to the vast history of the native population.

Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann was the daughter of Mary Kaumana Pilahiulani, a Native Hawaiian, and Hermann A. Widemann, a German immigrant. Part of the Royal Hawaiian family, her father was a cabinet minister for Queen Lili’uokalani. In 1912, she founded the National Women’s Equal Suffrage Association of Hawai’i (WESAH), the first Hawaiian suffrage organization.

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin (Metis/Turtle Mountain Chippewa) was born in Pembina, North Dakota. Her father, J.B. Bottineau, was a lawyer who worked as an advocate for the Ojibwa/Chippewa Nation in Minnesota and North Dakota. She and her father moved to Washington, D.C., in the early 1890s to defend the treaty rights of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Nation. There, they became part of an established community of professional Native Americans who lived and worked in the capital.

Suzan Shown Harjo (Hodulgee Muscogee/Southern Cheyenne) received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. As an activist, poet, and journalist, Harjo has fought for Native American sovereignty rights for more than 40 years. These important issues include protecting sacred sites, religious freedom, treaty rights, removing Native American mascots, and language revitalization. Harjo worked as the president of the National Congress of American Indians. She served as a special assistant for Indian legislation in President Jimmy Carter’s administration. Harjo was a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian and guest curated the museum’s exhibition “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations.”

Written by Peonca S. Grier, CP, FRP, MSM​