How you can contribute to Native American History Month

The painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) created several paintings in his series called The Pageant of a Nation, including The First Thanksgiving. Historians call the series romanticized. For example, setting depicted and clothing worn by settlers and the Wampanoag isn’t accurate.

The painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) created several paintings in his series called The Pageant of a Nation, including The First Thanksgiving. Historians call the series romanticized. For example, the setting depicted and clothing worn by settlers and the Wampanoag aren’t accurate.

I started my tradition of posting a blog each day, each November, in honor of Native American History Month.

The first worry stems from any writing challenge: what if I run out of things to say?

I take my cue from Suzan Lori Parks, a celebrated American writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

At her talk in Portland, Parks urged writers to take on the challenge of crafting a poem, a play or a story each day for a month. Or a year.

I discovered I don’t run out of things to say if I view each day through a Native American lens.

For example, I turn to illustrations from Indian Country when looking for stories for my class lectures, which I can later turn into blogs.

If the topic is framing of the news—which I teach regularly—examples abound surrounding how Native voices are often treated as an after-thought in coverage.

A September Washington Post story reported that a new public opinion poll shows the number of people who favor changing the team’s name has increased.

The Redskins owner is quoted.

Then the Redskins spokesman in quoted.

And if you make it to the eleventh paragraph, you can read a comment from Arthur Raymond Halbritter, a tireless supporter of Indian rights and a member of the Oneida Nation, who supports a name change for the team.

My cynical view is that most of such news stories focus on the controversy from the perspective of the team and the fans.

The reporter, I argue, could have written the story that opens with a Native American perspective, beginning with Halbritter.

But Native voices are often the last ones we hear.

Take any controversy engaging American Indians, pull all the news stories you can find, and then compare the initial framing of each story across all articles. Only a handful opens with a Native American viewpoint.

This finding is well-documented.

So here’s what you can do during Native American History Month.

Examine a moment each day through the lens of an indigenous person.

Would your bus ride be any different?

Would your class or work project be any different?

Would your dinner be any different?

As Thanksgiving approaches, this small, personal challenge becomes more salient, as symbols of the holiday swarm our surroundings, from paper turkeys in store windows to cranberry relish recipes on radio.

Question is: How does your perspective moment-to-moment shift when you assume the vestments of an American Indian?

Blog #21 for Native American Heritage Month

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’s painting, The First Thanksgiving (about 1915). Image is in the public domain

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in american indian, framing, Thanksgiving and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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