Tomorrow marks the beginning of American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. We celebrate the contributions that American Indians and Alaska and Hawaii Natives have made in American culture in the past, but especially in the present.
Unfortunately, due to lack of contact with Natives or inaccurate views about Natives based on reflections of the past, many Americans do not have an accurate picture of Native peoples today. Many buy into negative stereotypes about Natives, such as imagery about alcohol and drug abuse, or base their ideas of Natives on historical sepia-toned imagery. As Native leaders, we need to work hard not just this month, but every month, to share the good news about Natives and their modern-day successes and leaders in our community. We have pharmacists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen and women, and more that are leading our communities and rebuilding them, for Natives and non-Natives alike.
Tribal colleges are ground zero for the renaissance of Native peoples. Tribal colleges serve both Indian and non-Indian communities as centers for learning for children, college students, and adults; gathering places for the community; health centers, pharmacies, libraries, art galleries, computer centers, Native language centers, and much, much more.
This renaissance didn’t happen overnight. The tribal college movement has been ongoing since 1969, with the founding of Diné College, which paved the way.
Perhaps changing the image of Natives with Americans won’t happen overnight, either. But as we proudly claim our Native birthright while celebrating our past and present successes we will change that. We must keep our eyes on the task at hand: educate our minds and our spirits and lead our communities to succeed. Not only do we exist, but we excel. Spread the good word!