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It’s Native American Heritage Month — Here’s How To Support And Learn


B. Yellowtail

November is Native American Heritage Month. This month gives us an opportunity to connect to the Indigenous communities throughout the United States. There are 326 Indian Reservations with 567 different tribes across the United States. Yes, some reservations hold multiple different nations on them. See, we’re already learning.

As a descendant of Skokomish (Duhlelap Twana) and Yakama (Wishram) Nations out in Washington, with ancestors from Hawai’i, Native American Heritage Month means a lot to me and my family. It gives us a chance to reach out, connect, and, hopefully, heal old wounds. It’s no coincidence that this month falls at the same time as Thanksgiving, given that it was about the Pilgrims and Wampanoag working together before the Puritans showed up and started persecuting and murdering everyone. To me, it’s a great example of what could have been in a world without religious fundamentalism.

It’s this idea of us — Indigenous and migrant — working together that focuses Native American Heritage Month. We have to start healing, and this month is a good place to do just that. Below are seven current touchstones of the Indigenous American experience. The point of this is to expand horizons, bring people together, and amp up empathy for America’s most subjugated citizens. It’s about taking action and learning about the land and people that exemplify America in its earliest form.

Here are books you can read, food you can eat, podcasts you can listen to, movies you can watch, and travel experiences you can have right now to connect to the Indigenous tradition in the United States.

Related: Read about Indigenous issues at Uproxx Indigenous Life!

I. INDIGENOUS AMERICAN READING LIST

Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt

Black Elk lived on this earth from 1863 until 1950. In the 1930s, he met John Neihardt and they set out to tell the story of the apocalypse acted upon the Lakota and the subsequent reservation life that befell the survivors. Black Elk Speaks also delves into Black Elk’s deep spirituality and his vision of a humanity united as one.

It’s a classic read that’ll give you deep insight into the Lakota, their way of life, history, and spirituality.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is a painstakingly detailed account about how the United States government executed their “extermination” policy against the Indigenous people of the Americas in the back half of the 19th century. This is a devastating read that is 100 percent essential for every American today. At the very least, it’s a harrowing tale of the lengths the United States government, military, and citizens will go to take what they want no matter the human or environmental consequences.

Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silke’s Ceremony is a masterpiece of narrative fiction. The tome follows Tayo as he returns from World War II to a world not quite his own. Tayo’s journey of rejection, trauma, and embracing his Indigenous identity is emblematic of the journey all Indigenous Americans live with every single day.

If you want to understand what it’s like to be Indian in America, this is where you start.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley

The future of American cuisine is in its past. Indigenous chefs are bringing forth a food revolution of flavors, textures, and ingredients that, sadly, most Americans have no idea exist. It’s time Americans start actually eating the food from, well, America. The best place to start is with chef Sean Sherman’s ground-breaking The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. The cookbook is essential to embrace the food in your own backyard and, thereby, getting a deeper understanding of the place you chose to call home.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles C. Mann

Imagine if everything you knew about European Jewish culture was filtered through (a hypothetically victorious) Nazi Germany. It’d be a skewed and highly dubious account at best. That, precisely, is how Americans are taught Indigenous American history. Our vision of American Indian life is so far from the reality, it’s almost comical. Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus is the perfect place to start chiseling away at the lies your teachers taught you and the vile stereotypes Hollywood and pop culture insist on pushing.

Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, Jack Weatherford

Anthropologist Jack Weatherford takes a different tact than Mann. Weatherford’s Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World takes a dive into the deep ways Indigenous American life informed the American government and legal systems, agricultural, medicine, architecture, and even how we practice democracy.

This book is full-on profound revelation after profound revelation that’ll connect you to America in a wholly new way.

II. LISTEN TO PODCASTS ABOUT INDIGENOUS ISSUES

Breakdances With Wolves: Indigenous Pirate Radio

Let’s get this out of the way first. Breakdances with Wolves, as a name, is goddamn genius. Well done. Gyasi Ross is joined by Wesley (“Snipes Type”) Roach, and Minty LongEarth to discuss issues facing the Indigenous community right now. They talk politics, conservation, pop culture, and, well, everything from Burger King to sex.

Dive in at the most recent episode about fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest, Native land issues, and the “mess” that is Elizabeth Warren.

Toasted Sister Podcast

The Indigenous food movement is simmering below the surface of mainstream American culture and food. You can get ahead of the curve by subscribing to Dine podcaster Andi Murphy’s Toasted Sister Podcast. Each episode features a guest from the Indigenous food world from gardeners to chefs to shepherds to community leaders. They all talk about the importance of Indigenous American foods and offer access to that world to the benefit of all.

Dive in at episode 40 with Choctaw chef Brit Reed. She’s currently cooking at the Tulalip Health Clinic in Washington and making waves with iCollective (a young Indigenous chef collective). It’s an insightful view of how re-embracing Indigenous cuisine is crucial to our survival and how culture transcends all things in life.

Native America Calling – The Electronic Talking Circle

Native America Calling – The Electronic Talking Circle takes on the format of a live call-in show where hosts and guests talk over issues in the Indigenous community. The radio show/podcast is one of the best ways to engage and understand Indigenous points of views on every aspect of our culture.

Dive in at last January’s episode with UFC champion Nicco Montaño. It’s a fascinating look at martial arts through a Dine lens and the importance of self-defense for Indigenous women in everyday life on and off the Rez.

History On Fire

Okay, this isn’t an “Indigenous” podcast. It’s a podcast by an Italian-American professor and true ally to Indigenous people around the world. Scholar and professor Daniele Bolelli’s podcast, History On Fire, has provided the world with some of the best historical deep dives into the history of “West” and the monumental devastation that American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny actually entailed. Bolelli’s episodes are always enthralling — sure to leave you shook and educated.

Dive in at episode 32a Anything That Moves (Part 1): The Parallel Stories Of Sand Creek And My Lai. The episode tells the story of one of the worst massacres carried out by the United States Army in its history and the US soldiers who refused to partake and would eventually reveal to the world the horrors of Sand Creek. This is a devastating moment in American history that, unfortunately, too few of us even know happened.

From there, episodes 16-18 The War for the Black Hills will take you into the insanity and cruelty that the United States stooped to in order to defeat the Lakota.

III. TRAVEL TO INDIAN COUNTRY

A quick note, we’re including only four examples here. You can always travel to the Indian Reservation nearest you for a meal, powwow, or tour (if they have that service). Please, hire local guides (especially if you plan on visiting Havasupai).

Tourism is a great way to infuse money into the most socio-economically depressed communities in America.

Navajo Nation (Southwest)

Navajo Nation is iconic. The great red towers of Monument Valley, the canyon lands branching off from the Grand Canyon, and the vast Painted Deserts are the stuff of legend.

Navajo Nation is a massive stretch of country. While it’s easy to drive through on a classic American road trip, we recommend looking up local guides, events, and resources from groups like Discover Navajo to invest in the community while you’re there. You’ll also get a deeper understanding of Dine culture and life by letting a local guide you through their country.

Skokomish Tourism (Pacific Northwest)

Up in the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula, you’ll find the small Skokomish Nation. They’re ancestral lands stretch along the entire eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains towards the bottom of the Puget Sound north to the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific. You can immerse yourself in Skokomish, Hood Canal, and Olympic culture with Skokomish Tourism.

The Indigenous-run tour company will help you find camping, clamping, local lodging, wine tours, water sports, outfitting, and everything you’ll need to enjoy the Great Pacific Northwest.

Tatanka Rez Tourz (Great Plains)

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the most economically and socially depressed community in America. They need your help and a great way to do that is to travel there and spend your tourist dollars.

The thing is, Pine Ridge is a massive place with little infrastructure besides a few BIA roads. Tatanka Rez Tourz offers you a chance to visit the reservation solo or in groups. It’s a chance to immerse yourself into reservation life and history with expert guides leading the way.

National Museum of The American Indian (Washington, DC)

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Native American baseball team portrait. P33946 ▫️ Very little is known about this photograph beyond that it is from the collection of Frank Kenjockety (Cayuga, 1871–1944)—the empresario of Kenjockety's Hippodrome and Wild West Show—and was taken between the early 1900s and the late 1930s. ▫️ Many sports fans know a handful of American Indian baseball players from the early 20th century: Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox Nation, 1887–1953), who played for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves between 1913 and 1919. Louis Sockalexis (Penobscot, 1871–1917), who in 1897 became the first Native American to play in the major leagues, as an outfielder for the Cleveland Spiders. Charles Albert “Chief” Bender (Ojibwe, 1884–1954), a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, the first Native American elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Perhaps, too, Bender’s Hall of Fame colleague Zack Wheat (Cherokee, 1888–1972), who played for Brooklyn and Philadelphia. ▫️ In fact, historian Jeffrey Powers-Beck notes, dozens of American Indians played in the major leagues before World War II, hundreds more in the minor leagues or the Negro Leagues, and thousand at universities and colleges. Powers-Beck and other scholars describe Indian boarding schools embracing organized sports as forces of assimilation. At the same time, sports were a form of resistance, Philip Deloria (Standing Rock Sioux) argues, “a refigured warrior tradition” and a chance to beat non-Native Americans at their own games. ▫️ #baseballhistory #nativeamericanathletes

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If you can’t make it to a reservation this month, that’s okay. We get it. Another opportunity to connect to Indigenous American culture is in Washington, DC, at the National Museum of The American Indian. The Smithsonian museum is a great place to experience Indigenous culture through both a historical perspective and a modern one. There are events all month about teaching Indigenous issues in schools, Indigenous sports, film screenings, and more. Plus, it’s all free.

IV. SUPPORT AND BUY ART FROM INDIGENOUS ARTISTS

Steven Paul Judd

Steven Paul Judd’s pop culture eye is spot on. The self-taught designer and artist simply started from the point of not seeing art the wanted to have. From there, he’s been able to touch the pulse of Indigenous American life through street art, contemporary art, clothing, and more.

Buy Judd’s artwork here and support his style and clothing design here.

Matika Wilbur

Matika Wilbur is righting the wrongs of the Edward Curtis era of photography. That photography served as what the white gaze perceived “The Indian” to be. Wilbur’s Project562 aims to capture the essence of the Indigenous communities of the Americas through a lens of tradition and reality. It’s an honest and beautiful look at Indigenous life today.

You can support Matika Wilbur’s Project562 here.

The Rolling Rez Arts Bus

As mentioned above, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a vast place. Inaccessibility to basic services is real for the people. The Rolling Rez Arts Bus is providing access to people all over the Rez. It’s quite literally a rolling arts studio, a business training center, and a bank. The bus crisscrosses the reservation and offers classes in both business and art along with space for artists to do their work. It’s revolutionizing access on the Pine Ridge and offers an interesting ripple in the art world as a whole.

You can support the Rolling Rez Arts Bus here.

B.Yellowtail

B.Yellowtail is a collective of 18 Indigenous artists and designers who’ve come together to shake up American style and fashion. Every piece of clothing, jewelry, textiles, or accessories are designed and made by Indigenous Americans. Everything the make is “Handmade in Native America.” This offers anyone a chance to support Indigenous artisans directly.

You can shop B.Yellowtail’s current collection here.

V. WATCH INDIGENOUS FILMS, NOT FILMS “ABOUT” INDIANS

Powwow Highway (1989)

Powwow Highway is the quintessential American road movie. After loner Philbert buys his war pony (a barely running Rez car), he and Buddy Reb Bow set off on a trip to save Buddy’s sister. While traveling from Montana to New Mexico, they encounter their own demons and spirituality through a uniquely reservation-life lens. This film is a masterpiece of Indigenous cinema that resonates as deeply today as it did in 1989.

Dance Me Outside (1994)

Dance Me Outside is a fantastic slice of life dramedy from up in Canada. The bulk of the film follows buddies Silas Crow and Frank Fencepost as they aimlessly wander through Rez life, drink beer, and try and get laid. Then the reality of being “Indian” sets in as a young girl is murdered on the Rez by a white man. Of course, the white murderer gets a light sentence which drives home the reality of the second-class citizenship everyone in the community really holds.

Smoke Signals (1998)

Smoke Signals is a seminal film in the pantheon of Indigenous cinema. This movie has had a lasting effect on Indigenous culture in quotability, similar to a Big Lebowski. The film follows friends Victor and Thomas as they travel from Washington to New Mexico after they find out Victor’s absent father has passed.

This is the perfect road movie that’ll give you an honest glimpse into Rez life.

Reel Injun (2009)

A lot of America’s perception of Indigenous Americans comes directly from 100 plus years of Hollywood indoctrination. Most of it is bullshit. Neil Diamond (no, not the crooner) sets out across America to parse how Hollywood and film as a whole shaped the way America colonist view Indigenous Americans and the severely damaging effect that’s had on the Indigenous community’s view of themselves.

Reel Injun is a must-watch history class in pop culture’s influence on entire swaths of unique cultures.

Out of State (2017)

Native Hawaiians are not jailed in Hawai’i. They’re all sent to Arizona to a prison facility to serve out their time far away from home in a completely foreign environment. It’s bizarre and indicative of how Indigenous Americans remain second-class citizens.

Out of State offers a heartening glimpse into the Indigenous Hawaiian culture that blooms when Hawaiian prisoners arrive in Arizona. Miraculously, the prison community comes together to re-connect with their Hawaiian heritage — in many cases, for the first time ever. The film is a maddening and enlightening look at the way the United States treats Indigenous prisoners. It also offers a welcome glimmer of hope.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World (2017)

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World is an eye-opening music documentary. The film follows the historical paths of great musicians that helped shape the Delta Blues, jazz, folk music, and eventually rock ‘n roll. Charlie Patton and Cherokee singers are highlighted and, for the first time, get their due in creating what we now call the blues. Rock legends Link Wray, Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix, and Jesse Ed Davis (to name only a few) are highlighted for their brilliance. It’s a great and fun watch from start to finish and will introduce you to a lot of new and great music.

VI. LISTEN TO AND BUY INDIGENOUS MUSIC

Frank Waln

Frank Waln is one of the most important voices in the hip-hop scene in Indian Country today. His rhymes offer a glimpse into the stark realities of Rez life and deep spiritualism. Waln is a master at folding protest music into a historical and current context with some serious bars.

Support Frank Waln’s Patreon here.

A Tribe Called Red

A Tribe Called Red are breaking new musical ground with Indigenous Electronica or, more colloquially, First Nation’s Dubstep. Their blending of traditional Indigenous sounds with electronic music is wholly unique and fantastically fun to party to.

You can buy A Tribe Called Red’s music here.

Nataanii Means

Nataanii Means throws down some of the best bars from the Rez. His flow hits on social issues, protest, history, and everyday life that’ll draw you in and teach you something new about Rez life. The music is dope and a great gateway into Indigenous rap.

You can buy Nataanii Means music here.

Willie Dunn

Willie Dunn is the unsung music and film hero of the Canadian folk scene. The Indigenous legend helped define an entire genre through protest music that touched on the issues facing Indigenous communities throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Sadly, much of what Dunn sang about back then still holds true today as the struggle continues for all Indigenous peoples.

Watch Willie Dunn’s music film, The Ballad of Crowfoot (the first all-Indigenous crewed film), here.

Redbone

Redbone was one of the first all-Indigenous bands to hit the mainstream. They had to fight to get their records played back in the 1970s due to DJs refusing to play their records because, well, they were Indians. Eventually, a few hits came along and the band became icons of Indigenous American music.

Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson started playing guitar when he was a kid on the Rez. Eventually, that love of music got him a spot playing with Bob Dylan. That turned into Robertson’s band, The Band. From there, Robertson has become an icon of folk, rock, and Indigenous music over a 50-year career. He’s absolutely essential to Americana and Indigenous music.

VII. EAT INDIGENOUS AMERICAN FOOD

The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman

As mentioned above, chef Sean Sherman is changing the game when it comes to what most of us think of as “American” food. The Sioux Chef is leading the way in decolonizing how we look at the ingredients in our own backyards. His NATIFS food collective and Indigenous Food Lab aims to bring health, sustainability, spirituality, and delicious food to the masses in a way that’s accessible to all.

You can donate to Chef Sherman and the Indigenous Food Lab here.

Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz

Chef and healer Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz is bridging the gap between our false perceptions of what “American” and “Mexican” foods are. When you take a step back, you see that the lines others choose to draw on maps have little meaning when you consider tens-of-thousands of years of community, food, family, and history.

Chef Ruiz travels the Southwest teaching communities recipes and foodways that have been severed from our culture. Her work is about growing, harvesting, and eating food for your health — physical, mental, and even metaphysical. Her work blends community and great food in ways that’ll change the way you look at the foods of the Southwest.

You can follow Chef Ruiz’s upcoming events, hire her to cater an event, or take a cooking lesson here.

iCollective

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#bluecornmush

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iCollective is a group of young chefs and agriculturalist who’ve come together to preserve ancient Indigenous foodways, take control of health, find and practice sustainable harvests, and create amazing Indigenous American foods.

The collective does pop-ups across the country and highlights the animals and plants that have spent too long off the American menu. These young chefs’ food is the next generation of great American cuisine. Get in on that ground floor. They’ll blow you away one dish at a time.

You can support iCollective’s mission here.

Yazzie The Chef

Chef Brian Yazzie has come up as the righthand man to Chef Sean Sherman. Currently, he’s branching out to highlight his Nation’s food from the Dine.

Chef Yazzie is touching on something truly special in the food industry by highlighting local foods through a Dine lens while also elevating every dish he touches to something wholly new. Yazzie is young, hungry, and ready to change everything you think you know about food in the Southwest.

Check in here to see where Chef Yazzie is cooking next.

Neftalí Durán

Neftalí Durán is an activist, chef, teacher, philosopher, and game changer. The Oaxaca-born chef calls Massachusetts home and runs test kitchens, Indigenous food initiatives, and cooks food in ways that’ll inspire a generation of chefs to come.

Durán’s connection to Indigenous life shines through in how he teaches at-risk youths to harvest and cook healthy food — many for the first time in their young lives. Durán is always looking towards the future of what food can be, how it can better, and how it can be sustainable in a real way with every dish he creates. This is next level.

Support Durán’s fight against food insecurity here.

Tocabe

We’ve spoken about the beauty that is Tocabe before. The world’s first Indigenous fast-casual chain is poised to take over.

Their food hits that perfect balance of bright and new with comforting and nourishing. Monster bison ribs, bright bowls of local fruits and vegetables, and an accessible vibe make Tocabe a must-stop food experience when you’re in the Denver area.

Check out Tocabe’s menu here.

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