Native American Heritage Month: Honoring a Diverse Culture
Native American people comprise a vibrant, rich, and diverse culture that stretches back more than 15,000 years. In honor of Native American History Month, our goal during the month of November has been to amplify indigenous peoples and creators, while also honoring how indigenous artists are preserving their culture through their creative work and expressions.
On August 3, 1990, President George H. W. Bush declared November would henceforth be known as National American Indian Heritage Month. It was a momentous turning point made possible by the efforts of a Cherokee/Osage Indian named Jerry C. Elliott-High Eagle in 1976, when he authored Native American Awareness Week legislation that led the first historical week of recognition in the nation for native peoples when—ten years later—President Ronald Reagan declared November 23-30, 1986, as “American Indian Week.”
How Creators Are Incorporating Heritage into Their Creative Works
Countless Native American creators are enriching the world in which we live by sharing their art and wisdom, which also helping us to better understand their history and traditions. Below are a few of those talented creators.
James Jones: Tiktok and Instagram Influencer
James Jones (aka @notoriouscree) is an Indigenous (Cree) creator from Edmonton, Alberta. He is an influencer on Tiktok and Instagram, best known for amplifying positivity, awareness, and education around his culture. His most viral videos include hoop dancing, which is an Indigenous healing dance, where each hoop represents honoring the circle of life. When interviewed by Vogue, he expressed what his culture means to him and how he incorporates his heritage into his everyday life. His social media content highlights a culture and community that is very often overlooked by offering insights into a life many would not know about otherwise. In his Vogue interview, he mentioned that when he started posting on social media, he wanted to be a comedian. “I started making funny Indigenous humor videos at first, but soon realized people engaged much more with educational and cultural dance content from me.” His Tiktok page now has over three million followers and 82 million likes. His passion for his heritage and spreading awareness has had an invaluable impact on the journey toward giving Native American culture its well-deserved recognition.
Alana Yazzie: Lifestyle and Food Blogger
Alana Yazzie is a lifestyle and food blogger from Phoenix, Arizona. She uses her platform to share her Navajo culture and show the ways she intertwines her culture into everything she does. Through her Instagram, she posts products and recipes that are often used or produced by Native Americans. She explains on her blog site, “As a Navajo woman, I think it’s important to support Native American-owned businesses and to always buy native and local! I love to incorporate my Native American heritage into my everyday life.” As a lifestyle blogger, she posts about many parts of her life, including keeping a garden with native herbs and flowers, weaving, places to visit, and tours of her reservation. Her blog and social media pages are such an inviting space to dive deeper and learn about her beautiful culture in a modern way.
Billy Luther: Independent Film Producer and Director
Billy Luther is a Native American Independent film producer and director who makes documentaries and short films. He is best known for his documentary Miss Navajo, which tells the story about woman competing in the beauty pageant of Miss Navajo. In October 2020, Variety announced that Oscar winner Taika Waititi had joined as Executive Producer on Luther’s feature narrative debut, Frybread Face and Me, as writer/director. After spending the summer filming, he discussed his creative process with Variety by talking about the importance of finding and having an indigenous cast. “On ‘Frybread Face and Me,’” we were surrounded by Native creatives behind and in front of the camera, which left room for the nuances of Native representation to grow within our performances.” The efforts by creators like Billy are pivotal in creating accurate portrayals and amplifying the Native American creator community. Actor Jeremiah Bitsui—who played Uncle Rodger in Luther’s movie—said “Today is the dawn of a new day for Indigenous actors and filmmakers with projects being developed, written, produced, directed, and crewed.”
Kinsale Hueston: Influencer and Poet
Kinsale Hueston (aka @kinsalehues) is founder of an online arts magazine by and for all BIPOC women and non-binary people, called changing womxn collective. It was founded to create a digital space where women and non-binary people of color could share their art, writing, and stories on their own terms. Just before founding the magazine, she was named by Time Magazine as one of “34 People Changing How We See the World.” Kinsale’s award-winning work focuses on Native culture, especially on her own Navajo heritage. According to Kinsale’s website, she has worked with numerous organizations, collectives, and groups over the years to hold workshops and performance sessions focused on wellness and healing potentials for mainly Indigenous writers. Her poetry tracks, such as “Writing about Home,” “Praise Poetry,” and “Advocating for the Self,” have been utilized in programs to help youth practice self-expression, healthy communication, journaling, and good relations with one another.
Charlie Amáyá Scott: Influencer and Blogger
Charlie Amáyá Scott (aka @dineaesthetics) is a Diné scholar who born and raised within the Navajo Nation. Charlie prefers the pronouns they/them/theirs and she/her/hers. Within their social media platforms and personal blog, Diné Aesthetics, Charlie reflects on what it means to be a Dine in the 21st century. On Charlie’s website, they explain, “Their work is informed by a desire for a more just and liberating education that supports and inspires the next generation of Queer, Trans, and Indigenous students.”
Jessica Metcalfe: Blogger and Boutique Owner
Jessica Metcalfe is a member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe and runs the online boutique, Beyond Buckskin. Originally, she launched Beyond Buckskin as a blog dedicated to showcasing and promoting Indigenous artists and designers. In 2012, the blog grew into an online boutique that shares Indigenous cultures through fashion design. This boutique was the first-ever Native-operated and designed online gallery and showcases over forty Native American artists. According to the boutique’s website, their designers all advance traditional Indigenous artistic practices by bringing ancient designs, natural materials, and cultural stories to modern fashion. “The idea is that we’ll have the Native artists participate in this trend that’s part of the culture, but they’re excluded from,” Metcalfe says about her aim to create a Native Etsy.
Outside of running the Beyond Buckskin boutique, Jessica received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, a PhD from the University of Arizona in American Indian studies, and has been a guest speaker at various museums and universities. She has also presented at numerous national conferences including the Entrepreneurship & Indigenous Art Conference, the Smithsonian, and Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, and co-curated many other exhibitions.
Movies and Podcasts That Honor Native Americans
Below are numerous movies and podcasts that honor Native Americans and their heritage and are worth watching and listening to.
“Smoke Signals” (1998)
Smoke Signals is recognized as being the first feature length film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans to reach a wide audience both in the U.S. and abroad. This film is also notable for its authenticity regarding its cast of Native American actors and actresses, and because it was filmed on location on the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho.
Smoke Signals is a humorous yet serious story about Victor, a young man who Director Chris Eyre describes as “trying to forgive his father.” The movie gives us a glimpse into the contemporary Native American world. The story started when Arnold rescued Thomas from a fire when he was a child. Thomas thinks of Arnold as a hero, while Arnold’s son Victor resents his father’s alcoholism, violence and abandonment of his family. Uneasy rivals and friends, Thomas and Victor spend their days killing time on a Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho and arguing about their cultural identities. When Arnold dies, the duo set out on a cross-country journey to Phoenix to retrieve Arnold’s ashes.
“Drunktown’s Finest” (2014)
Drunktown’s Finest won nine awards and was nominated for six more awards through Albuquerque Film & Music Experience, American Indian Film Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and more. The story follows three young Navajo Native Americans—an adopted Native girl, a young father-to-be, and a trans woman who dreams of being a model—who strive to escape the hardships of life on an Indian reservation. Nizhoni seeks out her past, well after being adopted by a white Christian family, Felixia, a trans woman, pursues a spot in the “women of the tribe” calendar, and Sickboy is headed to basic training so he can take care of his soon-to-be-born child.
“Up and Vanished: Season 3”
“Up and Vanished” is a popular true crime podcast. Atlanta documentarian Payne Lindsey noticed that there was a disturbingly high number of unsolved missing persons cases emanating from Native American reservations. “I felt like indigenous people are some of the most underserved in our country, especially when it comes to the missing and murdered,” Lindsey said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “No matter what happens, we have a big platform and we can shine a light on this case and expose more people to this growing problem.” The third season of Up and Vanished, has consistently landed in the top 10 on the Apple most popular podcasts. “Up and Vanished” is available now on most podcast platforms including Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, and Audible.
“Vanished: A Native American Epidemic”
”Vanished: A Native American Epidemic” is a true crime podcast that reviews several cases in the Northwestern region of the country, speaks to family members of these victims, and examines some other factors that affect this ongoing problem of missing or murdered Native Americans. Each episode of this podcast covers a different case of missing or murdered persons. The creators of this podcast have open forums and Facebook groups dedicated to discussion and research into the various victims this podcast discusses. Vanished: A Native American Epidemic is available now on most podcast platforms including Apple and Spotify.
Even as Native American Heritage Month soon concludes for another year, I hope you’ll join us in continuing to appreciate the vibrancy and beauty that indigenous people have created for us to enjoy year-round, and that you’ll continue to celebrate creative contributions they have brought to our world.