November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the many cultures, traditions, histories and contributions of the indigenous people of this land. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is an excellent place to begin exploring this rich heritage. Another collection of resources from national museums, archives and parks can be found here. But I think the exhibits at The National Library of Medicine are especially timely. They depict the Native American philosophy of health that weaves together community, spirit, and land.
This philosophy continues to be voiced by Native Americans locally and globally -- and it is being heard. In Northern California, members of the Karuk, Yurok, and Hupa communities are working with the Nature Conservancy and CAL FIRE to instruct and manage firefighters on controlled burns. The values of community, spirit, and land are evident as they help create healthy forests and safe communities using their traditional knowledge. On the world stage, Patricia Espinosa, the UN Climate Chief, acknowledged the importance of hearing and applying native knowledge systems when she stated, “Indigenous peoples must be part of the solution to climate change. This is because you have the traditional knowledge of your ancestors. The important value of that knowledge simply cannot—and must not—be understated."
There are several new additions to our library that reveal Native American traditional knowledge, and the belief that health results from the interconnectedness of community, spirit, and nature. For older students, I highly recommend An Indigenous History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Kirkus Review reports it’s “an excellent read, dismantling American mythologies and fostering critical reasoning about history and current events.” Middle School students will better understand the cultural distance between life on and off the reservation after reading Apple in the Middle by Dawn Quigley. And younger readers will appreciate the mixture of pride and anxiety a young Creek girl experiences when dancing at her first powwow. Detailed pictures add to the story of Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
To conclude, I want to reference the historic speech given in 1854 by Chief Seattle of the Suquamish and Duwamish to an audience that included the first Governor of the Washington Territory. The Chief described the healthy trinity of community, spirit, and land when he simply stated, “The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth… What befalls the earth befalls all the sons and daughters of the earth.” This truth echoes through the years, through these resources and stories, and challenges us now.
Be well, and best wishes for the upcoming time of thanksgiving and family.