November is National Native American Heritage Month, a fact that few people are probably aware of. It was first proclaimed such in 1990 by President George W. Bush in a joint resolution designating November 1990 National American Indian Heritage Month and successive proclamations have been issued each year since 1994.
You don’t see very much Native American literature taught in schools, aside from some books by Sherman Alexie (who in 2018 was accused of sexual harassment by several woman and had his 2008 Best Young Adult Book Award from The American Indian Library Association rescinded), and you almost never see Native American films playing in big theaters.
Of course amazing work by Native American artists is out there — you just have to work a little harder to find them, unfortunately. I’m reminded of something librarian Katelyn Boyer said to me in an interview about making the Fergus Falls Public Library a more inclusive place: She said it’s important not to silence stories and that stories by marginalized authors should be available and promoted, not hidden. “They are there, but they are marginalized. You have to have intention to change that,” she said.
Locally, I had the pleasure of meeting Falcon Gott, a filmmaker who is part of the Sapotaweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba, Canada, and is based in Moorhead. He was making films for the Plains Art Museum and the Fargo Native American Commission, as well as personal films that follow his and his friends’ adventures in skating, and came to Fergus Falls for the Springboard for the Arts Hinge Arts residency exactly a year ago this month.
In August last year, Lake Region Arts Council had an exhibit at their gallery titled “Bring Her Home: Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island” that featured artwork from 20 Indigenous artists, including many local artists like Laura Youngbird from Breckenridge, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa, Grand Portage Band, former Lake Region Arts Council board member and Moorhead State University graduate.
With COVID-19, of course, it’s a little harder to see what local artists are up to as museums are closed and exhibitions postponed. If you’re interested in supporting local Native American artists, you can always check their online stores or visit their webpages (Gott has a Vimeo and Youngbird’s website has a form for purchase inquiries).
Nationally or internationally, some films you might consider looking into include “Blood Quantum,” a zombie movie that takes place on a First Nations reserve made by Mi’kmaq director and writer Jeff Barnaby; “The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets,” a 10-minute documentary short about the 1996 discovery of the Kennewick Man by Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Jackson Polys of the Tlingit, which you can watch for free on Vimeo; and “Little Chief” by director and screenwriter Erica Tremblay, of the Seneca-Cayuga/Wyandotte Nations, a narrative short about a Native woman and a young boy that debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
For books, you might consider reading Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa from Little Falls, whose books “Love Medicine” and “The Antelope Wife,” as well as the three books in her Justice trilogy, have won awards including the World Fantasy Award, National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
There’s also a comedy sketch group called the 1491s, including members from Minnesota, that have been featured on The Daily Show. Influenced by Monty Python’s Flying Circus, their sketches explore topics like racism and tribal politics. You can find their videos on their YouTube channel, the1491s.
Johanna Armstrong is the editor of the Lifestyle section.