Culture

Ditch The Headdress, Read Up On Native Authors: Here’s How You Can Celebrate Native American Heritage Month Respectfully

November is Native American Heritage month. And like most commemorative months dedicated to honoring the culture and history of an oppressed people in the U.S., Native American Heritage Month is an insufficient gesture. Added onto that, November is often a a time when stereotypes of Native people get reinforced. A month of supposed ‘appreciation’ and ‘honoring’ of oppressed communities, can easily turn into one replete with cultural appropriation and prejudice.

So we decided we’d round up a few things that you can do —and not do— to celebrate in a positive and healthy spirit. 

1. Don’t desecrate traditional, sacred Native objects by buying or wearing them as props.

More often than not, we find ‘Native’, ‘Tribal’, or ‘Navajo’ inspired goods in stores, what you might not know is that they could be sacred Native artifacts and spiritual items. Objects like the canupa pipe or a warbonnet —commonly known as ‘headdress’— are part of Native spiritual culture and they should never be worn as a costume.

For Native people, practicing their spirituality was illegal in this country, up until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. Before then, Native people were beaten, jailed, and even killed for practicing their ancestral beliefs. What remains of tribal cultures customs, and ceremonies has been paid for in blood.

Among Native people, the warbonnet was only given to those who earned each and every eagle feather for their bravery, self-sacrifice, and great deeds of valor —doesn’t seem very appropriate to wear one as a costume or prop now, does it? Disrespecting the warbonnet is a terrible wrong and dishonors the likes of all who earned them with pride.

2. Don’t make children wear redface and reenact the re-telling of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving reenactments are a whitewashed version of early U.S. history. The retelling of this story only glorifies colonization when we all know that the truth isn’t so pretty. In actuality, an official “day of Thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots” was said to have been proclaimed by Massachusetts Bay governor William Bradford in 1637, celebrating the slaughter of up to 700 Pequot men, women, and children.

3. Don’t promote the fetishization of Native women.

We should all know this by now, but since not everyone acts like it, we’ll say it louder for the people in the back —Do not dehumanize women of color. We’re not your fetish and will not be devalued any longer. Reducing Native women to a fetish is oppressive and objectifying. It subjugates Native women while denying their agency.

Native women face higher rates of violence than the general population. A report last year by the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center found that more than half of Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and 96% of those who commit sexual violence against Native women are non-Native.

4. Don’t support racist mascots.

It’s 2019 and the sports team, Washington R*dskins, literally has a racial slur in its name. It mocks Native identity, it reinforces ignorant and racist caricatures of a whole culture.

5. Don’t pretend to know better than Native people on Native subjects.

I’d like to believe that Native people know more about being Native because well…they are Native, they’ve lived the experience daily. Native people know more about their heritage than non-Natives do and silencing their voices is equal to erasing them.

What’s more, don’t bother Natives on social media by sending them the worst instances of cultural appropriation and racial violence that you may stumble upon while scrolling. Natives who are present in online spaces see it often. Even if you mean well, for Native people, constant exposure to this sort of toxic environment is damaging and exhausting.

6. For the love of God, don’t buy culturally appropriative products from Non-Native vendors.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, do not buy Native imitations at places like Urban Outfitters or other stores who have actually been on trial for stealing names, references and designs from Native people.

Under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, “it is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.” Violators may face civil or criminal penalties of a fine up to $250,000 or five years behind bars. Before buying goods from a purported Native vendor, ask them if they are following this law, and what tribe they belong to. It is not offensive to ask a person who claims to be Native what tribe they hail from. Tribal identification is commonplace and accepted among Natives.

7. Do teach real Native history to children and read up on works by Native scholars and authors.

Introduce real and accurate Native history —including harvest feasts—into school events. Invite Native speakers, authors and scholars to speak to students about Indigenous peoples. It’s important that children see Natives as contemporary living people who are still here.

8. Do respect Natives’ beliefs.

It’s pretty easy; respect other people’s religion and belief systems as you would your own. There are many differences among tribes, but in general, they all share a reverence for the land, for animals and plants, for the bonds of community, for the wisdom of the elderly and for the contributions of their ancestors. Their beliefs and traditions might differ from what you grew up learning, but Native perspectives are just as compelling and valuable as everyone’s, and they should be respected as such.

9. Do respect and honor Native-Veterans.

Natives have served in the U.S. military at a higher per capita rate than any other ethnic group in the 20th century, and in the military actions following September 11, 2001, Native men and women veterans served at a higher rate than veterans of all other ethnic groups, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. As we remember those who have given their lives in service to our country while protecting the freedoms and ideals we hold dear, many of our fellow Americans remain unaware of the major contributions Native Americans have made to our nation’s armed forces.

10. Do buy authentic Native goods sold by Native artisans and businesses.

Stores like Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie, are taking valuable business away from actual Native American artists and small businesses. Support Native American creativity, history, and legacy, and help create a much-needed economic boost in Indian Country by shopping from small, authentic Native businesses. This site has enlisted Native-owned businesses you can shop from online —now you have no excuse.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Here’s Why Now Is The Perfect Time To Return Native Lands To Their Rightful Caretakers

Things That Matter

Here’s Why Now Is The Perfect Time To Return Native Lands To Their Rightful Caretakers

The federal government has long been a poor caretaker of Native lands. Despite the numerous treaties that the United States has signed with Indigenous tribes over the years, our federal government has often failed to keep up their end of the bargain. Far too often promises aren’t kept and our Native communities are left to suffer. 

Along with the enslavement of Black Americans, this forced land takeover is one of the country’s most significant transgressions. Many of the biggest challenges facing Native communities today, from rampant poverty to lower social and economic mobility to health issues, can be traced to the attempted extermination and then assimilation of Native Americans through American land policy.

Native communities across the country deserve to take back their land.

Several recent high-profile legal cases in the United States have grappled with parts of this legacy. For instance, the Supreme Court ruled in 2020 in McGirt v. Oklahoma that roughly half of Oklahoma’s land lies within the jurisdictional boundary of a Native American reservation. The case was a victory for tribal sovereignty with major consequences for criminal and civil law within the territory. But it stopped short of implicating land issues.

Dozens of tribes across the United States are now pushing for land restoration. Take for example the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in Missouri. After being forced onto a small reservation of their ancestral lands at Fort Berthold in 1870, the government flooded more than a quarter of it. Now, these tribes are bogged down in legal battles just to get the federal government to uphold its former promises.

The nation’s chairman, Marx Fox points out that “We have been marginalized and pushed off our territory and for more than a century the federal government has attempted to steal what their own experts agree is rightfully ours.” 

With Biden’s pick for Interior secretary, the tide could be beginning to turn.

President Joe Biden’s pick for Interior secretary, Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) will be responsible for upholding the country’s treaties with Native Americans. Haaland should use her unique position to rectify one of the most damaging early Indian policies of the United States, which sought to break down tribes and assimilate natives: the systematic takeover of native land. 
The United States lags behind many other countries in the Americas in its treatment of indigenous land claims and indigenous legal and political autonomy. Canada has offered official apologies to First Nations and founded a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the legacy of its Indian Residential Schools and provide recommendations to further reconciliation with its indigenous groups. Colombia and Bolivia have granted native communities enormous reserves of lands, and Mexico has given indigenous communities living in ejidos greater self-governance and property rights. Now is the time for the United States to do the same.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Archaeologists Have Discovered A Mayan Mask As Tall As A Person, But Here’s Why They’ve Already Buried It

Culture

Archaeologists Have Discovered A Mayan Mask As Tall As A Person, But Here’s Why They’ve Already Buried It

In the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán on the Yucatán Peninsula, an archaeological team digging at a lightly explored site near the tiny, picturesque village of Ucanha uncovered something highly unusual. It was a giant human-looking face, as tall as a person and sculpted in stucco. Its features clearly identified it as a Mayan mask of the ancient Maya civilization, which enjoyed total hegemony in this part of the world more than one thousand years ago.

But this new discovery won’t be put on display for the world to see and here’s why.

A giant Mayan mask as tall as a person has been revealed in the Yucatán.

The mask, which depicts the face of an unknown deity or elite person, was sculpted from the building material stucco and dates back to a period in history known as the Late Preclassic (about 300 B.C. — A.D. 250), according to the news outlet Novedades Yucatán.

The discovery was made in 2017 at the archaeological site of Ucanha, near the modern-day city of Motul, and since then researchers with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have worked painstakingly to restore it.

In their statement announcing the finding , INAH stated that sculptures like these “represent the faces of individuals with particular features that can be associated with deities or with characters of prominent social status.” It was a common practice in Maya civilization to decorate buildings with large-scale, embedded decorative sculptures, which often featured the faces of rulers or gods.

The team of researches have worked to restore the giant mask and protect it from the elements.

Credit: National Institute of Anthropology and History

The mask is a stucco relief, a type of brightly-colored painted sculpture carved from a background of stucco. The Maya typically placed these masks around stairways with pyramidal bases, according to the statement. Archaeologists have found similar reliefs in Acanceh and Izamal, but this is the first in Ucanha. The discovery is part of ongoing research into Mayan mounds found at the site. 

During the restoration and conservation process, archaeologists reinforced fragile parts of the mask. They also moved sections that had been displaced over time back to their original positions. They also cleaned the surfaces to highlight the mask’s patterns and colors.

Since being restored, the mask has been reburied for its own protection.

The mask was temporarily reburied after its discovery so that the structure was protected until it could be properly studied and preserved. Samples taken from the structure revealed deterioration and it was re-excavated in 2018 so that archaeologists could restore it. 

The archaeologists completed the work in 2019, before reburying the mask for a final time. INAH said the goal of these efforts is to ensure the long-term preservation of the mask at the site, which does not have legal protection.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com