November is a great month, isn’t it? The bright colors of Autumn are at their peak before branches become bare and blanketed with snow. The air, once crisp and fresh, turns chilly and nips at your nose. It’s like November reminds us to slow down, look around, and remember that everything has its season and its reason for being. But, one of the best parts of November is honoring our ancestors and remembering our roots, and that kicks off with Día des Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) from November 1-2. But, that is not the only culturally appreciative part of November!
Since 1990, November has also been officially declared as National Native American Heritage Month, which includes Alaska Native Heritage as well. From shore to shore, every piece of our land in North America has been touched by the hands, love, and care of Native Indigenous peoples, and in November, we honor, celebrate, and show respect for the many contributions that those individuals have made to our culture and country.
Understand the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Appropriation is taking aspects of a culture you do not belong to and claiming it for yourself. Appreciation is seeing all of the aspects of another culture and appreciating it for what it is without trying to claim ownership. There are many ways you can appreciate and honor the contributions of Native Americans and other Indigenous populations in your own home, even if that is not a part of your ancestral heritage.
~ Know where you stand. Visit https://native-land.ca/ to find out what Native lands your home, office, or other places of importance are on. Then, research that land, the people who lived on it before you, and its history. Learn about the individuals who walked the land before you and their culture and honor them in some way. It can be as simple as setting out something symbolic to honor the land, or even saying a prayer to the land, thanking it for providing shelter and safety for you and your loved ones. Talk to your friends about what land they are on now. These conversations do so much to honor the people who were there before, simply by knowing who they were. For example, VANTAGE Aging headquarters in Akron, Ohio, sits on Erie and Kaskaskia lands.
~ Share stories and spread awareness of the diversity of Native American and Indigenous peoples both past and present. This can be done through museum visits (virtual or in person), making and sharing meals inspired by Indigenous recipes (we recommend Casa de la Cocina) with friends and loved ones, and dig into the rich and varied symbols of Indigenous values (like artwork, ceramics, and the bison).
~ Learn more about the contributions of Native and Indigenous Peoples in this country that we still use today! I bet you did not know that corn was specially cultivated from a type of wild grass by ancient farmers as long as 10,000 years ago! Or that rubber was invented by the Native Americans. The Inuit people in the Arctic fashioned the very first kayaks out of wood and whalebone covered in animal hides, like sealskin. And the Inca in South America weaved mountain grasses to make the first cable suspension bridges! Baby bottles were first made by the Iroquois from a dried and greased bear gut topped with a bird’s quill as a nipple, and many pain relievers, medications (oral contraceptives for one), and anesthetics have Native roots as well. There is so much in our society today that came from the hearts and minds of people who lived here well before us! That is worth celebrating!
~ Take a hike! No, really. So much of Native and Indigenous history can be experienced through a walk in nature. Here in Ohio, we have a rich collection of internationally recognized Native and Indigenous earthworks sites where you can personally connect to the land and those who lived on it in the past. From the Great Serpent Mound – so named because of its snake-like shape – to the Newark Earthworks, Story Mound to the Leo Petroglyphs and Nature Preserve, there is no shortage of natural heritage sites for you to get up close and personal with the land, its spirit, and those who walked it before we all were even thought of.
~ Learn the stories of the Native and Indigenous people in your life. You may not have any shared heritage with this population, but I can nearly guarantee you, someone you are close to does. Seek out their stories and the experiences, and if you don’t know a Native or Indigenous person personally, you can find their stories in your local libraries and online. Learn the true history of these cultures and share them widely, especially those cultures who are located where you are.
Celebrating and honoring the rich, important heritage of Native Americans and other Indigenous Peoples is worth doing every day, not just in the month of November. As a nation, it is so important that we learn and celebrate the true contributions of those who came before us, as oftentimes those contributions and stories have been lost to history or washed away from the stories we tell. Speaking their experiences out loud, honoring their diverse culture, and knowing their stories shows an appreciation for the Native and Indigenous Peoples, even if you are not among them. Make this November the month you start honoring and celebrating Native American and Indigenous Heritage.
Here at VANTAGE Aging, we do all we can to honor the culture and heritage of all we serve. Contact us today if you or someone you know needs simple supports to live and age with dignity and respect.