Native American Heritage Month at Liberty

Kendall Sullivan, Staff Writer

For many years, the month of November had only two federally recognized holidays: Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. These days, among others, were symbols of Americanism, and yet, for Indigenous Americans, they were anything but. Indigenous Americans had little to celebrate in November, after numerous failed attempts to obtain a date of recognition on a federal level. In 1990, that changed. President George W. Bush made history by signing into law a new celebration, and November officially became “National Indian American Heritage Month.”

The month of November became an ideal time to teach non-native people about the diverse cultures that exist among the many tribes in the United States and to recognize the contributions made by the Indigenous community. At Liberty, Native American Heritage Month is a relevant part of the lives of Indigenous students.

“I think Native American Heritage Month is important to let the next generation know that they are respected and important. I don’t know if a lot of other schools do a Land Acknowledgement in the announcements, but I feel like they should, so native students feel more appreciated,” junior Kiona Hill said.

The Land Acknowledgement is a verbal acknowledgment of the rightful occupiers of the land that America resides on, and it recognizes the tribes of the area. During Native American Heritage Month, this is extremely important.

“Native American Heritage Month is a celebration of our ancestors, a celebration of where we came from,” senior Dylan Lugar, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, said. “It’s, even more, a celebration of the land itself, and less about the tribes.”

The indigenous students at Liberty come from a multitude of diverse backgrounds. Their tribes and ancestors are from all around the country, including here in Washington. Sisters Kiona and Kaya Hill are both Quinault, a tribe whose land resides partially in what is now the Olympic National Forest and the Quinault Reservation. For many members of the Indigenous community like them, November is an opportune time to educate others on what life is like as an Indigenous American and the struggles that come with it.

“A lot of tribes are being pressured by the government, who want to build on reservation land,” senior Kaya Hill said. 

Another rising issue that tribes have faced is the threat of climate change. For example, the Quinault tribe has progressively become more at risk of melting glaciers, which cause destructive flooding on the reservation. The struggles that Indigenous Americans continue to face have an incredible impression on their lives, and Indigenous students at Liberty want the focus to remain on impacts like these.

“A lot of people think they know the issues that Native People face because of what they’ve learned in history class,”  Kaya Hill said. “[But] there are deeper issues. Things like appropriation are more about the community outside Native Americans and less about Native People. It’s more important to focus on the issues that are within their community, rather than outside issues.”

Native American Heritage Month has opened a doorway for Indigenous Americans to speak up about current struggles faced by native communities around the country.

“I feel recognized. I think it’s good that there is a lot more recognition for everybody now,” Kiona Hill said.

During the month of November, Liberty spotlighted Indigenous authors in the library and displayed notable Indigenous figures on the televisions in the Performing Arts Center lobby. Liberty is actively working towards a more inclusive environment for Indigenous students, but there will always be room for improvement.

“If Liberty wanted to try and do better, I would say to keep doing what they’re doing.” Kaya Hill said. “You could give people history lessons, but a lot of people would just roll their eyes. Instead of forcing people to re-learn things they already know, I would just offer the opportunity to educate people about Native Leaders.”

Indigenous students in and around the Liberty community look to continually raise awareness, and to ensure that eventually, it is recognized that this land was, and continues to be native land.

“It’s not that we want everybody to hear our tribes spoken over the loudspeakers, it’s more of a recognition that we’re here, we’re in Liberty. There’s a lot like us, and we’re not that different,” Lugar said.

Through the rest of November, students can find posters about Native American Heritage Month in the halls and are encouraged by fellow students to continue asking questions and to keep their minds open to learning about the culture and lives of Indigenous peoples, long after November ends.