Native American Heritage: It’s Not What You Think
Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to talk, think and act for myself — and I will obey every law or submit to the penalty. Chief Joseph, Washington, D.C., 14 January 1879
From protests and politics, to pop culture, Americans have begun to pay more attention to the continent’s indigenous peoples. The recent PBS series Native America offers a glimpse of the advanced civilizations that existed before European contact. The documentary film Rumble finally gives Native Americans “credit for influencing a vast amount of popular music.” A record number of Native American candidates were on mid-term ballots across the country, and Kansas and New Mexico elected the first two Native American women to the U.S. Congress. To recognize “the remarkable legacies and accomplishments of Native Americans,” as Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) put it, the Senate passed its annual resolution declaring Native American Heritage Month. The legislation’s co-sponsor, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), described Native American Month as an opportunity to “celebrate the indelible mark that Native American arts, languages, cultures, and peoples have left on New Mexico and the United States.” The emphasis on language, culture, art, and religion is integral to Native American heritage. But Native American heritage is not just about language and song; that heritage is also about the institutions that once governed and even now could help govern Native American daily lives.
This is the first of three essays aimed at a better understanding of how Native American heritage provides a foundation on which tribes can renew their economies…