Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
One year ago, a new memorial was opened to the public in Washington, D.C. Inaugurated appropriately on Veteran’s Day, November 11th, the newly minted National Native American Veterans Memorial outside of the National Museum of the American Indian was meant to honor a forgotten people’s military service to the United States of America. Despite the inauspicious timing of its opening in November of 2020, it has been well received by Native Americans, military veterans and tourists alike. And for the 8th grade middle-schoolers on their class trip to the nation’s capital, hearing the stories of Choctaw and Navajo code talkers resonates.
As we round out Native American Heritage Day (the Friday after Thanksgiving), and Native American Heritage Month (officially begun in 1990 by presidential proclamation), we acknowledge that, from West to East in this country, Native American history is ever before us. To many, the American West is the most obvious destination to find such history. For instance, student group travelers on our GTrek programs are exposed to – and sometimes for the first time – land replete with the rich history of native peoples, long before the arrival of European settlers and westward migrants. From Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana to the Tusayan Ruins in the Grand Canyon in Arizona, GTrek excursions give students, teachers, and parents insight into the lives of a variety of tribes, helping students to understand the land and its people prior to industrialization, urbanization, and the changing face of the country. And while our most popular destination with science-based curricula is Yellowstone National Park, a park known more for its natural features and wildlife, the human history of the native peoples that lived there from the time of mastodons and mammoths through the European settling of the West fascinates GTrekkers. Indeed, any guided travel through Yellowstone gives meaning to names like Absaroka Range, Shoshone Lake, Obsidian Cliff, places whose names would otherwise go unnoticed.
Yet, insight into Native American history in this country is not confined to the West. The cities and areas that make up the American Heritage corridor offer chance after chance to engage with the panoply of Native American histories that represent America: the history of the pilgrims at Plimoth Patuxet outside of Boston, Massachusetts; the Mohawk skywalkers in New York City; Chief Plenty Coups at Arlington National Cemetery; Pocahontas and Captain John Smith at Jamestowne. These places, among many others, offer a richer and deeper understanding of Native American history in America.
Students and teachers may be surprised to learn of sites and histories of Native American peoples from the urban east to the bucolic West. But that is the transformational part of travel – discovering the previously unknown; to be surprised, inspired even, by history.