Native American Heritage Month and What You Didn’t Know

Zach Hawkins

November is National American Indian Heritage Month. In 1990, President George HW Bush signed a joint resolution of Congress establishing this event and called on governments, interested groups, organizations, and the people of the United States to mark the month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

Each successive President has affirmed this proclamation. As such, this month is a good time for all Montanans to reflect on the contributions of our Native American people to our great state and nation.

A few amazing facts about Native American history in Montana that you may not know:

• Montana is home to one of the largest collections of pictographs and petroglyphs in all of North America. About 20 miles outside of Lewistown there is a site called Bear Gulch that has over 1,200 features, some of which are around 2,000 years old. Indigenous peoples have traveled to Bear Gulch for thousands of years to commemorate rites of passage and other significant events.

• Montana houses the world’s largest collection of Clovis artifacts. These were found in Shields Valley in the 1960s along with the fossilized bones of a small child estimated to be around 12,500 years old. This site has been a source of both archaeological and genealogical discoveries and has helped shape our understanding of the early Montanans as well as American Indians as a whole. This child’s DNA had a direct connection to 80% of modern American Indians. These and other unique marks of our Indigenous history are part of what makes the Treasure State so special to those of us who call it home.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction’s Indian Education for All (IEFA) Unit is tasked with providing schools and teachers with the tools and resources needed to teach about Native Americans.

This is consistent with our promise in the Montana Constitution in Article X that “The State recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of American Indians and is committed to the preservation of their cultural integrity in its educational purposes” and §20-1-501, MCA, also known as Indian Education For All Act.

While this is a year-round endeavor, National American Indian Heritage Month provides a great opportunity for our teachers, students, and community to highlight and celebrate the rich culture and history of our Native American friends and neighbors.

The OPI IEFA website has a guide dedicated to this month. This document provides links to resources and tips to learn who Montana and the American Indians were and are today. Veterans Day and Thanksgiving provide educational moments for students regarding Indian contributions to our nation.

The IEFA unit offers lessons and ideas for teaching on these topics. One resource is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving sermon, which is a great insight into the indigenous way of giving thanks and celebrating our many blessings together. All Montanans are encouraged to embrace American Indian Heritage Month and honor the mandate of President Bush and his successors.

This is a great opportunity to explore and learn while celebrating all that makes Montana great.

Zach Hawkin is the director of OPI Indian Education for All, and November is National American Indian Heritage Month.