BEMIDJI -- This year marks 30 years of the official federal recognition of November as Native American Heritage Month. Ordinarily, this time might come with public lectures and events, food and celebration. Due to the pandemic, this is often not possible, but area organizations have still found other ways to celebrate, educate and acknowledge.
We’ve compiled a list of eleven tips, influenced by activities from Red Lake Nation College and Bemidji State University, with suggestions and inspiration from area organizations to celebrate Native American Heritage month, every month.
1. View and enjoy Native American art
November is an ideal time to appreciate Indigenous art. The Minneapolis Institute of Art has compiled educational resources and past Native American art exhibitions, as well as permanent Indigenous fixtures on their website. Locally, Bemidji’s Watermark Art Center is home to the Miikanan Gallery, part of Watermark’s commitment to honor the creative diversity of the region. While Watermark is physically closed until at least Dec. 19, many of its exhibits can be viewed online virtually. Beginning next month, the gallery will host an exhibit titled, Mashkawiziiwag, from BIPOC photographer, Ne-Dah-Ness Rose Greene, who lives in Leech Lake.
2. Cook an Indigenous recipe using local and traditional foods
Get your foodie on. In a recent news release, Red Lake Nation College recommended trying out Indigenous recipes featured in their monthly newsletter. The most recent autumn newsletter highlights Popped Manoomin (wild rice) and Barbecue Venison Ribs.
3. Explore the Ojibwe language
Boozhoo! Bemidji State hosts a weekly virtual Ojibwe language table every Wednesday through the end of the school year. The language table is led by Serena Graves, Asin and Lidia Vasser and is supported by a Minnesota State multi-campus collaboration grant. Consider trying to learn a new vocabulary word everyday. For younger learners, the Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls club often hosts Ojibwe language video lessons on Facebook Live.
4. Take part in an online lecture or event
Throughout the month, BSU has hosted weekly lectures on Tuesday evenings in observance of the month, and many are still available online. Check out Micah Prairiechicken’s lecture, titled Rez Roads to PHD, which can be viewed here. Red Lake Nation Boys and Girls club also hosted speakers to commemorate the month, recently, Indigenous Speakers Dyami Thomas and Tashoni Morales spoke about mental health and suicide awareness, which can be viewed here.
5. Learn the history of Native American Heritage Month
This year marks 30 years of National Native American Heritage month. It was first federally recognized on April 3, 1990 when former President H.W. Bush signed a resolution declaring November “Native American Heritage Month.”
The official federal website to learn more about public events for the month is nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov.
6. Read a book by a Native American author.
“It is important to be educated on Native issues from sources that are Native,” Ann Humphrey, assistant director of the American Indian Resource Center, said. Check out reading materials from Native American -- especially local -- authors. Red Lake Nation college advised that although access to the Medweganoonind Library at the college is currently restricted due to the pandemic, many online resources and reading materials are still accessible through its web page.
For younger readers, a new bilingual book titled, “How the Boy and the Rabbit Helped Each Other,” was recently published by Red Lake Schools employees Dr. Giniwgiizhig and Arnold Kingbird.
7. Remember Native American veterans.
Red Lake Nation College recently installed a new interactive Veterans’ Memorial Wall located on the first floor of the east wing dedicated to all Red Lake members who have served, or are currently serving, in the armed forces. While the building is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, officials have encouraged those interested to plan a visit once restrictions are lifted.
The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. recently hosted a virtual tour of the newly completed National Native American Veterans Memorial. Watch it online at americanindian.si.edu.
8. Take a class on Indigenous history, language or culture
Bemidji and the surrounding areas offer many resources to learn more about Indigenous history language and culture. Classes are available at Red Lake Nation College, Leech Lake Tribal College, or Bemidji State University.
9. Buy goods from Native American artists and businesses
Red Lake Nation College implored the public to, “do what you can to support Native artists, businesses and organizations, many of which have been disproportionately impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
10. Provide financial support to area organizations
Many area nonprofits are feeling the impact of COVID-19. Recently, Leech Lake Tribal College and Red Lake Nation College participated in Give to the Max Day. St. Mary’s Mission School in Red Lake also called upon the public this week to consider supporting their school’s continued efforts.
11. Recognize Native American heritage month every day.
The month-long observance creates opportunities to increase awareness and knowledge of the challenges Native American people have faced both historically and in the present, but this sentiment need not last only a month. “As we appreciate the month of November as Native American Heritage Month, these types of events and stories should not be limited to only the 30 days in November given our location and the demographics we serve here at BSU,” Chrissy Koch, executive director of the AIRC, said in a press release regarding BSU’s month of celebration plans. “We must remain cognizant the other 11 months also.”
“Bemidji State University is making strides in becoming a destination university for American Indian students, a key component in achieving that is acknowledging, honoring and embracing the original stewards of this land,” she added. “Celebrating Native American Heritage Month is only a small piece of the puzzle, yet it is a start and we still have a long journey ahead of us.”