November is National American Indian Heritage Month. This recognition began in 1976 as Native American Awareness Week and then was expanded by Congress and approved by President George Bush in August 1990.
The United States of America owes much to Native Americans. Every school child knows the story of how they helped the Pilgrims of New England survive and the story of the First Thanksgiving, and we know that Lewis and Clarke’s famous Expedition would have ended in failure without the help of the Nez Perce and Sacagawea. But we have so many other reasons to laud the First Americans. They domesticated many species of plants and animals that we rely on today including the honey bee. They also knew about the medicinal uses of quinine for malaria, of willow bark as an analgesic which is the basis of aspirin, and how to prevent scurvy with plants rich in vitamin C.
Many historians credit the Iroquois League of Nations based in New York as having directly contributed the federated representative democracy upon which our government is based.
True warriors and heroes, they volunteered in record numbers to serve in World War II. The “Code Talkers” from the Navajo Nation are recognized for their invaluable contributions to our success in the Pacific Theater. The code they made, based upon their language, was never cracked by the Japanese.
We often credit them with being the first true environmentalists. Even though we know that there were instances where some tribes committed environmental abuses, overall they have passed on to us a great respect for earth and all living things. Without scientific data, they innately understood the connectivity of all species, plant and animal. One of their proverbs states that “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow if from our children.”
Even though Native Americans constitute only 0.9 per cent of the population in the USA, they continue to make disproportionate contributions in the areas of government, business, science, academia and the arts. Let us take time in November to honor this remarkable and enriching component of our American society.
Mary E. Moretz, Regent