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A group of students pose with Indigenous Peoples' Day Keynote Speaker Timberlin Henderson.

Native American Heritage Month

What is Native American Heritage Month?

In 1990, Congress passed a bill, which was subsequently signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, officially designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. This month holds great significance, as it offers a platform to acknowledge and celebrate the rich contributions and remarkable achievements of Indigenous people. However, it is essential to recognize that the history of this observance is deeply intertwined with the complex and often painful history of Native Americans in the United States. 

Throughout our history, Indigenous communities have endured a series of challenging experiences, from the devastating legacy of “boarding schools” that tragically claimed the lives of innocent children, to the forcible seizure of ancestral lands and the suppression of their culture. These historical injustices cast a shadow on this month, but they also underscore the importance of honoring and preserving the heritage and traditions of Native Americans. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing journey towards healing and reconciliation.

Why is Native American Heritage Month Important at Western?

Often, narrations of Native Americans depict the Tribes as a single, homogenous entity. The United States is home to over 500 distinct tribes, each with its own unique cultures, languages, and traditions. 

The land we now know as Western Colorado University was originally the territory of the Ute Nations and Peoples. Native American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to not only recognize this heritage but also to embrace a future of unity, understanding, and respect among all Americans. It is a month that encourages us to appreciate the resilience, wisdom, and contributions of Indigenous people while working together for a more inclusive and equitable future.

Learning Resources

Personal and Political Dimensions of Tribes 
This podcast episode explores the complex issue of blood quantum in Native American tribes. Blood quantum is a measure of an individual’s Native American heritage and is used to determine tribal citizenship. The episode features the stories of individuals and families who grapple with the concept of blood quantum, its historical origins, and its impact on tribal identity and membership. The episode also touches on the personal and political dimensions of this issue, including how it affects access to tribal resources and services. Ultimately, the episode highlights the challenges and complexities of defining Native identity and maintaining tribal sovereignty in the context of blood quantum.

NPR Code Switch

Honoring the Diversity of Our First Nations
Native American Heritage Month serves as an opportunity for educators to teach about Native American history, art, culture, and contemporary issues. However, it is crucial that these lessons accurately reflect the diversity and complexity of Native American experiences and challenge harmful stereotypes, emphasizing the need for a year-round commitment to providing authentic, varied stories of Indigenous experiences and recognizing the individuality of Native students and communities in the education system. 

Read the Article

Where Western Sits  
Learning the history of the land helps respect the Tribes as diverse, thriving communities.  

Native Lands Map

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Multicultural Center

Director

Sally Romero

Director of Unity and Belonging

Assistant Director

Miriam Olvera

Assistant Director of Unity and Belonging - Student Success Initiatives

Contact Information

970.943.2234

970.943.2702

multicultural@western.edu

8 a.m. - 5 p.m., M-F

Campus Location

Western Colorado University
University Center 122
1 Western Way
Gunnison, CO 81231

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