Through Native Eyes

Osages traded frequently with settlers

I’m not crazy about occasions we invent as an excuse to sell greeting cards or buy a floral bouquet. So I don’t celebrate Grandparents Day or Arbor Day.

Many such events were created as an opportunity for news coverage: I know because I earn my living critiquing popular culture.

If you can harness your idea to, say, Valentine’s Day, then you’re guaranteed a captive audience primed for the latest pitch.

But now that we’re in the thick of Native American Heritage Month (November) I wonder how I might loosen the bonds of my cynicism.

The cynic in me sees Native American Heritage Month as an excuse for the descendants of settlers to free their guilt wrought by injustices to indigenous communities.

Proclamations honoring Native American Heritage Month laud Indian people for their contributions and President Obama asked Americans last November to “commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities” to acknowledge American Indians.

But I think we should go beyond “programs and activities.”

I challenge you to consider your interactions—this month and beyond—through an American Indian lens.

For example, Bonneville Dam is celebrating its 75th anniversary but most of the stories I’ve seen on the internet and in local news focus on how the construction of dams was championed by the Roosevelt administration to create jobs during the Great Depression and bring electricity to the Pacific Northwest.

Missing from most stories is how the dam dramatically altered the social, political and cultural landscape of tribal life in our region.

Or consider The Oregonian’s recent article on sugar and the link with diabetes: a rising national health problem. If you filter the story through an American Indian lens, consider that 16 percent of Native people have diabetes—more than twice the number of White Americans.

Point is you don’t need to plan a special program or activity to honor American Indians and you don’t need to wait for Thanksgiving as a day of remembrance.

Any day offers an opportunity to consider life through Native eyes. I challenge you.

Photo: Osage traders by Charles Banks Wilson, from the website

[Blog 11 of Native American Heritage Month. I pledge one blog per day.]


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, authenticity, ethics, framing, Indian, native american, Native Science, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Through Native Eyes

  1. Interesting post. However, most non-native people have no idea about true American Indian history (History textbooks are woefully inadequate, even at college level) and many probably don’t even know that American Indians still exist. I think those of us who do know are obligated to educate those who don’t.


  2. Yes; we forget folks can be clueless. Thanks for the reminder. ~C


  3. Thank you for ideas about seeing things through a different perspective. I will read about the effects of the dam on tribal life.


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