Native American Heritage Month: A Time to Acknowledge Our Common History

Across the nation, November is celebrated as Native American Heritage Month, a time designated for the recognition and celebration of the significant contributions the first Americans have made to the establishment and growth of the U.S. Even though efforts to set aside a time to recognize the country’s Native American heritage originated a century ago, more recent designations began in 1986, with President Ronald Reagan declaring Nov. 23-30 as “American Indian Week.” More recently, every president since 1995 has issued proclamations declaring the month of November as a time to celebrate the culture, accomplishments, and contributions of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

The U.S. joins other nations around the world, from Australia to Canada, in promoting events and gatherings to acknowledge the traditional indigenous inhabitants of the land. Acknowledgement is a simple, powerful way of showing respect to those who served as stewards of the land centuries before the first European settlers stepped foot on the continent. For those unfamiliar with the concept of “Land Acknowledgement” please check out this excellent resource.

To bring these contributions into perspective, what if our political leaders were to acknowledge the Native American nations that historically comprised their political districts? In other words, what Native American nations overlap with, say, Kansas House District 46?

To answer this question, we download the source data from Native Land Digital, a project created to foster awareness, understanding, and acknowledgement of indigenous peoples through educational resources, maps, and its Territory Acknowledgement Guide. We then grabbed the newest shapefiles from the U.S. Census Bureau for Kansas House, Senate, and Congressional Districts.

A little GIS magic, and we have derived the overlaps. As an example, Kansas House District 46 sits on the lands of 4 nations: Kickapoo, Kaw/Kansa, Osage, and Sioux.

See the tiny spec in the middle? That is Kansas House District 46. The bigger shapes are the aforementioned nations:

Here’s a closer look:

We repeat this process for all Kansas House, Senate, and Congressional Districts until we arrive at a final list, available here.

This simple acknowledgement of those that walked the ground beneath our feet, centuries before our earliest forefathers, is a powerful way to show respect to the Native American cultures and their rich heritage that has been woven into the fabric of our nation. By recognizing the original inhabitants of the lands that are now occupied by our schools, churches, and centers for government, we will all gain a greater awareness and understanding of these contributions.

In addition, cities and counties across Kansas could enrich their own personal history by paying tribute to this rich cultural resource by honoring the first Americans who served as guardians of the land for centuries, by reaching out to tribes and their native populations, and by including them in local events, according to Kansas Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita.

“The Kansas tribes and Native American population are proud people that have a deep connection to the land, which provides support for their rich culture and way of life,” Victors said.