In a historical moment, November was recently declared as National American Heritage Month. During this month, Americans are encouraged to “learn about the rich history and culture of the Native American people” and honor the contributions of these indigenous peoples, according to a proclamation by President Donald Trump. This decision is extremely important both to preserve Native American culture and to celebrate the history of a minority that is too often overlooked in American society.
It is imperative that universities and other institutions partake in celebrating this month to raise awareness of Native American contributions as the University of Connecticut has done. The Native American Cultural Programs, for instance, hosted guest speaker Jonathan Perry of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts to discuss the history of his tribe and the importance of recognizing Native American history in general. Opportunities to hear from someone who has first-hand knowledge of a culture that has been deliberately neglected are integral to developing an understanding of what this culture has lost at the hands of American citizens.
As of now, it is uncommon for students to learn much at all about Native American history, due to a shameful history of oppression and assimilation that has suppressed this unique culture and turned Native Americans into one of the most neglected minorities in the United States. To change this, people must be educated about what these people have lost and what atrocities have been committed against them. However, they must learn not through the frosted lens of present-day American culture, but through the experiences of those who have directly been affected, such as Jonathan Perry.
The designation of American Heritage Month and UConn’s participation are certainly steps forward toward righting previous wrongs against those with a rightful claim to our land, but further steps must be taken to encourage people to learn and understand more about the hardships that Native Americans have faced and the sacrifices they made and continue to make. Our awareness of Native American concerns can not be restricted to one month just for the sake of paying this minority some temporary respect. To truly learn to appreciate Native American contributions, we must strive to continue this awareness long past the month of November.