HONOLULU (KHON2) — Native American Heritage Month is a relatively new phenomenon for most citizens of the United States. However, Native Americans have been occupants of Turtle Island (now known as North America) for thousands of years.
For decades, the only thing most people understood November to be was the month that Thanksgiving took place.
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Yes, most people would dress their children up as “little Indians” while the virtues of the Pilgrims making it through a harsh eastern seaboard winter were extolled as the reason for the season, with the help of “Indians” of course.
Thanks to President Abraham Lincoln — who was trying to unite the nation during the bloody Civil War between northern industrialists and southern slave owners — we celebrate the contribution of Native Americans for their contribution to sustaining the lives of colonists with our Thanksgiving celebrations.
He established this national holiday in 1863 to be celebrated on the third Thursday each year.
On Oʻahu, there are two organizations that are celebrating NAHM: Oʻahu Native Nationz Organization (ONNO808) and the Indigenous Students’ Association at the University of Hawaiʻi.
KHON2.com was able to catch up with Lynnae Lawrence, M.D. who is the President and CEO of ONNO. She is a member of Hopi and Nakota nations from Moenkapi, Arizona and Lodgepole, Montana.
She works with kānaka maoli and Turtle Island indigenous peoples here on Oʻahu.
“Native American Heritage Month is a month set aside by the President to recognize and share Native American culture as the original inhabitants of North America,” explained Lawrence. “And so, it’s just a time for Native Americans and the communities at large to recognize and share in culture through dance, music and food. It’s a time to recognize the many contributions that Native Americans have made to American society at large.”
As the original inhabitants of Turtle Island (This includes Native Alaskans.) and the Hawaiʻi Islands, these people groups have experienced more than one genocide event, stolen land, broken promises and treaties, systemic violence and state-mandated marginalization by the colonists who decided to create a new nation on top of the ones that already existed.
“We had a thriving and beautiful culture and society before the colonization by Europeans and other European groups,” explained Lawrence. “So, we have persisted and survived despite a lot of genocide and other issues; and our culture is alive and well and growing. It’s an important time, again, to recognize the contributions we’ve made and a way of officially recognizing that we’re still here in our communities. Our cultures and languages are being revitalized with more Native Americans gaining opportunities.”
In Hawaiʻi, the State has taken big steps to recognize the kanaka maoli who are making big strides into a new era of respect and vision. This, of course, is compared to their counterpart states on the continent who rarely if ever celebrate the indigenous peoples from the lands that their forefathers stole.
So, where can you find ONNO as it celebrates its peoples’ cultures and histories?
“Here in Hawaiʻi, the Honolulu Museum of Art is hosting ONNO on Sunday, Nov. 19 for their Family Sunday event this month,” said Lawrence. “They wanted to respect that it’s Native American Heritage Month; so, they invited ONNO to come and do a powwow dance performance. There will be some art activities for the keiki, and one of our members will be reading stories to educate families about Native American issues on the continent.”
The ISA at UH will be hosting some events, too. You can find them on Instagram.
The students will be a beading night on Thursday, Nov. 9 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. It is a time to be immersed in the creations that Native Americans have been making for thousands of years.
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Whatever you decide to do, make it a fun experience that you can share with family and friends. It is an important time to remember the lives lost to colonization but also to celebrate the resilience of the peoples of Turtle Island and Hawaiʻi.