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Preserving Native American Heritage And Culture

Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity to educate the general public about tribes, to raise awareness of the unique challenges Native people have faced historically and in the present.

Photo: barry B (Flickr)

Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity to educate the public about tribes and to raise awareness of the unique challenges Native people have faced.

Noon Edition airs Fridays at 12:06 p.m. on WFIU 1.

November marks the beginning of Native American Heritage Month. The month is a time to celebrate the rich diversity, traditions and histories of Native people.

Native people have shaped Indiana from its very beginning. Our state’s namesake translates to “land of the Indians,” named for the abundance of Indian tribes living here when white settlers arrived.

By 1840, Indiana’s native population was virtually cleared by increasing white settlement. Still today there are Native Americans from various tribes and bands living in Indiana.

This week on Noon Edition, our panelists discussed keeping Native American heritage and culture alive in 2017.

Guests: 

Carolina Castoreno-Santana: Executive Director of the American Indian Center of Indiana, Indianapolis, IN

Heather Williams: Program Assistant, First Nations Educational & Cultural Center, Indiana University Bloomington

Mitch Teplitsky: Public Relations Director, The Language Conservancy, Bloomington, IN

Discussion: Preserving Native American Culture in Indiana

There are around 50,000 Native Americans living in Indiana, according to Castoreno-Santana.

“There are federally or state recognized tribes in Indiana, so it’s not like out west where we have reservation areas that are dedicated solely to specific tribes. Most people are from somewhere else,” she says. “And we do have the Miami of Indiana, but because of issues with recognition by the federal government and the fact that there is the Miami of Oklahoma, they don’t have that recognition but we do offer services to them as well. They are the original people of the state.”

When it comes to visibility of Native American culture, the panelists agree that public perception is often shaped by caricatures of stereotypes that are harmful and offensive.

Castoreno-Santana and Williams point to the controversy about sports teams using Native American tribes or even racial slurs as mascots.

“If we can’t get you to see us as human beings, if we can’t get you to see the value in not mocking us, how can we expect you to care about these larger issues that we do face?” Castoreno-Santana says.

One of those issues is violence against Indigenous women. In Canada, nearly 1,200 aboriginal women were murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012.

Heather Williams says one of three Indigenous women are victims of sexual assault.

“Pay attention to that and don’t just brush off a missing woman flier as just another drug addict from the street that probably overdosed,” Williams says. “That’s not what’s going on. Indigenous women are being targeted because of the lax laws that exist right now.”

The panelists agree education about Native culture needs to start early.

“We can’t expect adults to respect Native American issues if we’re teaching them at 4th and 5th grade that Columbus discovered America,” Castoreno-Santana says, adding organizations like the American Indiana Center of Indiana offer Native speakers and historians as classroom speakers for educators.

Teplitsky says non-Native people like him need to take it upon themselves to learn the accurate history of the U.S.

“I was just reading the basic facts, like why do people not speak the language? The boarding schools, the eradication of the language,” he says. “Like what? That’s horrifying and that’s big, that’s our history, and I didn’t know anything about it.”

The Language Conservancy works with Native American tribes to preserve languages that are in danger of dying out.

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