Out of the 12 months in a calendar year, seven are dedicated to different minority groups in the United States. In November 1990, President George H.W. Bush declared the month as Native American Heritage month to recognize the culture of indigenous peoples of the U.S.
John O. Bello-Ogunu, vice president of the office of global diversity, inclusion and intercultural affairs, said there should be year-long appreciation and education about minority groups.
“I think it’s important to recognize that these underrepresented groups deserve to be seen all year long for their accomplishments,” he said. “These months are important because America is a multi-cultural society — Congress decided to take a step forward and recognize and appreciate the contributions that numerous ethnic, racial and cultural groups have made in the development of this great nation.”
To promote cultural diversity, Lamar University will host Delwin Fiddler, Jr., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday, in 113 Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship. Fiddler is a descendant of Native American leaders Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Elk Head, and has lineage in the Keepers of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, an important prophecy of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, of which he is a member.
“This is the first time Lamar is hosting a program in recognition of Native American Heritage Month,” Bello-Ogunu said. “I hope we will be able to promote inclusion, education and awareness.”
Fiddler’s talk will cover American History from a Native American point-of-view and will discuss his life growing up on a reservation in a family of medicine men and women, and about his six months spent conducting ceremonies at Standing Rock, N.D., in 2016.
“With this presentation, I hope we will be able to trigger a broader discussion about Native American issues, and perhaps even inspire students to start an organization for Native American students,” Bello-Ogunu said.
The National Congress of American Indians website states, “Heritage Month is an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, raise a general awareness about the unique challenges native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”
Native American Heritage Month is relatively new and is not as publicized, meaning many people are not aware that it exists.
“(This month) is a sense of pride for me,”Beaumont-based artist Teresa Baker said. “It’s a moment to stop and recognize the native culture not only for non-natives, but for natives. It’s a time to be extra prideful of our culture, and who we are as people with an incredibly long and deep history on this land.”
Baker is Mandan and Hidatsa, originating from the Fort Berthold Reservation in Mandaree, N.D.,.
“The Mandans and Hidatsas were part of what was called the five villages (three Hidatsa and two Mandan) on the upper Missouri River, and were the hub for the trading network for the Northern Plains tribes long before the first white settlers came along,” she said. “We were also agricultural tribes growing corn, squash, beans and sunflowers. We traded our vegetables and knife-river flint, which is why you still find it throughout the country today.
“After the smallpox epidemic of 1837 — which wiped out most of the Mandan tribe — the Mandans and Hidatsas assimilated in 1845, forming the current reservation along with the Arikara tribe. We lost most of our land and sacred sites in 1953, as a result of the Federal Government building the Garrison Dam which flooded out our bottom lands.”
The tribes were moved to higher rocky plains where their tradition of farming was harder because of the soil.
‘The Garrison Dam was a big loss and is a deep scar in our history,” Baker said. “The population today, which includes all three tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara), is about 15,000. It’s a bit sad that we have to make a month for these cultures that are not understood or celebrated everyday, but this is where we are. It’s important to educate, especially children, and this month of awareness provides that opportunity.”
Bello-Ogunu said knowing more about other cultures promotes critical thinking.
“Learning the cultures of those groups who have been underrepresented and underserved socio-economically is key to acceptance,” he said. “Take every opportunity to attend functions like (Fiddler’s talk) and ask questions.
“Whether Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Irish-American Heritage Month, etc., it is important to make a sincere effort to get to know someone from that culture and ask questions — don’t be shy — in order to become educated and, eventually, educate others about any culture without ignorance.”
Baker said that learning local native history is integral to being able to understand the issues natives have nationwide.
“Do research about your area and it’s native history,” she said. “Even if there isn’t a reservation close by, there is a native history. Starting locally allows for a connection to the culture, because place is a commonality. From there, you can go on to read a broader native history.”
Baker said that research and understanding also helps to eliminate stereotypes about different cultures.
“We are people, not Hollywood portrayals, not mascots, but people who have endured a very rough history since colonization,” she said. “We have survived, and our cultures have a lot to offer.”
With knowledge comes awareness, which can make a difference in the way people in the world communicate and operate, Bello-Ogunu said.
“I’ve always believed all humans, beginning on this campus and spreading across the world, have an ethical and moral responsibility to make the world a better place,” he said. “The first step is to educate ourselves on the differences that make our cultures unique and special, as well as the similarities that bind us together as the human race.
“We need to make sincere efforts to appreciate and celebrate those differences with the ultimate goal of co-creating a more peaceful, harmonious and united global society on our campus, in our neighborhoods, in our state, and in our nation as a whole.”
Story by Olivia Malick, UP staff writer