Image credit: Arrival of the canoes to the dedication of the Xunaa Shuká Hít, or Huna Tribal House, at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
The story of Native American Heritage Month started “at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.” You can read more about the decades-long struggle to honor Native Americans on the Native American Heritage Month website. As stated by the National Park Service,
“History, heritage, or culture of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians are part of every national park and communities across the country today. Every November during Native American Heritage Month and throughout the year, the National Park Service and our partners share history and the continuing culture of America’s indigenous peoples”
As always, the best place to start is exactly where we are. It’s easy to look around and take for granted the state of things as they are, but it’s also important to think: what is the Native American heritage of this area, and what forces shaped my surroundings into what they are today?
Prior to colonization Northern California was home to numerous and interconnected indigenous nations, which you can see on the map on the right (a smaller section of a bigger map housed in the California Indian Library Collections). The political and geographic entity we now think of as Marin County is on the historical territory of the Coast Miwok.
The Miwok village of Olompali, on the slopes of what we now call Mount Burdell, was inhabited continuously from about 6,000 B.C. until the early 1850s. (While the Visitor Center in Olompali State Historic Park is not currently open to visitors because of COVID-19, park trails are still open.) There were also about 600 Miwok settlements along the coast between Sonoma County’s Bodega Bay in the north and the southern end of Marin County.
The Coast Miwok were closely allied with their neighbors, the Southern Pomo, and many Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people still live within their ancestral territories. Currently, many Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo are united into the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR), a federally recognized tribe. It’s important to know that this tribe, as well as many of the ones represented on that map, continue to exist today as vital, rich communities.
- Read about FIGR’s resolutions when it comes to environmental stewardship and housing
- FIGR’s Historical background and timeline of struggle for land and sovereignty
- Visit the Kule Loklo Coast Miwok Cultural Exhibit, a recreated historical village
- Explore the role of Kule Loklo for local tribes through the “Future in Flux for Kule Loklo Roundhouse” article in Point Reyes Light
Exploring Native Voices
More broadly, there are so many ways to explore Native American art, history, culture, and political struggles. Especially now that the pandemic has driven us online, many events are more accessible than ever before!
The Native American Heritage Month website has a wealth of readings, presentations, dances, and concerts. You can start with the very first one, a reading by U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Joy Harjo is only of only two poets to have been appointed to a third term as Poet Laureate.
You can also watch Harjo’s inaugural reading:
National Museum of the American Indian has a variety of events that can be accessed virtually, including:
- Native Cinema Showcase, “an annual celebration of the best in Native film”. All the films are available on demand until at least November 24, some until November 27.
- Artists Kay WalkingStick and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith in Conversation, Thursday, December 3, 6 – 7 PM EST
National Park Service similarly has a calendar of events, including
- Native Americans and the Underground Railroad in the Midwest, Tuesday November 24 at 12pm EST
- Grant’s Native American “Peace Policy”, Saturday, November 28, 12pm EST
Preservation and Self-Determination
- M. Carlos Baca’s “Decolonizing Thanksgiving and Reviving Indigenous Relationships to Food“
- The Culture Conservancy, a San Francisco-based organization, is protecting Native foodways, empowering Native media production, and preserving heritage for Native youth. Watch a clip of their workshop from the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden:
- Native Land has an interactive map of territories, languages, and treaties that allows you to explore all over the U.S. Their organization “strives to map Indigenous lands in a way that changes, challenges, and improves the way people see the history of their countries and peoples. We hope to strengthen the spiritual bonds that people have with the land, its people, and its meaning.”
- Indian People Organizing For Change (IPOC) has been working to protect East Bay Shellmounds. Members “work together in order to accomplish social and environmental justice within the Bay Area American Indian community”
- Members of Sogorea Te’ Land Trust in the East Bay are working on the preservation of ancestral lands and rectification through a voluntary tax
In Our Collection
Finally, as always, you can always turn to our collection and immerse yourself in Native literature, poetry, essays, and everything from cookbooks to histories. All of the following lists center Native voices, rather than the writing of settlers about Native Americans.
Take a deep breath, and dive in.