Native Americans and others gathered recently at what has become a joyous annual ritual for the native community — the Twin Cities E.A.T.S.S. event that celebrates indigenous cuisine and raises awareness for the American Indian College Fund. As this year’s patrons settled in with smoked bison and dishes flavored with cedar and juniper, listening to stories of achievement by young Indian students heading to careers in law, medicine and other fields, there was only one downbeat note.
In announcing the program, the moderator said that historically, November has been recognized as National Native American Heritage Month, a source of pride in that community. This year, she said, President Donald Trump had also pronounced November to be the first National American History and Founders Month. In that proclamation, no mention was made of the previous 15,000 years of history by this land’s first inhabitants.
A momentary pall fell over the room. No angry outbursts, just a lot of grimaces acknowledging yet another wound.
This was a needless hurt inflicted by a president who so often seems to find a way to do just that. He had already renewed the Native American proclamation, as has every president before him since 1990. How cruel then, to force Native Americans to share even that small gesture with those responsible for taking their land and for all the atrocities that followed.
It should be pointed out that the first proclamation came from Republican President George H.W. Bush, who started by noting that long before Europeans arrived, “This great land has been cultivated and cherished by generations of American Indians,” who “developed rich, thriving cultures.” He paid homage to “the many outstanding achievements of this country’s original inhabitants and their descendants.”
Raymond Burns, president of Leech Lake Tribal College, said that the sudden founders announcement “felt like a repudiation of how far the country has come, to acknowledge its history with Native Americans, that we exist not just historically, but contemporarily. It just glosses over everything Native American Heritage Month is trying to do.”
Trump’s founders proclamation urges “a deeper understanding of our American story.” But we should be done with the sanitized, Disneyfied version taught earlier generations. Yes, take pride in the many accomplishments of this nation, but there is much to be gained from acknowledging the grievous wrongs that are also part of that history.