November is Native American Heritage Month. The Free Library, located on the ancestral lands of the Lenni-Lenape people, is proud to honor this tradition. Read on to learn what this holiday is all about, and how you and your family can participate.
Each November, we honor Native American Heritage Month as a time to acknowledge, celebrate, and raise awareness about the history, culture, and ongoing contributions of Native American or Indigenous peoples of the land we now call the United States. The recognition of this month began officially in 1990, yet public advocacy for a holiday to celebrate “the First Americans” started over 100 years ago.
Nearly four million people identify solely as American Indian or Alaska Native per the 2020 U.S. Census, but that number is deceptively low. Many of those with Native American or Indigenous ancestry go officially uncounted in this nation as a result of Indigeneity’s data dilemma, as reported by Indian Country Today. This problem is echoed in media portrayals and the public imagination of anyone not "in the know."
According to recent scholarship, about three-quarters of Native American people are multiracial or multiethnic, and nearly one-third of the nation’s Indigenous population identifies as Hispanic or Latinx. Native people may have ancestors in multiple tribes and thus not meet the percentage parentage requirements to belong to either. They may belong to federally recognized or unrecognized tribes. They may share African American and Native American or other Indigenous ancestry, with the latter going unseen. While colonial definitions focus on boundaries and borders, life often vaults over these fences. So, who is Native American or Indigenous in the United States today? More people than you might realize — maybe you, probably someone you know.
Celebrate, Learn, and Grow
Whether you’re exploring your own heritage or investigating the hidden aspects of a shared history, there are plenty of ways to learn and experience the particular past and present-day cultural legacy of the first peoples to inhabit this land. Here are a few ideas.
- To honor your own Indigenous roots, Rock Your Mocs with other Native folks worldwide from November 12-18, 2023.
- Explore Project 562, a photography project by artist Matika Wilbur who aims to document modern indigeneity across what is now known as the United States.
- Find out whose land you’re on with the Native Land Digital Map. Land acknowledgment can be a simple way to ‘glow up’ your Thanksgiving traditions at home.
- Read about those finding new ways to keep old traditions alive, like this modern Navajo sheepherder who teaches weaving classes on Zoom.
- Experience Nkwiluntamen, a local soundscape installation at Pennsbury Manor, created to honor the ancestral presence of the Lenape people through the modern-day lens of artist and Delaware tribal member Nathan Young.
- Learn about those working to keep Lenape culture alive, with plans for a new Lenape-led cultural center to be constructed on the recently reacquired land of the Cohanzick Nature Reserve in New Jersey.
- Stay informed about local and national happenings with the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly quarterly newsletter.
- Join LEAP Afterschool for themed programming inspired by Native American culture, including the story of a Navajo code talker in World War II, and one group’s fight to protect waters from environmental devastation. Check with your neighborhood library to learn more.
- Watch documentary films celebrating America’s first people and cinematic works that prominently feature First Nation actors now on Kanopy, free with your library card.
- Honor your Indigenous-Latinx heritage with a Day of the Dead picture book. The holiday, with roots in the Indigenous cultures of Central America, also falls in early November.
- Celebrate Native American culture and history by downloading titles online from Libby.
For more reading options for all ages, explore some of our favorite book lists for Native American Heritage Month!
And don’t forget to sign up for our Fall Into Reading Challenge online to keep track of all the books you read. Look for a special Activity Adventure in honor of Native American Heritage Month this November, open to all ages.