November is Native American Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, is a time to honor and celebrate the diverse art, culture, land, history and traditions of the first people.
We acknowledge the immense contributions that Native people have given us and recognize that we need to work to undo the challenges and vile forms of oppression we have created for them throughout history. We must also acknowledge the barriers we continue to uphold against Native people presently so we can work to dismantle them for current and future generations.
Washington is the home of 29 federally recognized Native American tribes, including the Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie of King County as well as the neighboring Duwamish, Nisqually and Suquamish. King County’s largest city is named after Duwamish leader, Chief Si’ahl and is home to many urban Native people. Local Native people have significantly influenced the region’s culture, economy, and leadership in conservation efforts for the environment.
We all benefit from their driving work and values, yet Native people continue to suffer from some of the highest rates of poverty, poor health indicators, homelessness as well as and increased lack of access to education and transportation. To combat this, we must keep growing our work and continue to invest in Native-led organizations that use models that can better address these issues and disparities in a culturally-focused and equitable way.
Acknowledging That Native People Can Choose How They Feel About Thanksgiving
The end of November is widely seen as a time to spend with friends and family, expressing gratitude and enjoying a long weekend of food, sports, shopping, travel, or even just rest. But Thanksgiving has a complicated and violent history that often gets erased, glossed-over and even romanticized in the way we learn and talk about it. The holiday can represent, for many, painful reminders of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft and destruction of Native lands, and the many attempts to erase Native culture.
Since 1970, Native people and allies have gathered at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to observe National Day of Mourning on the same Thursday of the US holiday. We should respect that not all people celebrate the arrival of European settlers, and instead choose to honor their ancestors, their family and community, and the continuing fight of their people against the ever-present structures of racism and oppression. On the west coast, there is similar observance started in 1969—the Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island, inviting people to reclaim the holiday for those still with us.
Celebrating Family and Community with a Deeper Appreciation and Conversation
People, both Native and non-Native, can choose to observe this holiday in their way. But it is possible to keep in the spirit of gratitude around this time in a way that doesn’t ignore the plight of Native people. Most people naturally try to avoid having those uncomfortable conversations at the dinner table—especially if they have “that” relative or even thinking about the prospect of discussing such levels of death and violence. But there are meaningful ways to acknowledge and have conversations about our nation’s problematic history.
It is essential to our restorative work to begin by disrupting the harmful narrative of misinformation that often begins in schools and can be coupled with racist activities and teachings in the classroom. We can work to support Native-led organizations, businesses, and artists. We can reflect on the lives lost in the past and the true history of the stolen lands on which we now live. We can learn with friends and family about gratitude, healing, and the power of the community in a positive way.
A Thank You to Our Community and Our Partners
As King County continues to grow, we see the challenges and disparities that our residents face. We are thankful for the incredible work that our County staff and community providers do every day to connect, empower and support King County residents. Overcoming these long-established systems of inequity, poverty, and racism is work that none of us can do alone.
Creating stronger and more resilient communities where every person can thrive requires us to meet systemic challenges with systemic solutions. Thank you to our King County residents who teach us and inform the direction of our work and thank you to our network of partners who support our residents.