EDITORIAL: November is time to honor American Indian heritage

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With the turning of the calendar to November comes a time to celebrate, give thanks and pay homage to those who helped in the foundation of our nation. November may be the one month of the year when Native Americans play a prominent role in our thinking due to the history of the Thanksgiving holiday, but American Indian heritage goes well beyond the role of European helper.

This month is Native American Heritage Month. It’s a time to recognize the various nations that called the lands of America home long before European settlers arrived on the shores.

With a population once totaling nearly 100 million people, the Census Bureau estimated in 2008 that less than 3 million people in the U.S. claim ties to Native American nationality. By the time of European arrival in the 16th century, the main tribes living in Indiana were the Miamis, Mohegans, Nanticokes, Potawatomis, Piankashaws and the Weas. By the late 18th century, the Shawnees began using Indiana as a hunting ground and the Potawatomis relocated to Indiana around this same time period, though historical records indicate Native American population was sparse by the time Europeans settled the area. Each of those tribes had a unique set of traditions, that could be as different from each other as Chinese culture is from French.

Native American history and culture frequently go undiscussed in schools because of the vast differences that exist among different tribes. As such, images are often incomplete or stereotyped, with improper information about dress, landscape and lifestyle formed from portrayals of Native Americans generated in the early 20th century, which can be highly offensive. Portrayals often inaccurately represent tribal culture and misrepresent assistance given by American Indians. American history, after the inception of the colonies, is largely a blackmark on the record of westward settlement with the forced movement of tribes and the creation of reservation homesteads.

Native American heritage is a broader notion than just the story of friendships forged during the settlement of Plymouth and later fighting sparked by intolerance.

Images learned by children early in life tend to leave them with mistaken impressions. Modern Americans need to reach beyond the myths of American origins to find historic truths about the natives who were more than a side note in our country's creation and a burden toward settlement.

Native American heritage is steeped in hundreds of years of tradition that began long before Europeans laid their claim to American soil. As you prepare this month for family get-togethers, take the time to remember the all-too-often forgotten people in American history. The people, who over the course of 200 years of western expansion, were grouped together as one unit of people and forced to take on European traditions and give up their heritage along the way. Recognize the important heritage of the unique nations that once graced American lands from coast to coast.

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