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American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month

The commemorative month is in November and offers a platform for Native People in the United Sates to share their culture, understating of life and traditions. It is a time to celebrate the cultural diversity and the contributions of Native people. The month is also a time to educate people about the tribes and raise awareness about the challenges that Native people faced historically and in the present, and how to overcome them.

President George H. W. Bush first declared American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month in 1990. Years before the month was introduced, Princess Pale Moon, President of the American Indian Heritage Foundation, had a dream about a commemorative month dedicated to native people. Pale Moon was aware of the great success of Black History Month and she became impressed with the passionate efforts made to build the exposure and public awareness year after year for Black History Month. “Congress chose the month of the November to recognize the American Indians and Alaska Native people as this month concluded the traditional harvest season and was generally a time of thanksgiving and celebration for the American Indians” (via the Library of Congress website).

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Heather Purser (b. 1983)

Heather is a seafood diver for Washington’s Suquamish Tribe, who fought for the approval of same-sex marriage among her tribe. She approached her tribal council in 2009 about the possibility of marrying her partner. The petition was unanimously approved without a single rejection. On August 1, 2011 the Suquamish Tribe extended rights to same-sex couples on its reservation (more than a year before the state voted on marriage equality). “With more Native Americans making similar demands, the Suquamish tribe [was] one of three that signed off on marriage by same-sex couples, laws that appl[ied] only on their land. Legal analysts predict[ed] that more tribes [would] follow, giving new rights to what many Native Americans call[ed] “two-spirit” individuals, who carry both a feminine and masculine spirit” (via Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau).

Featured person photo

Rita Pitka Blumenstein (b. 1936)

Rita is a Yup’ik woman who was the first certified traditional doctor in Alaska, she works for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and was been member of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers since its founding in 2004. The group is an alliance of indigenous female spiritual elders, medicine women and wisdom keepers focused in issues such as environment, internationalism and human rights. Rita worked as a traditional healer in the South Central hospital in Anchorage, Alaska. She used traditional Native American medicine in her practice fighting against the institutionalization of birth and the loss of traditional birthing practices within the Native American communities. Rita travels around the world as one of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers healing and teaching while being employed with the South Central Foundation as a tribal doctor.

Featured person photo

Paula Gunn Allen (b.1939 –d.2008)

Paula Gunn Allen was a mixed Laguna Pueblo, Sioux, Lebanese and Scottish author, literary critic, feminist, and activist who worked to increase tolerance for gays and lesbians within Native American communities. She wrote poetry and fiction inspired in the Laguna Pueblo oral traditions, edited four collections of Native American traditional stories and contemporary works and wrote two biographies of Native American women.

In 1986, Paula published The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986), arguing that Europeans had de-emphasized the role of women in their accounts of native life because of their own patriarchal societies. She earned a PhD at the University of New Mexico, where she became a professor and started teaching on tribal religions.  She also taught at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley before joining the UCLA Indian Center in the 1980s. Her research has proved tremendously influential, encouraging other feminist’s studies of Native American cultures and literature.

Featured person photo

Winona LaDuke (b. 1959)

Winona is an Ojibwe environmentalist, economist and writer founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (1989), a grassroots organization that seeks to recover land for the Anishinaabed people on the White Earth Indian Reservation in western Minnesota developing programs to achieve sustainability and environmental preservation. In 1985, Winona co-founded the Indigenous Women’s Network with Janet McCloud and other activists, a platform for Native women, their families and communities to help them have sovereignty over themselves and the environment. She was also involved together with Lorelei DeCora Means, Madonna Thunderhawk and others with WARN-Women of All Red Nations, a Native American women’s organization established in 1974 to prevent forced sterilization among Native American women.

In 1993 together with the Indigo Girls-Amy Ray and Emily Saliers-Winona co-founded Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization founded to raise awareness and financial support for Indigenous environmental justice. In 1996 and 2000, she ran as the vice-presidential candidate with Ralph Nader on the Green Party of the United States. Currently, Winona lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. She fought the Sandpiper pipeline and she is currently at the Red Warrior Camp in Arizona, where hundreds of tribes from across the US and Canada are currently resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across Native American territory.

Featured person photo

Carole LaFavor (b. 1948 – d. 2011)

Carol was a Two-Spirit Objiwe novelist, registered nurse and AIDS activist. She funded Positively Native to support the Native American community. She combined traditional medicine, Native lesbian pride, and HIV/AIDS activism in her discourse.

She was the central character of Her Giveaway: A Spiritual Journey with AIDS (Mona Smith, 1988), a fundamental tribal health AIDS film where Carole’s Red Road narrative emphasizes Native American traditional healing methods concerning reclamation of Native American LGTBQ2 identity. Carole became a major activist figure that interrogated the lack of Native Americans HIV/AIDS inclusion in the International AIDS activism and the necessity of a pride network within the Native American communities.

Carole left a national legacy of Native AIDS education. 

Featured person photo

Anna Mae Pictou Aquash (b. 1945-d.1975)

Warrior of the Mi’kmaq Nation and the American Indian Movement (AIM), one of the most important activist groups advocating for Native American civil rights founded in Minneapolis in 1968. Aquash participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties, the occupation of the Department of Interior Headquarters in Washington DC, and protested to draw government action and acknowledgement of First Nations and Native American civil rights in Canada and Wisconsin in the following years. In 1975 she disappeared and on 1976 her body was found on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota revealing that she was murdered, shortly after the Wounded Knee incident. Today the Indigenous Women for Justice group, fights for an answer in her murder and follows the events of the trials of those men who have been accused with involvement in her murder. 

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