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Listen to Learn: November is Native American Heritage Month

Every month, the Diversity and Community Office shares and educates about a holiday or observance as a way to build and support an inclusive community.

UPrep’s Community and Diversity Office shares how we can honor Native Americans

During the 2020–2021 school year, the Diversity and Community Office is continuing a practice that we started last year: to educate our school community about cultural and religious holidays/observances or dates of national importance. Each month, we will share about a holiday or observance as a way to continue to build and support an inclusive community.

In thinking about writing this blog, instead of sharing how Native American Heritage Month came into existence, I thought more about how we can honor and recognize a socially constructed race of American Indians comprised of tribes. In order to honor and recognize Native Americans, we must first educate ourselves about the history of Native American people: Indigenous history before colonization, the genocide during colonization, forced assimilation, erasure, the racist policies that perpetuate inequitable systems to suppress Native Americans, as well as honoring the achievements and success of Native Americans. My hope is that this blog can help jumpstart your interest in learning more about the people who have watched over our lands, even though their stories have been erased in our modern society. 

As of May 2020, there are 574 Indigenous tribes officially recognized by the United States.  There are, however, more than 574 Indigenous tribes in the United States. Many tribes have not been federally recognized and cannot access federal funding. Federal recognition gives tribes the right to govern themselves, their lands, and their people. Federally recognized tribes are independent nations with the right to form their own governments, adjudicate legal cases, levy taxes within its borders, establish membership, and more. The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect tribal lands, assets, resources, and treaty rights. Although recognized Indigenous tribes are independent nations, Native Americans are subject to federal income taxes.  Federal recognition also gives tribes the rights to access federal funding and access to human services. The Dxʷdəwʔabš (Duwamish) tribe, the host tribe for Seattle and King County, are still fighting for federal recognition. Without federal recognition, tribes have limited ability to provide social, educational, health, and cultural programs. Many dxʷdəwʔabš have chosen to enroll with federally recognized tribes in order to obtain health and other human services. 

University Prep sits on the lands of Chief Si'ahl (Seattle), and our city honors the memory of his experience through its namesake Seattle. Chief Si'ahl’s mother was dxʷdəwʔabš and his father was Suquamish, and he was born in a dxʷdəwʔabš village on the Black River in Kent. As a chief of the dxʷdəwʔabš tribe, Chief Si'ahl greeted European-American settlers when they arrived at Alki Point. He provided guides and transportation by canoe for the European-American settler, as well as labor for Henry Yesler’s first sawmill. Chief Si'ahl’s eldest daughter, Kikisoblu, was also a friend to many of the of the European settlers who colonized Seattle, including the Maynard and Yesler families. Kikisoblu was buried next to Henry Yesler. Click here to read letters by Kikisoblu that share the stories of her father and the dxʷdəwʔabš people; these letters were compiled into curriculum for Washington state students by Rick Moulden. 

Reading letters like these is only one way to learn. The history of many cultures revolves around oral traditions. Written history is often considered more accurate by most people because of the ways we have been socialized to learn. As Waziyatawin, professor of Indigenous history at the University of Victoria, says, “The fundamental difference between academic Native American History and Native American History from the native perspective is the medium through which history is interpreted.”

Our colonized and socialized understanding of history means that we generally mistrust the oratorical traditions because they are not validated by written sources. Oratorical traditions are through the perspective of those who lived it. Memoirs are oral histories in a written format. For those who prefer to learn about history from a first-person perspective, there are a number of universities that offer transcripts of Native American oral history projects and Tedx talks from Native Americans about their history. You can find these histories at the Doris Duke Collection at the University of Oklahoma, The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, and in the TEDx talk by Larry Cesspooch Ute Wisdom, Language, and Creation Story. For those that prefer an academic history in the format of a written document, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, is a wealth of indigenous history that we have not learned though our history courses. 

As you think about honoring Native American Heritage month, I suggest taking the time to learn more about the history and current experiences of the first people who inhabited the lands of Seattle, the dxʷdəwʔabš, and the first people who inhabited this country.  

By Directory of Diversity and Community & Director of Hiring    E-chieh Lin

Read more blogs in the Listen to Learn series: National Disability Awareness Month, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Kwanzaa.

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