November commemorates Native American contributions

November is Native American Heritage Month, which provides an opportunity to learn more about the first inhabitants of the United States. Without Native American help, the European settlers could not have survived in the harsh conditions of the American wilderness.

Many celebrations honor the contributions of natives who shared food and survival skills with newcomers from Europe.

The theme for the 2012 Native American Heritage Month is "Serving Our People, Serving Our Nations; Honoring Those That Served Our Country."

In World War II, members of the Navajo Nation answered the call when the military requested assistance in developing a communication code based on the Navajo language that Japanese intelligence experts couldn’t break. Without the help of the “Navajo Code Talkers,” conflicts such as the Battle of Iwo Jima may have turned out differently for the U.S.

Because the Navajo code remained a top secret for decades, the U.S. government has only recently recognized their efforts. The Navajo Code Talkers also are the subject of Hollywood motion picture “Windtalkers.”

For nearly a century, Americans, both Indian and non-Indian, urged that there be a permanent place on the calendar to honor the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, and cultural and historical legacy of the original inhabitants and their descendants of what is now the United States.

Honoring the nation’s Native American heritage began as a single day set aside near the turn of the 21st century to recognize the significant contributions these first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations – including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian” and “Alaska Native Heritage Month” – have been issued each year since 1994. Congress passed and the President signed legislation that established the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day” in 2009.

Ways to commemorate Native American contributions include reading about American Indian history, watching a film about or starring American Indians, replacing beef with buffalo in a recipe or attending a powwow.

Consider attending a lacrosse game at a local high school or college. Lacrosse may have been developed as early as the 12th century in the Americas, and played a significant role in tribal community and spiritual life.

Michelle George, ITD’s Equal Employment Opportunity resource specialist, encourages employees to seek opportunities to observe Native American Heritage Month.

“This is a great time to learn more about a variety of cultures as well as participate in events that commemorate the contributions diverse cultures add to our way of life.”

George also urged employees to watch for the next Brown Bag Diversity Lunch and “join fellow employees in learning more about how much we all have in common.”

Published 10-26-2012