Celebrating Native American Heritage Month: Honoring History and Values

By Wayne Gersie, vice president for equity and inclusion November 01, 2023

A beam of sun shines through a cluster of autumn leaves

Native American Heritage Month is a significant time dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the rich history, culture, and contributions of Indigenous peoples in the United States. 

At its core, this month represents an opportunity for education, reflection and the fostering of a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Indigenous communities. 

In this blog, we will delve into the intent and purpose of Native American Heritage Month, its history and how the celebration of this month aligns with Quinnipiac university's values. 

Additionally, we will highlight remarkable contributions of Indigenous people to American history and acknowledge a historical atrocity that needs to be remembered. 

The origins of Native American Heritage Month can be traced back to the early 20th century when Native American advocate Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca archaeologist and historian, first proposed a day of recognition for Indigenous people. In 1915, he successfully convinced the Boy Scouts of America to designate an “American Indian Day." Over time, this idea grew into a nationwide effort. 

The importance of dedicating an entire month to celebrating the contributions and legacies of Indigenous peoples was formally realized when in 1990, President George H.W. Bush officially declared November as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Since then, Native American Heritage Month has continued to grow in significance and recognition across the United States. 

Native American Heritage Month serves as a platform to raise awareness about the unique heritage, culture and struggles of Indigenous peoples in the United States. 

Its intent is multi-faceted: 

  • Education: Native American Heritage Month provides an opportunity for educational institutions and the broader community to learn about the diverse cultures and traditions of Indigenous peoples. It helps break stereotypes, dispel myths and promote a more accurate understanding of Indigenous history. 

  • Cultural Preservation: It promotes the preservation and celebration of Indigenous languages, arts, traditions and practices. This helps ensure the survival of cultures that have been threatened by centuries of colonization and marginalization. 

  • Advocacy: This month raises awareness about the social and political issues affecting Indigenous communities, such as land rights, healthcare and education. It serves as a call to action for supporting Indigenous rights and well-being.

Quinnipiac is committed to the values of inclusivity, diversity and social responsibility. Celebrating Native American Heritage Month aligns perfectly with these principles. The university's commitment to fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding makes it an ideal place to observe this month. By recognizing and celebrating the contributions of Indigenous people, Quinnipiac promotes an atmosphere of cultural appreciation, awareness, and inclusivity. The university can use this time to collaborate with Indigenous communities, share their stories, and actively engage in conversations that contribute to a more inclusive campus and society. 

In the tapestry of American history, Indigenous individuals have of course made significant contributions, and one exemplary figure is Ely S. Parker. 

A member of the Seneca Nation, Parker served as Ulysses S. Grant's secretary during the Civil War, and his pivotal moment came when he, an Indigenous chief, drafted the articles of surrender for the Confederate Army at Appomattox Court House, marking the formal end of the Civil War. Parker's legacy extends to his post-war advocacy for Indigenous rights and his role as the first Indigenous Commissioner of Indian Affairs, championing tribal self-determination. His story exemplifies the intelligence, dedication, and resilience of Indigenous people who have played integral roles in shaping the United States' history and the ongoing pursuit of justice and inclusivity. 

Another remarkable historical contribution is the creation of the Iroquois Confederacy, often known as the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations. This confederation, formed around the 12th century, served as an early model for democratic governance in North America. Its constitution, known as the Great Law of Peace, inspired elements of the United States Constitution, including the concept of a federal system and representative government. This example of Indigenous political innovation has had a lasting impact on American history and governance. 

In honoring Native American Heritage Month, it is crucial to remember the sometimes tragic history and existence of indigenous people in the United States.  

One example of this is the Sand Creek Massacre. The Sand Creek Massacre was a horrific event that occurred on November 29, 1864, when a group of Colorado Territory militia attacked a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indigenous people. This unprovoked attack resulted in the deaths of more than 150 Indigenous men, women and children. Recognizing such atrocities is an essential step towards healing and reconciliation with Indigenous communities. Acknowledging this dark chapter in American history is a crucial part of the broader mission to promote justice and equity for all. 

In the ongoing pursuit of justice and equity for Indigenous communities, it is essential to address the current-day injustices and challenges they face. One pressing issue is the alarming number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This crisis is a painful reminder of the vulnerabilities Indigenous women continue to experience in society. 

The grassroots movement to raise awareness and demand action to end the violence and disappearance of Indigenous women is a critical component of Native American Heritage Month. By acknowledging these injustices and supporting initiatives that seek justice and protection for Indigenous women, we take a step closer to ensuring a more equitable and inclusive future for all Indigenous people. It is a reminder that while we celebrate their rich history and contributions, we must also stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities in the face of contemporary challenges. Please visit National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (NIWRC) for resources and information on this issue. 

Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate, educate, and reflect on the rich history and contributions of Indigenous peoples, while also acknowledging the injustices they have faced. At Quinnipiac and beyond, this observance aligns with the values of inclusivity and cultural appreciation, creating a more diverse and understanding community. As we honor Native American Heritage Month, we must also remember the past, celebrate the present, and work together for a more equitable and inclusive future. 

I hope you will attend all or at least part of our fourth annual Indigeneity Initiative Teach-In from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on November 7 in the Student Center Piazza. Come learn about Indigeneity from local and global perspectives in the past and present. Our lineup of speakers this year includes faculty, students, alumni and guest experts who will share their expertise and passion about a wide range of fascinating and timely topics.

In addition:

  • “The real story behind Thanksgiving”: Don’t miss this seasonal exhibit at the Arnold Bernhard Library co-created by students from AN-233 and the Indigenous Student Union for the month of November and December 

  • Check out the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac for a list of resources and ways to get involved. 

  • Follow the Indigenous Student Union on Instagram for more events! #quindigenousstudentunion 

Stay in the Loop

Sign Up Now