Mercyhurst observes National Native American Heritage Month


Ashley Barletta and Zach Dumais, News editor and Opinion editor

November is National Native American Heritage Month, which is when we come together to recognize the vital role that Native Americans play in the United States. November is the month to spread awareness about the culture and history of Native American people.

Not only is there a month to recognize both the strengths and struggles of Native Americans, but there is also a National Native American Heritage Day. It falls on the day after Thanksgiving each year, with this year being Nov. 26.

Native American Heritage Day had its beginnings around the year 1912, when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, who was of Seneca descent, protested to have “American Indian Day” observed by the Boy Scouts of America, according to news sources.

In 1915, a plan about American Indian Day was approved by Congress. According to, the first state to recognize “American Indian Day” was New York in 1916, when they declared that it would be held on the second Saturday in May.

It was not until 1976 when a week was declared by Congress to be “Native American Awareness Week.”

Then in 1990, George H. W. Bush signed “American Indian Heritage Day” into legislation. The bill was proposed by Joe Baca, a Congressman at the time, and signed into law on Nov. 28.

American Indian Heritage Day was both supported and recognized by the National Indian Gaming Association, or NIGA, as well as 184 federally recognized tribes, according to news sources.

Finally in 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Native American Heritage Day Act, which Barack Obama signed into law on Nov. 30. Obama also declared November to be National Native American Heritage Month, according to news sources.

Mercyhurst began its celebration of this month with an event put on by the Evelyn Lincoln Institute for Ethics and Society, also known as ELIES. The first event put on was a film showing, which was followed by a discussion.

The movie was called “Mankiller,” and the discussion afterwards was led by Benjamin Scharff, Ph.D. from the Mercyhurst Uni- versity Department of History.

According to PBS, the film is about a woman from the Cherokee Nation named Wilma Mankiller, who was able to overcome “rampant sexism and personal challenges to emerge as the Cherokee Nation’s first woman

Principal Chief in 1985.”

Dr. Scharff hosted the discussion because, in his own words, he “teaches a course in Native Amer- ican history and has an interest in such conversations.”

Verna Ehret, Ph.D., director of ELIES, said “‘Mankiller’ is a particularly powerful film because of its ability to explore in some detail the experiences of Cherokee women in particular.”

She also said that “ELIES is building a film series in honor of Native American Heritage Month.”

The film “Lake of Betrayal” was shown two years ago and was hosted by a panel of two Seneca Nation members. The film shown last year was called “Invisible Indians,” and the panel was hosted by Edward Jolie, Ph.D., formerly of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

ELIES plans to show “For the Rights of All: Ending Jim Crow” next year.

Another event that observed National Native American Heritage Month was on Nov. 12. The Multicultural Activities Council and Student Activities Council (MAC/SAC) partnered with the Anthropology Club to host “Native American Cultural Crafting.” Participants were able to make their own corn husk dolls.

Lilli Gall, sophomore Archaeology major and co-vice president of the Anthropology Club, said “It’s really exciting to see MAC/SAC creating an event that works to teach students how to respect the complex practices and interests of Natives, so we just took it a step further to show others how cool the histories of these traditions are through origin stories of the crafts.”

Corn husk dolls were very popular among Native Americans, where each part of the ear of corn was used in making them. No material was discarded or set aside.

Gall said that “it’s very important to recognize how meaningful and crucial material things are to Native Americans.”

The Anthropology Club was also in charge of creating a presentation about numerous Native American crafts and practices, which was shown at the weekend event. Education is another important aspect of celebrating National Native American Heritage Month.

“The presentation focuses on Native crafts like the corn husks dolls, but there’s also many in-depth looks into traditional crafts like Kachina dolls, talking sticks, wampum belts, and many other material practices that hold significance in past and present Native societies,” said Gall.

To learn more about the history of National Native American Heritage Day/Month, visit and