Native American Heritage Day



Photo by S.K. Henry, Illustrator


We are a part of everything that is beneath us, above us, and around us. Our past is our present, our present is our future, and our future is seven generations past and present.

-Author Winona LaDuke.


November is Native American Heritage Month.  This month was established to honor and recognize Native Americans as the first people of this nation and to celebrate both their cultural heritage and integral importance to our past, our present, and our future. As a member of the Wisconsin Ho-Chunk Nation, I do not speak for all Native Americans, indigenous, First Nation, or Indian people. I will reserve my heritage celebrations for April.


In 2009, President Barack Obama signed “The Native American Heritage Day Resolution”. With the stroke of a pen, the Friday after Thanksgiving was given this designation. Unfortunately, most know this day as Black Friday and not Native American Heritage Day. How ironic, that the day after Thanksgiving, a day we spent giving thanks, is now rooted in the retail industry boosting their bottom line. Many of us intentionally set our alarms before the chickens wake up, so we can line up outside a store. The aim, of course, is to buy everything that can fit into a cart because it is on sale. Happy Native American Heritage Day.


Regrettably, some people only think about Native Americans in November. The month of Thanksgiving. In fact, in 1990 the entire month was proclaimed National American Indian Month by President George H. W. Bush.  Typically, this is not a month that most Native Americans look to for celebrating. Most are mourning the genocide of our ancestors.  Many years ago, my amazing predecessors, Patricia Logan and Greg Johns, made sure that Milwaukee Area Technical College designated April as American Indian Awareness Month. These two individuals had the foresight to help rid our community of this painful stigma. We proudly continue to celebrate at the college every April. To the rest, Happy Native American Heritage Month.


I along with 560+ other federally recognized tribal people are here 365 days a year. Although we are indigenous to the land, we are not immune to stereotypes and cultural generalizations. On this day of Native American Heritage recognition, let us clear up a few:

  • I was not born, nor do I live in a teepee or a wood and bark longhouse.
  • I have not ever lived on a government ran reservation.
  • The Wisconsin Ho-Chunk does not have a reservation in Wisconsin, but portions of land that hold “reservation” status.
  • I do not wear eagle feathers in my hair. In our culture, the eagle is considered the strongest and bravest of all birds.  For this reason, its feathers symbolize what is highest, bravest, strongest, and holiest.  Eagle feathers are given to another in honor and the feathers are displayed with dignity and pride.  They are handled with great regard.
  • I do not know how to spear a fish nor hunt buffalo.
  • I am not a war-hungry savage.
  • I do not get government hand-outs, nor am I rich off casinos.
  • I work to provide for my family, and I must pay my taxes like everyone else.
  • I have a college degree along with a career at Milwaukee Area Technical College where I represent 1% of the Native American population.
  • Tribally we have our own languages, indigenous lands, cultures, traditional ways/outfits, and so on.
  • Our skin comes in different colors and any tone imaginable and our hair can be long or short; and
  • Do not “honor” me by calling me redskin, only my blood is red.


Happy Native American Heritage Day, see you in April.

Tanya Torres