In 1990, through a joint resolution passed by Congress and signed by President George H.W. Bush, the month of November was designated National American Indian Heritage Month. The resolution acknowledges among other things the “essential and unique contributions to our Nation, not the least of which is the contribution of most of the land which now comprises these United States.”
This is an important acknowledgement but glosses over some difficult aspects of this “contribution” of land. When European colonization of the American began at the end of the 15th century, there were hundreds of tribes and millions of Indigenous people living throughout the continents. However, within just a few generations of the Europeans’ arrival, scholars estimate that up 95% of these Native peoples had died and most of the remaining removed from their homes.
Yet for millennia Native peoples were stewards of this land. Even with displacement and dispossession, Indigenous communities have maintained their sense of belonging to ancestral homelands and sought to maintain their connections to the land through traditions and culture. Land acknowledgements are one aspect of these traditional customs that date back centuries in many Native communities. They are a way to express the stewardship role of the ancestors as well as the continuing relationship with the land. Today, land acknowledgements have also been adopted by non-native peoples as a way to not only acknowledge these connections, but also speak the truth about the history of these lands. Speaking words of recognition is a step in moving toward accountable and respective relationship with Indigenous communities.
Acknowledging original Indigenous peoples of the land is complex. Many places in the Americas have been home to different Native peoples over time, and many no longer live on lands to which they have ancestral ties. Native Land Digital is a project which seeks to tell part of the story of this history through mapping. One can enter a location in the map which results in list of links to different nations’ names. By clicking on the links, one is taken to additional information about the nation, language, and treaties related to that people. For example, the map reveals Dubuque, IA is on the traditional lands of oθaakiiwaki‧hina‧ki (Sauk) & Meškwahki·aša·hina (Fox), Myaamia (Miami), Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Sioux), and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo). It is also very close to Báxoje Máyaⁿ (Ioway) and Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk) territories.
To learn more about the contributions of Native peoples and their history, please visit our book display on the Library’s third floor.