We are still here.
We are Americans twice by birth, both ancestrally and politically.
Our lives and our way of thinking is informed by our indigenous culture, passed down to us by our parents, from their parents and grandparents before even as they also taught us to be United States citizens or shared with us by other elders.
Some of us are full-bloods; most of us are mixed-blood. Unlike many other Americans, we don’t just ‘have Indian in us’ or claim a ‘Cherokee princess’ great-great grandmother -- we ARE Native American.
When the history books and tourism pamphlets say that the Native Americans don’t live in this area anymore, rethink that -- how exactly is it worded? Did the people migrate away? Were they victims of warfare or disease? Or did they just seem to disappear? Sometimes when someone says that American Indians have vanished, all it means it that they don’t know where to look or that they have held on to stereotyped assumptions about how we live and how we look.
We aren’t all on reservations. We live in apartments, condos, and single-family homes, right next door to you. We don’t all spend our weekends in the woods, with the perfectly silent steps that Indian ancestry supposedly bestows, stalking deer with bows and arrows.
Some of us are very traditional and knowledgeable about our heritage; some of us are several generations removed, but still embrace and internalize what has been retained. Some aren’t and don’t.
You can’t always tell just by looking at us. We wear everything from blue jeans and tee-shirts to business suits and dress shirts. I’ve seen more Caucasian girls wearing beads and feathers for everyday wear than we ever do. We don’t all have straight black hair. We never had a monopoly on high cheekbones. And for heaven’s sake, contrary to your beloved football team’s name and logo, we don’t have red skin! (Well, I admit that I do sometimes when I forget the sunscreen. But that peels off. OUCH!)
Would it be accurate to assume that most of what you know about our people (and for some of you, about your own ancestry) comes from history books, movies, and politicians' statements? Even with my background, a lot of mine did too. And despite all I've just said, I don't claim to know everything myself either -- there's a lot I'm still learning and being taught by my elders -- nor can I speak for all of the Native nations. But I challenge you to begin this month to find out about us from us.
You can start here. [National Museum of the American Indian]
See also the Smithsonian Education Heritage Month Web site.