IUPUI Celebrates Native American Heritage Month


November is National Native American Heritage Month in the United States. It’s a time for Native and non-Native people to share, learn about, and celebrate the diverse cultures, traditions and history of Native tribes and nations.

The event initially started in 1915 as an unsuccessful attempt by Native people across the United States to get the government at the time to observe an “American Indian Day.” It wasn’t until 1991 when President George Herbert Walker Bush issued a proclamation making the month of November, and every November after, what is now known as Native American Heritage Month.

This year, in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, the IUPUI Multicultural Center,  Native American Student Alliance (NASA), and IUPUI American Indian Programs (AIP), are just a few of the organizations that have come together to sponsor a month full of programs taking place on IUPUI’s campus.

For some students, the news that IUPUI is celebrating Native American Heritage Month comes as a welcomed surprise.

“I commute to campus, so I don’t always know that these things are happening,” IUPUI Student, Steven Penfound, said. “But I’m definitely interested in checking it out. I’m actually taking a Native American literature course next semester, so I think it would be pretty cool.”

Director of American Indian Programs at IUPUI, Charmayne Champion-Shaw, hopes that the scheduled programs have a lasting impact on those that take part in them.

“It is our hope that participating in these programs helps people begin to see things from a different perspective,” Champion-Shaw said. “And that these shifts in perspectives, even though they may be small, can serve as catalysts to help us understand culture and knowledge in much broader and inclusive ways.”

Some of the scheduled programs include guest speaker Scott Shoemaker, a member of the Miami Nation and an Eiteljorg Museum curator, whose speech, “Telling Miami History Through Families,” will be part of the department of philosophy’s annual speakers’ series. There will also be a genealogy workshop titled “Tracing Roots and Tracking Branches.” And the Multicultural Center will host the showing of the documentary “Up Heartbreak Hill.”

The month long celebration concludes Nov. 30 with a discussion reflecting on the Native American tribes and nations that once lived on the land where IUPUI sits. The Miami, Potawatomi, Lenape, Shawnee, and Kickapoo were just a few of the Native American tribes and nations that called the land home.

“We will close the Heritage Month by beginning a community conversation about creating a place of honor that reflects the Native people who once lived on this particular land but now thrive in different communities across the country,” Champion-Shaw said. “We’ll also discuss how to better engage Native thought, philosophy, and positive contributions here at IUPUI and throughout the campus, city, state, and beyond.”

Along with celebrating Native cultures, traditions and history during Native American Heritage Month, it is also a time for non-Native people to learn about the challenges and negative stereotypes that Native people face in their lives.

Recently, there has been an increase of coverage on one of these challenges as Native people and their supporters fight against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the reservation and water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. For many non-Natives, this type of treatment may come as a surprise, but according to Champion-Shaw, it happens all too often.

“What is happening in the Dakotas is not new news to Natives. The coverage and increasingly widespread attention is wonderful, and we urge all non-Native people to stand with all the tribal people who are fighting the pipeline, but Natives have been engaged in these ecological battles since settlers first started landing and cutting down the forests,” she said.

The challenges facing Native people don’t stop with land disputes. There’s the issue of poor living conditions and underfunded health services on many reservations. There’s the ongoing controversy over racist mascots of sports teams like those of the NFL’s Washington “Redskins,” and “Chief Wahoo” of the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball. And then there’s the silence surrounding the number of Native women that are victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

Native people know all too well the challenges that they face, and they continue to fight for their rights and respect, but non-Natives can help by listening to the voices of Native people, as well as take the time to further educate themselves on important issues. For those at IUPUI wanting to do their part, taking part in the celebration of Native American Heritage Month is the perfect place to start.

“It is our hope that we have created programs that increase people’s interest in Native history,”  Champion-Shaw said. “It’s a part of their own American history that often is completely invisible to them.”

More information about the programs being offered during Native American Heritage Month can be found here.