Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month and a New Vision for the Nation

As we celebrate Native American Heritage month in November, we remember that Native sacred places, lifeways, and traditions have shaped this land since time immemorial—and Native people continue to create, share, and inspire despite centuries of colonization.

Art exists to tell a story about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. And as we look to the future in a moment of so much crisis and uncertainty in our country and world, we know that Native knowledge can help us all chart a path forward—healing from the past, understanding and navigating our present, and inspiring positive change for the future. The arts are an essential component of justice for Native people. Reclaiming our language, our culture, and expressing our art in modern times after generations of attempted erasure is a necessary act of Indigenous resilience and liberation. “

Just five days ago, after months of a contentious and divided election, a new President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris were declared, calling for unity and pledging to represent all people in the United States. Almost 160 million Americans voted in this election, the largest turnout in American history. We’re especially thrilled that a record-breaking six Native American house candidates won their respective races, more than any previous Congress. And most historic, the first woman was elected as Vice President, and even more notable she is the first Black and South Asian woman to hold this high office.

Many may not be aware that our democratic system was inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy’s Great Law of Peace. In 1988, the U.S. Senate paid tribute to the Iroquois with a resolution that said, “The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.”

The Iroquois Constitution is known as the Great Law of Peace for having brought together five nations that had been involved in continuous inter-tribal conflicts at the expense of the well being of their societies. Those five nations came together under the Iroquois Confederacy, and their people became known as the Haudenosaunee. In 1744, chief Canassatego of the Onondaga Nation, which was part of the Iroquois Confederacy, gave a speech urging the 13 colonies, then at odds, to unite as the Iroquois had. In his speech, Canassatego used the metaphor that many arrows cannot be broken as easily as one. This inspired the bundle of 13 arrows held by an eagle in the Great Seal of the United States.

As we reckon with a history that has silenced Native truth, as the movement for racial equity surges across our country, as we yearn for the ability to gather, learn, and share experiences together, as climate change threatens our homelands, and as Native elders and culture bearers age – we also reflect on this moment in time. Now is not the time to shy away from the challenges that stand in our way of being a united peoples. There is a glimmer of hope in our democracy during these momentous times, and as Native peoples, we will continue to listen to the voices of our ancestors and forge forward. We will use our creativity, arts, and cultures to inspire the human spirit, unite with one another, and shine a light on the most pressing social issues we face in our communities and nation.