It may seem ironic only to Native Americans that National American Indian Heritage Month shares November with Thanksgiving Day, a holiday shared by just about every U.S. citizen no matter their race or ethnicity. Each year on the fourth Thursday of November, banks and government offices are closed and travel increases as families drive or fly to be with loved ones.
In stark contrast, most Americans will not celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month. Let's face it: Most people don't know it exists. But to the American Indian it is a unique opportunity to nurture and develop tribal culture and heritage in our tribe members, especially our children.
It is also an opportunity to help cultivate an understanding in the schools and in the public of the vastly different and diverse tribal nations here in California. Most educators don't know that in California alone there are 107 federally recognized Indian nations--each with its own government, culture, goals and dreams for a better future.
The author Mark Twain was one gentleman who understood American history. In an autobiography published in 1924, he wrote that Thanksgiving had nothing to do with giving thanks for a bountiful harvest but that Thanksgiving was only, "a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for--annually, not oftener--if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous 12 months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians."
As Native Americans we are incapable of giving thanks for the centuries of genocide endured by the indigenous people that occurred once European settlers arrived looking for religious freedom. But every year, my family does celebrate Thanksgiving Day with a traditional turkey dinner and pumpkin pie.
Like others, we take advantage of the opportunity to spend extra time with our loved ones. The younger kids will watch the morning parades and in the afternoon we will all tune in to the football games.
We are thankful for our families, our health and for new opportunities to rejoice in the traditions of our ancestors through designated celebrations like National American Indian Heritage Month.