November Proclamation Values the Place of Native Americans in US HistoryNov 09, 2022 07:10PM ● By Virginia Dean
Guided by policies favored by United States President Andrew Jackson, who led the country from 1828 to 1837, the deadly journey known as the Trail of Tears (1837–1839) forced the westward migration of American Indian tribes from the south and southeast across the Mississippi River to the western portion of the US into gated reservations, also known as Indian Territory, where many still reside today. Thousands of people died along the way, making the journey on foot without food, supplies, or other help from the government. By 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans had been driven off their land, which, as white settlement pushed westward, continued to shrink. The Trail of Tears was more than 5,000 miles long and covered nine states.
Now, 185 years later and due to sociopolitical pressure beginning in the 20th century, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., has proclaimed November 2022 as National Native American Heritage Month to celebrate Indigenous peoples (renamed at the end of the 20th century) past and present and to honor tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and the upholding of the United States’ solemn trust and treaty responsibilities to tribal nations. The proclamation had its inception 36 years ago when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the week of November 23 to 30, 1986, as American Indian Week. Since 1995, every subsequent US president has issued annual proclamations designating the month of November as the time to celebrate the cultures, accomplishments, and contributions of American Indian and Alaska Natives.
Today, across the country, there is a myriad of ways to acknowledge the proclaimed month including honoring Native American Code Talkers (WWI and WWII); taking a trip to Mesa Verde National Park, where there are more than 4,000 archaeological sites that tell the story of 700-plus years of Native American history; diving into contemporary art; learning about the stories behind contemporary Inuit ceramics; and meeting individuals from different tribes.
Locally, Indigenous Peoples Month holds special significance at Dartmouth College, where a monthlong series of events will bring community members together to share traditionally native foods, chalk messages on sidewalks, sing, drum, and present an Indigenous fashion show. Dartmouth College founded one of the first Native American programs in the country. Today there are 200 Indigenous students representing more than 70 different tribal nations and communities who attend Dartmouth, which counts more than 1,200 Native graduates among its alumni.
“We’re challenging people to think about their assumptions about Christopher Columbus and about this nation in general—challenging them to question their American identity in a way that recognizes who we are as Indigenous people and who we’ve become, despite all the challenges that we’ve faced,” says Ahnili Johnson-Jennings, ’23, a member of the Choctaw, Quapaw, Sac & Fox, and Miami nations who, with Aani Perkins, ’23, a member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, is co-president of Native Americans at Dartmouth.