November is Native American Heritage Month, a commemoration which began as only a single day of recognition, then called National Indian Day. The creation of National Indian Day was “as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.” and it coincided with the Congress of the American Indian Association’s “appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.” In 1990, President Bush expanded the whole month of November to be Native American Heritage Month. You can learn more about Native American Heritage month here.
Although our school doesn’t have a focus on Native American Law, it’s certainly a path you may choose to explore while you’re here, and you may very well even plan to focus your law practice on this area. Even though we don’t have a focused program on Native American Law, we do believe that it’s important to celebrate and honor the indigenous peoples of this continent, and of course, help our patrons be aware of resources that are focused on Native American Law. Also keep in mind that some colleges, like the University of Oklahoma offer a program on Native American Law that can be taken online after you graduate if this is something you’re interested in. Here is a list of the “top 6 LLM programs on Native American Law” in the US according to the LLM Guide.
After speaking with some of our amazing and knowledgable librarians when I was planning on writing this blog post, I was told that we will soon have a LibGuide created to help our students learn more about Native American Heritage and more specifically Native American Law. In the meantime, UCLA has a really extensive LibGuide which can be found here. If you’re a Law Student studying Environmental Law, there are many intersections you may have learned about between preserving the environment, and protecting Native Communities’ sovereignty and land. You may have heard of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which infringed on Native Land and put their citizens’ health and safety at risk, but Virginia has also had a similar situation come up with Dominion Energy’s pipeline project. It’s shameful that these large energy companies think it’s an option to run their pipelines right though native lands, but this is part of the ongoing system of inequality that continues to this day and affects native people in our country. Native American Heritage month is also a good time to raise awareness about current topics such as this.
Our recently featured collection, Law Stories, features a section about Indian Law which can be found in our catalogue here.
Aside from legal research on topics like Environmental justice that affect Native Americans in this country, there are many great websites, like Indian Country Today and many others that can help you stay up to date on news around the country related to Native American communities. You can also learn some basic background about local Native American tribes based in your area by checking out the Virginia Pow Wow calendar, which is part of a larger website which lists pow wows in every state in the US. Of course, due to the pandemic, many of these pow wows have been cancelled or rescheduled, but the list gives you an idea of how many different Native American tribes are based in the state of Virginia alone.
Richmond also happens to have a radio show called InterTribal that airs every Saturday morning on WRIR where you can hear three hours of Native American Music every Saturday morning from 6-9am.
Native American Heritage month is a great opportunity to take some time to learn about the diverse Native American traditions in this country. And it’s important to learn not only about Native American history, but also about Native American culture today – since Native American culture is diverse and always growing and evolving.
Native Americans are truly the FIRST Americans, and as a nation of immigrants, we should feel a certain obligation to honor, respect, and try to understand more about Native People. The US Government has an awful legacy of mistreating Native People going back to the early days of the United States, and we also have had an awful record of breaking promises which were supposed to be held in place by law. Thankfully, in more recent years, laws have been passed and court battles have been won which have established some justice and freedom and self determination for Native communities, but there is still a long way to go.
A few years ago, the Washington Post published an article, right before Thanksgiving, entitled “Five myths about Native Americans“. The article showed me that there was much more for me, and many other non-native people to learn about the diverse Indigenous people of this country. Hopefully, the education in schools has improved since I was a student, but when I was in grade school, I was exposed to many of the same stereotypical myths and whitewashed history that is mentioned in this article.
It’s a small but symbolic victory that after years of controversy, in 2020, the Washington “Redskins” finally dropped the racist moniker from their teams name and are now just simply named “Washington Football Team” , at least, until further notice.
Education is so important in combating ignorance and racism, and that’s why we wanted to try to call special attention to Native American Heritage Month to promote learning and awareness in our law school community. I hope you’ll take the time to learn some more about the Native American communities in your area. Also, you might not realize it, but there are probably many Native Americans in your immediate community who are certainly the best people to teach you about Native American Heritage.
The photo for this blog post is of Gya Watson of San Carlos Apache and African heritage and was used with her permission. She posted this photo on Instagram last June with the comment below (which alludes to an important piece of legislation that had great impact on Native Americans around the country) :
“Independence Day • The date coincides with the passing of the Indian Reorganization Act, also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act and informally as the Indian New Deal. The act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 18, 1934.
The act was pushed onto Congress by John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Roosevelt administration, and was influenced by the Meriam Report of 1928, which described the poverty and poor living conditions on the reservations, disease and death rates, inadequate care of children in boarding schools, and the destructive effects and erosion of American Indigenous land by the Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887. That act was passed in an effort to assimilate American Indigenous peoples into American society as small farmers and tribal lands were assigned to individual members, who were free to sell the land after 25 years. That plan backfired, and by 1932, non-American Indigenous people had taken over two-thirds of the 138 million acres of reservation lands.
While the Indian Reorganization Act did not restore lost lands, it allowed the federal government to purchase some of the fee land and restore it to tribal trust status. Due to the act and other actions by the government, more than 2 million acres of land were returned to various tribes in the first 20 years after the act’s passage.
More importantly, however, was the general right the act provided to tribes to self-govern, with the exception of continued oversight by what is known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It also restored the right to each tribe to manage its own assets.
The rights extended to all indigenous peoples of America, including those in Alaska, where villages were allowed to organize their tribal governments after a 1936 amendment was added. The act basically defined tribal sovereignty and, in part, is why casinos are allowed to operate when they otherwise would not be allowed on reservation land.
The act also basically created the San Carlos Apache Tribe as it allowed the various groups of Apaches to form a government together and become federally recognized as the San Carlos Nation.”