Congressman Tom Cole and Congresswoman Deb Haaland introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize November as National Native American Heritage Month, honoring tribal nations throughout history. The congressional delegation of Native Americans joined in issuing statements in support of the resolution.

Each year during the month of November, I am proud that we pause to reflect on the unique heritage, rich history and special contributions of Native Americans, Indeed, the enduring legacy of tribal nations and their members extends far beyond the birth of the United States, and that is a legacy that must be protected. I am pleased to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to introduce a resolution that not only celebrates an incredible heritage but affirms policies that respect the constitutional rights of tribes and preserve the promises made by the federal government.

Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

 

Native American Heritage month is all about recognizing the contributions that American Indians, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians have made to this country while reflecting upon the systemic racism and failures of the federal government to uphold promises to Native Nations. We must work to ensure the federal government upholds its trust obligation and promote tribal sovereignty so that we move toward a culture shift. We must learn from the dark pages of our history to build a more equitable and brighter future. By giving an elevated voice to Native Americans, we’re also drawing attention to the challenges that our Tribal communities still face. This year’s Native American heritage month comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting Native Americans and indigenous communities across the country, and the call for action has never been greater.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna.

 

This month gives all Americans the opportunity to celebrate the legacy of the first people who called this land home. Our history and sovereignty are what bind us together, I am proud to embrace my Cherokee heritage and I believe that our heritage and traditions should be celebrated not only this month, but year round. I am proud to cosponsor this resolution that recognizes the contributions of Native Americans along with the need to strengthen the United States’ government-to-government relationship with Native Nations.

Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

 

Native American Heritage Month is a time to acknowledge and pay tribute to the unique heritages, cultures and contributions of Indigenous people in our country. I’m proud of my Native heritage, and I’m proud to serve as one of the first Native women ever elected to Congress. The need to acknowledge the contributions and needs of Native Americans in this country is always important, but it is especially so during a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted and harmed Native communities.

Congresswoman Sharice Davids (KS-03), a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation

Text of the resolution is available here.

Haaland and Davids are the first Native American women with documented tribal ancestry to be elected to the US Congress. (2018 election). Davids is also the first openly gay woman of color, and first openly LGBT Native American elected to Congress.

More than 50 House Democrats recently signed and sent a letter to President-Elect Joe Biden, urging him to chose Haaland to be Interior Secretary. She would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet Secretary.

In part, the letter reads:

We greatly appreciate your commitment to building a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of America, and we strongly recommend that you nominate our colleague Representative Deb Haaland, a congresswoman from New Mexico and an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, as to serve as your Secretary of the Interior.

She has been a champion for our environment and public lands and has worked tirelessly to improve the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and Indian By selecting her to be your Secretary of the Interior, you can make history by giving Native Americans a seat at the Cabinet table for the first time.

The Interior Department oversees the management of natural resources and the honoring of the federal government’s commitments to Native American tribes. This includes the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA is responsible for the management of 55 million acres held in trust by the government. Both agencies are underfunded, and have failed to serve indigenous communities.

resource re Haaland as Interior Secretary: Jennifer Bendery, “Dozens of Lawmakers Urge Biden to Pick Deb Haaland for Interior Secretary, HuffPost, November 20, 2020.

In spite of our agonizing history, Native American people find much to celebrate. The songs, the dances, the culture and traditions surrounding planting and harvests, the prayers that are sent upward for healing and peace, and the welcoming of children into our families, are all reasons for us to keep moving forward with optimism.

Deb Haaland

In 1881, my dad’s grandparents, who were Norwegian farmers, immigrated to the United States – the same year my great grandfather from Laguna Pueblo was put on a train to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.

Deb Haaland

photograph of Calvin Coolidge and a Native voting rights delegation, circa 1920

It’s important to note that while American women won the right to vote federal in 1920, Native Americans didn’t gain citizenship until 1924 (seen by the government as part of the assimilation process).

Being deemed “citizens” didn’t give automatically give all Native Americans the right to vote, however. While the 15th amendment had given African-Americans voting rights, the individual states often suppressed them. The same was true for Native Americans; the last state to guarantee voting rights was Utah in 1962. The 1965 Voting Rights Act further enforced Native Americans right to vote.

resource: Becky Little, “Native Americans Weren’t Guaranteed the Right to Vote in Every State Until 1962,” History; orginial post: November 6, 2018; updated November 13, 2020.

 

The beauty of a Native language is something that has been passed down from generation to generation, but the federal government has fallen short on resources to teach these languages. I learned some Kares from my grandparents and my mom, who still speaks our language fluently, but we’re at risk of losing the language and the traditional knowledge that comes with it. That’s why Senator Schatz and I introduced Native American Languages Resource Center Act. This bill will protect our Native languages and ensure the next generation has access to the traditions of our ancestors.

 

She continues:

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has led to school closures, job losses, financial insecurity for families, the collapse of Native American, local and state economies, and most tragically, a disproportionate number of Native American lives lost. Now, more than ever, Congress needs to take decisive actions in furtherance of the trust responsibility of the U.S., and carry out the commitments and policies enacted under the Native American Languages Act. Without action, years of progress in preserving and revitalizing Native American languages will be lost, putting many languages on the precipice of extinction again.

press release re bill

This center would:

  • Be a consortium of institutions that reflect the diversity of Native American languages, cultures and communities throughout the United States.
  • Provide support for Native American language medium/immersion programs and schools serving children of all ages and at all levels of learning, from Pre-K to PhD.
  • Provide a central outreach to other Native American language programs.
  • Provide necessary resources and best practices to support distance learning.

The Native American Languages Resource Center bill is supported and endorsed by various Tribal groups and organizations. The Bill was introduced on November 9, 2020. The text of the bill is here.