Honoring Native American Heritage Month

“The secret of our success is that we never, never give up” – Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation

Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. There are 574 officially recognized tribes within the U.S., nine of which are in Oregon—the Burns Paiute Tribe; the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians; the Coquille Indian Tribe; the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians; the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; the Klamath Tribes; the Confederated Tribes of Siletz; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. When Native youth are committed to OYA who are members of Oregon Tribes, OYA does intergovernmental consultation and works collaboratively with the tribes on their youth’s reformation journey.

Spotlight: Contributions of Native Peoples

Tommy Orange, an award winning author of Cheyenne and Arapaho descent, uses his writing to give voice to the stories of urban Natives to broaden the narrative that too often persists in American culture, “one thing about Native people is that we’re turned into one dimensional people, a one dimensional thing; we’re a statistic or we’re a historical image.” This month is an opportunity to critically examine how these harmful stereotypes and historical depictions that have persisted have influenced our perception of Native peoples today.

We want to take space to recognize a small slice of the contributions of Native Americans. Here are just a few notable Native Americans we recommend you learn more about:

Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) made history when she became the first Native American cabinet secretary in the United States Congress as the Secretary of the Interior. She has focused on environmental justice, climate change, and created a new unit to pursue justice for missing and murdered indigenous women.

Sean Sherman (Ogalala Sioux) known as the Sioux Chef Is a James Beard award-winning chef and educator, author, and activist whose mission is to revitalize Indigenous food systems and build awareness of the transformational potential of Indigenous foodways to restore the health, local economies, culture, and food sovereignty of Native people.

Lauren Good Day (Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet, Plains Cree) is an artist and fashion designer who intertwines old traditions with modern culture and actively helps with language and culture revitalization efforts.

Creed Humphrey (Potawatomi Nation) is an NFL Player who is the current center for the Kansas City Chiefs and was selected for the Pro Bowl and was part of the team that won Super Bowl LVII. He has recognized the lack of Native representation in sports and the importance of being a person for Native youth to look up to.

Quannah Chasinghorse (Diné/Lakota) is a model, actor and activist who uses her platform to support Indigenous sovereignty and sustainability.

Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek) an American poet, musician, playwright and author who became the first-ever Native American Poet Laureate who frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values into her writing.

John Herrington (Chickasaw), a retired United States Naval Aviator and engineer, became the first member of a Native American tribe to fly in space and is an advocate for youth to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Spotlight: Native Language preservation in Oregon

Part of the federal governments recognition of harms caused by past policies is the investment in recent years into revitalizing and preserving Native languages. The Grande Ronde Tribe, in part with federal support, has developed a comprehensive preservation effort of Chinuk Wawa language. A goal of the program is to make Chinuk Wawa known, recognized, and valued in order to save it from extinction. The program works through several ways to create learning opportunities, including early childhood and kindergarten through fourth grade language immersion, as well as middle and high school classes. There are also adult and elder education opportunities including learning through the Chinuk Wawa app.

 “Learning my traditional language, Chinuk Wawa, as an adult and gaining enough aptitude to later teach the language in our immersion classroom gave me an enormous sense of pride. Being a part of the language institute at University of Oregon, spending time with elders who were the last living speakers of their moribund languages was life changing for me,” says Leslie Riggs, Tribal Liaison and Native American Programs Coordinator.  “Without the efforts of these individuals many of the languages being preserved would be gone forever. Now, some of these languages are taught in local public schools on and near reservations and some tribes have embraced technology to make language learning available to their members wherever they live.”

Leslie is Umpqua, Rogue River, and Shoshone Bannock, and is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Spotlight: OYA Cultural Services for Native Youth

Our Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations does incredible work with Native youth to create community and provide safe spaces for positive interaction and self-expression that allow youth to deepen their connection to their culture. Derwin Decker, OYA Native American Services Coordinator, facilitates year-round opportunities including sweatlodge and smudging ceremonies, drumming circles, talking circles, and an arts and crafts group. Derwin is Modoc and enrolled member of the Klamath Tribes in Southern Oregon.

OIIR has a number of celebrations planned to honor Native American Heritage Month for youth at our facilities.  A powwow was held at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility with dancers, drummers, and fry bread. Drumming, Dancing, Native American hand stick game, bison hoof stick game and accuracy games will be part of celebrations at Camp Riverbend, Camp Tillamook and Tillamook Youth Correctional Facility, and Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility. Camp Florence will be viewing a documentary on the film industry’s role in perpetuating harmful and inaccurate portrayal of Native Americans through cinema.

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