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Let’s Celebrate Native American Indian Heritage Month

But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Philippians 2:3.

It is harder to justify things like hatred and war when you understand where another person is coming from. You’ll be more ready for an increasingly global world says Miranda Marquit on her Facebook page. That’s why it is vitally important that we acknowledge the many contributions Native Americans have made to our global society.

Did you know that Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, was given the task to observe American Indian Day?  According to the Library of Congress, he issued a proclamation in 1915 supporting this cause.  In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

I admit that I did not know this fact at first, but came across it later in life.  I became more interested and looked well into the matter. Here are just a few tidbits that I discovered:

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted full United States citizenship to America’s indigenous people. NRCprograms.org further reveals that about half of the names of states within our country are derived from AmeriIndian words, such as Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, and Missouri.  Did you know that the eagle on the U. S. shield is the Iroquois bald eagle – also a national symbol for their tribe?

Despite all the accomplishments that Native Americans have made, many afflictions affecting tribal members persist even today. It is heart breaking, for instance, to realize that approximately 30 percent of American Indians are living below the federal poverty line. Infant mortality rates are around 60 percent higher than it is for Caucasians.  Moreover, American Indians are approximately 177 percent more likely to die from diabetes than non-natives, about 500 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis, and are about 82 percent more likely to die of suicide.

Nonetheless, all hope is not lost.  If you, like myself, have a portion of your genome that originates from Native American ancestors, you still have a whole lot to be very proud of.  Many of us have heard of Native American warriors and explorers such as Sitting Bull (Sioux), Squanto (Patuxet), Sacajawea (Shoshone), Tecumseh (Shawnee), and Hiawatha (Mohawk), but there are even more who made contributions in other meaningful ways. Ever heard of Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief?  Great, I am glad you have.  She became a well-known ballerina who danced for the New York City Ballet.  What about Will Rogers?  He was an actor, comedian, and a philanthropist.

It is amazing to learn from National Geographic News that the following discoveries were made by indigenous peoples: chewing gum (Aztecs), process of freeze-drying (Incas of Peru), chocolate (Mayans), popcorn (Moche tribe), and outdoor gear to include parkas (Eskimos).  Just imagine our world without vanilla, syringes, rubber balls, or copper tubing.  Native Americans discovered precursors to all of these items, and made huge strides in medicine and agriculture.

Instead of continuing a practice of cultural assimilation, whereby members of one group fully adopt the practices of another more dominate group, let us inculcate cultural integration.  That is a form of cultural exchange whereby one group assumes the rituals of another without sacrificing the characteristics of its own.  We should fully embrace Native American culture and history as our own within a more pluralistic America in the 21st century.

~ Rev. Gene Hall

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