Native American Heritage Month Recap: Acknowledging Important History and Supporting Native American Communities


A book display at the Scotch Plains Public Library features books written by Native American writers. The YA department created this display in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

Jada Montgomery, Managing Director

November is National Native American Heritage Month. Nations/tribes utilize this month to highlight, discuss and, most importantly, educate about their history and culture. 

While not every non-native is able to attend a heritage event, one thing that is important to do is educate yourself. 

Through the years and our history textbooks, many aspects of Native American history are overlooked and whitewashed. 

Decolonize your perspective! Here are some quick excerpts of Native American History:  

Columbus: Christopher Columbus never set foot in the Americas. He did not “discover” anything either. The places he and his crew came upon already have native inhabitants. He was said to have “landed” in the present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti, as well as the Bahamas.

Thanksgiving:  For many Americans, it’s a day of feasting, but for Native Americans, it is a day of mourning. There is no real evidence that a feast ever took place between both groups.The alliance between white settlers and the Wampanoag people manifested out of desperation. Their population was dismantled due to diseases like smallpox, brought on by white setters. Soon after “the first thanksgiving” came the beginning of centuries of genocide for Native Americans.  

Trail of Tears: President Jackson signed the “Indian Removal Act” in 1830. This event occurred mainly in the southeastern region of the United States (but also in Northern States like Illinois). Native Americans were forced to relocate to “Native Territory” present-day Oklahoma because southern white settlers wanted to seize their land. On the trail, extreme weather conditions, malnourishment and exhaustion were common and disease was rampant. The tribes on the Trail of Tears were the Choctaw, Chicksaw, Seminole, the Creek and the last to join, the Cherokee. 

Mascots and Headdresses: For decades people have dressed up in the deeply offensive headdress costume and continued to cheer on sports teams and support brands that used Native Americans as their logo. The headdress holds important meaning in Native American culture. Worn by men, they symbolize honor, bravery and virtue. Headdresses also differ in size, shape and feather type. 

Pipelines:  In recent years in the Midwestern United States, oil pipelines have been constructed alongside rivers and waterways. The issue with this is some of these pipelines have been constructed on or around Native American lands. Not only are these an environmental concern, but they are also a huge health risk for Native American communities:if the pipeline were to leak, the communities’ water supply would be undrinkable.   

Residential Schools: In the United States and Canada, many Native American children were forced to attend residential schools. At these schools, they were forced to convert to Christianity, not allowed to speak their languages, forced to do hard labor and were abused. These schools were common in the United States until in the mid 20th century, but continued in Canada for much longer. The last residential school was closed in 1996.

To learn more about Native American history and culture please visit your local library, or visit National Native American Heritage Month website and the Native American | Immigration and Relocation in US History | Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress website.