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November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people.

Conservation: The Native Americans have always held a deep respect for the land and for our connection to this planet known as “Mother Earth.” They have always strived to live in harmony with the seasons and the land, to take only what was needed, and to thank every plant, animal, or thing that was used. They were conservationists and ecologists long before this became popular. In fact, the Anishinaabe do not have a word for “conservation,” because it was an assumed way of life.

· Honoring the Children: Native American tribes view children as their future, grandparents raised their children, looking at the impact of their decisions seven generations into the future. A tribal administrator from the Hopi Reservation told us that, for his people, children come first. If a child is upset or has a need, it is the responsibility of whomever sees the child to address the child’s need. They are that important.

Traditional Foods: Many people are turning back to the natural foods that were once the mainstay of indigenous people – and that once helped the early settlers survive: potatoes, beans, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, peppers, nuts, melons, and sunflower seeds. Other raw foods now considered “traditional foods” in Native cultures still grow abundantly on some reservations and provide a sustainable source of variety in the diet. Examples are the tinpsula (edible wild turnips), choke cherries, buffalo berries, wild currants, gooseberries, wild turnips, and more. Today, 60% of the world’s food supply comes from American Indian agricultural methods, primarily those for corn and the so-called “Irish” potatoes.

· The First Thanksgiving: Native Americans shared many of the foods mentioned above with early European settlers to help them survive. They also taught settlers farming methods to grow these crops and the Wampanoags shared a harvest meal with the Europeans at “the first Thanksgiving.” To this day, Virginia tribes still bring two deer and a turkey to the home of the Governor of Virginia at Thanksgiving.

Military Service: The participation rate of Native Americans in military service is higher than for any other ethnic group in the U.S. Members from many Indian nations have served with distinction and in a way that helped the U.S. win World Wars I and II… through the use of their various Native languages. Their proud military service has continued to be important in the wartime conflicts of Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraq.

· Constitution & Bill of Rights: According to Benjamin Franklin, the “concept” for the federal government was influenced by the Constitution of the Iroquois League of Nations. The Iroquois had a written Constitution that had been in use for ages and is still in use today. The concept the U.S. adopted was that certain powers are given to a centralized government and all other powers are reserved for localized groups (in this case states).

Sign Language: Today, hand signals are used to communicate with the deaf and dumb. A similar system was originated to facilitate trade between Native Americans and early trappers/traders. Although the hand signals in use today are different, the concept behind them is the same.

· English Language: Many of the words used in our everyday language originated with Native Americans. Examples are barbecue, caribou, chipmunk, woodchuck, hammock, toboggan, skunk, mahogany, hurricane, and moccasin. Many towns, cities and rivers also have names of Native origin, such as Seattle, Spokane, Yakima, Pocatello, Chinook, Flathead Lake, Milwaukee, Ottawa, Miami, Wichita, and Kalispell.

Products: American Indians are credited with introducing such diverse products as snowshoes, moccasins, toboggans, buckskin jackets, Kayaks, cradle boards, tomahawks, rubber, cotton, quinine, tobacco, cigars, and pipe smoking, among others.

Star Athletes/Entertainers: Folks who readily come to mind include athletes Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills, ballerina Maria Tallchief, entertainer Will Rogers, and actors Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, and recently Taylor Lautner (Twilight). They are but a few of the many greats.

Art/Design: The traditional and contemporary music of Native Americans have become integrated in many other cultures and musical styles. Indian artwork such as paintings, beadwork, totem poles, turquoise jewelry, and silversmithing, all remain beautiful and unmatched in this society. The architecture of tribal facilities on the reservations is also strikingly beautiful and practical for Native traditions and culture. One example is the simple power of a circular room to make all feel welcome and included. It’s inspiring.

With some research, I’m sure the list of Native American contributions would impact every facet and walk of life.

Eastern Native American cuisine
The essential staple foods of the Eastern Woodlands Aboriginal Americans were corn(also known as Maize), beans, and squash. These were called the "Three Sisters" because they were planted interdependently: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the maize, while the squash spread out at the base of the three plants and provided protection and support for the root systems. A number of other domesticated crops were also popular during some time periods in the Eastern Woodlands, including a local version of quinoa, a variety of amaranth, sumpweed/marsh elder, little barley, maygrass, and sunflowers.

Southeastern Native American cuisine

Southeastern Native American culture has formed the cornerstone of Southern cuisine from its origins till the present day. From Southeastern Native American culture came one of the main staples of the Southern diet: corn (maize), either ground into meal or limed with an alkaline salt to make hominy, using a Native American technology known as nixtamalization. Corn was used to make all kinds of dishes from the familiar cornbread and grits to liquors such as whiskey, which were important trade items. Though a lesser staple, potatoes were also adopted from Native American cuisine and were used in many ways similar to corn. Native Americans introduced the first non-Native American Southerners to many other vegetables still familiar on southern tables. Squash, pumpkin, many types of beans, tomatoes (though Europeans initially considered them poisonous), many types of peppers, and sassafras all came to the settlers via the native tribes.

Many fruits are available in this region. Muscadines, blackberries, raspberries, and many other wild berries were part of Southern Native Americans' diet.

Western Native American cuisine
In the Northwest of what is now the United States, Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. In contrast to the Easterners, the Northwestern aboriginal peoples were principally hunter-gatherers. The generally mild climate meant they did not need to develop an economy based upon agriculture but instead could rely year-round on the abundant food supplies of their region. In what is now California, acorns were ground into a flour that was the principal foodstuff for about seventy-five percent of the population, and dried meats were prepared during the season when drying was possible.

Natural Medicines

For thousands of years Native Americans have used herbs to, not only heal the body, but, also to purify the spirit and bring balance into their lives and their surroundings. Oral traditions indicate that they learned about the healing powers of herbs and other plants by watching sick animals. There are no written records of herbal use by the indigenous people of America prior to the first contact between Europeans and the tribes. However, this changed as Native Americans shared their knowledge of how to use nature’s medicines with the new settlers.

While there were hundreds of herbs and plants used in Native American remedies, one of the most sacred was Tobacco, which was used healing numerous conditions, as well as in rituals and ceremonies. It was smoked pure and not mixed with any chemicals as it is today.

Another very important herb to the Native Americans was Sage, which was said to not only heal multiple problems of the stomach, colon, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and more, it was also believed to protect against bad spirits and to draw them out of the body or the soul.

Though the list of medicinal herbs that might be carried in a Healer’s medicine bundle are many and varied, those that were most often used were frequently carried such as remedies for common colds which might include American Ginseng or Boneset; herbs for aches and pains including Wild Black Cherry, Pennyroyal, and Hops; remedies for fever, including Dogwood, Feverwort, and Willow Bark.

Creativity

Native American creativity is boundless
and sacred. Artistic expression has been
a way to worship the gods. Art for
art's sake is not part of the Indian
psyche. Their artistic designs have
beauty and care motivated by their love
for nature.

Sacred beliefs of American Indians hold
that everything living or inanimate shares
a place in the universe, and that no one
thing is above the other. They were the
first ecologically aware people anywhere,
long before pollution became a serious
and popular issue.

Native Americans were also the first to
create implements with beauty, and each
native art object they made had a
specific purpose. Animals they killed
were for clothing, tools and food, never
for sport.

Native American Art: Sandpainting, Baskets, Wood Carving, Water and Oil Painting

A natural beauty and obvious appreciation for nature permeates their Indian pottery,
paintings, baskets, leather work, sand paintings, crafts, moccasins and wood carving.

Native Americans created many shapes and geometric designs for their art and these were
repeated and became representative symbols that transcended tribal language barriers.
Native art designs became a language in themselves, a form of communication. The harmony
and oneness sensed in their art is real, and it provides serenity to those who experience it.

The "Pow Wow"

Before the term “powwow” became popular, various words were used to describe this cultural phenomenon. Some of these included: Celebration, Doing, Fair, Feast, Festival Gathering, Happening, Indian Dance, Rodeo, Show and Union. The term “powwow” is actually a North Eastern Woodland word belonging to the Narragansett Language and the closest English translation is “meeting.”

The modern day powwow evolved from the Grass Dance Societies that formed in the early 19th Century. The term “Grass Dance” can get rather confusing because there is also a style of dancing called “Grass Dance” that became very popular during the reservation period in the mid 19th Century. The Grass Dance Societies were an opportunity for the warriors to re-enact deeds for all the members of the Tribe to witness.

The removal period increased the growth of the reservations and this soon gave rise to the modern powwow. This transition for Native Americans often put Tribes at odds with other Tribes they did not know and manyTribes that were bitter enemies found themselves very close neighbors. A compromise and compilation of traditions had to take place in order for the people to survive.

Many ceremonies and customs were outlawed during the reservation period. The Grass Dance being more social was one of the only events allowed. As so many Tribes were pushed together it was soon clear and necessary to transfer the traditions of the Grass Dance between Tribes. “Inter-Tribalism” began to emerge with the sharing of songs, dances, clothing, food and art. Gift giving and generosity became integral aspects of these early festivities and they are still with us today. Over time the phrase “Powwow” as a term for meeting or gathering became very popular and has been used widely to describe the cultural event since the mid 20th Century.

By the 1980s the Powwow had become extremely popular and even commercial. In some cases it became a great show for both the Native and Non-Native crowd. While there had been competition at powwows and competition powwows in the past, the rise of the 1980s brought about better prizes and better organization of the competition powwow. A new evolution could be seen across Indian Country that increased the interest in both the Native American culture and the powwow to both Native and non-Native people. As the 1990s came about, large casinos got in the act of promoting both competition and non-competition powwows to promote not only the most obvious but also the culture of the Tribe that owned or operated the casino.

Finally by the emergence of the 21st Century more Natives were calling for a return to the old ways and the earliest ways of the gathering. Soon the old terms and old ways started to appear more and more at both competition and non-competition events. To promote and get more interested in the old ways, many big money competition powwows have added new categories of dance and dress that is really the very old ways of dance and dress. With this they hope to create a re-newel interest of the old ways.

BUT Regardless of the term used to describe it – today’s gathering or powwow bases itself on the fundamental values common to Native Americans across North America: Honor, Respect, Tradition and Generosity. Along with their families, thousands of singers, dancers, and vendors follow the Powwow Trail all over the entire continent to share and celebrate the culture.

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