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  • Writer's pictureMoriah Joy

Native American Heritage Day

Words and Images courtesy of Moriah Joy.

When people are asked to imagine Native American or Indigenious people, often there is a tendency to imagine a world seen in sepia tones. Before the west had been “won”, Native Americans were simply people who only rode on horseback, fighting cowboys and hunting buffalo. While there is some truth to those histories, they are only a fraction of the picture that exists of our culture as a whole. There is an abundant Native culture and heritage that is often subdued by believing we are a people of a world that no longer exists, but that is far from the truth. We are a diverse group of people stretching from the swamplands of Florida to the tundra of Alaska, each tribe with their own traditions and beliefs, rich history and systems of preservation.

My tribe, for instance, is Sappony and our roots are mostly in the North Eastern region of North Carolina. If you look here, you can see the Sappony flag, which represents the history of my people. The seven stars on the flag symbolize the seven clans that came together to form our ancestry and the seven feathers show the tribes working together in unity. There are depictions of corn, tobacco, and wheat which were the main crops used for subsistence farming. Then finally the three arrowheads were a symbol of the trading relationship with the colonists that were tattooed or worn to communicate from a distance.

Almost every year, we host a camp that allows the youth of the tribe to learn the history, some of the language, and the traditions of our tribe. One of the most important traditions is the quilt making. Each year, the members of the tribe each make a square for a quilt that gets sewn together at our reunion then is displayed in our tribal house for that year. Growing up, the camp was the one time of year where I felt connected to my heritage which has not always been present in my day to day life.

One of the other places where Native heritage is alive and well is at local pow-wows. If you have never been, I highly encourage you to go so you can see first hand the beauty of Indigenious culture in your area. Most of them will have dancing, traditional drum circles, and hand crafted pieces that represent the culture of that specific tribe. By attending these events, which are almost always open to the public, the funds directly support the growth of the tribes and help fund various programs.

I am thankful to social media and media representation for the connection it brings, allowing many Indigenious creators to have a big voice on their platforms, bringing our worlds closer together and proving that we still have a voice. Many of these creators show off their skills of hoop dancing, throat chanting, and visual artistry. These content creators also answer questions about different traditions and educate people on various ceremonies allowing for a more personal interaction with the Indigenious community. Then shows like Reservation Dogs bring to light the economic disparity that exists within many of our communities. These may seem like small things to other people, but representation across all platforms makes the world feel a little less lonely and allows for a sense of unity that is often missing from the world today.

The 2020 census showed that while our numbers are not immense we are still a thriving, growing group of people who refuse to be forgotten. In 2010, the Native American population accounted for .9 percent of the United States population equaling 2.9 million people. Today, we are at approximately 3.7 million people, accounting for 1.1 percent of the current United States population. These statistics help show the importance of National Native American Heritage Day and other days that celebrate our culture. We ask that you stop for just a moment to see us, not as remnants of the past, but as people with a future.

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