One morning on my way to school, one particular sign caught my eye. It was a sign promoting “horse heritage month” as a holiday, or observation of equestrian culture I’ve never seen before.
I mentally tucked it away in the sector of my brain where interesting holidays like national, “No Pants Day” reside. It made me consider what societal consciousness could evolve into, if more people observed the importance of Native American Heritage Month.
CSUSM professor, department chair of American Indian studies and director of the California Indian Culture and Cultural Sovereignty center, Dr. Joely Proudfit, is helping to bring the significance of Native American Heritage Month to our campus’ consciousness.
Dr. Proudfit is a woman with many accolades, and actively merges her disciplines to elevate positive representation of and cultural engagement with Native American culture.
As a member of the Luiseño and Payomkowishum tribes, she is also the co-owner of The Native Networkers (TNN). A consulting company which provides resources to film, television industries, mass media and independent content creators to improve the understanding and foster authentic representation of Native American Indians and Indigenous peoples in storylines, exhibitions and marketing campaigns.
The Hollywood industry is built on the backs of Native people. Cowboys vs. Indians storylines in movies and TV shows has historical reoccurred thematically within entertainment.
When American Indians are discussed within a western context casinos, Disney’s rendition of Pocahontas, culturally appropriated headdresses on Halloween, the inappropriately named baseball team the Redskins are comfortable go-tos. The likeness of American Indians is also used to push everyday products, like Land O’ Lakes butter.
“We’re one percent of the population, but overrepresented in advertising,” said Proudfit.
Overrepresentation and sexualization of a minority group paired with political and social underrepresentation breeds harmful effects. According to The Independent, a report found 94 percent of Native American women living in Seattle say they have been raped, or coerced into sex at least once in their lifetime.
Now more than ever Native voices should be uplifted, protected and acknowledged as people who have been displaced from their homes without even leaving the soils of their creation.
“Our creation stories are here. All of the US is Native land,” said Proudfit.
Student and Kumeyaay tribe member Olivia Barrett said Native American Heritage Month is “a celebration of the resilience and culture of our people.” It’s also a time to shine a light on issues that affect Native American populations and diminishes ignorant thought forms surrounding Native people.
“It’s overwhelming how much people don’t know about the truth surrounding the land they are on,” said Barrett.
Within the fabric of American identity is woven a story that has long been invisible— the lives and experiences of people who share African American and American Indian ancestry.
Brittney Allen-Robertson, a CSUSM student and BSU affiliate, said how important Native American Heritage Month is because it allows her to learn more about her culture.
“I’m excited for Native American Heritage month, because it’s a great time to dig into my roots. I love the power of storytelling, and the connectedness to nature that’s present in Native culture.”
People often think of American Indians in a historical sense, which has its importance. However, American Indians’ presence has evolved along with other ethnic groups present in the US.
“One of the challenges we [American Indians] face is not being seen as modern people. We’re contemporary people with emotions and concerns,” said Proudfit.
“I wanna see people engaged. The Native American population is so underserved. Idealistically they should’ve been the first to have a center on campus, the sovereignty center is relatively new!” Allen-Robertson said.
CSUSM will be hosting events throughout the month to immerse students in Native American culture. On Nov. 11, films featuring the contributions of Native American veterans will be featured at the Pechanga Casino. On Nov. 19 Indian Hip Hop artists, along with traditional singers and dancers will be featured from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on campus.
The entire month (and truly, year round) is an opportunity to step out of our various privileges to embrace the fact we’re on Native land and should embrace that along with Native people.
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