Native American Heritage Month: Listening to Indigenous Voices

November in the U.S. is a month dedicated to the exploration of Native American heritage and history. With this in mind, at an all-school meeting on Monday, Rivers students gained insight into Native American culture and advocacy and learned how some local Native American communities in Massachusetts are making a difference today.

DEI Director Jenny Jun-lei Kravitz began the presentation by sharing some of her research, conducted with Native American friends and colleagues, about Indigenous methodology for making decisions. “In Western practice,” said Kravitz, “you leave your emotions at the door, but in many Indigenous cultures, the head and the heart are intertwined and cannot be separated.” She mentioned that progress is being made on several fronts, from a redesign of the Massachusetts state seal to legislation supporting Indigenous peoples proposed by United American Indians of New England (UAINE). And she noted that Massachusetts is home to several Native American reservations.

Kravitz then shared a video that introduced several Indigenous people representing different tribal nations responding to the most commonly Googled questions about Native Americans. The questions ranged broadly—Why do people call Native Americans “Indians”? Do Indigenous tribes still exist? What do Native Americans prefer to be called? What do Native Americans believe in? Do Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?—and the answers were as varied as the people who provided them, underscoring the point that there is no single “Indigenous” viewpoint. The speakers addressed and in some cases debunked certain misconceptions and stereotypes, but spoke from a range of perspectives. One takeaway, however, was unmistakable. As one of the interviewees advised: If you want to learn more about Native Americans, “spend more time asking questions and listening.”
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