PEAK—Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge
University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.
NOVEMBER 2012 – NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH
Monument Valley is located inside the Navajo Nation, which is one of the largest Native American
tribes in the United States.
This November, University of the Rockies invites you to learn more about Native American Heritage Month.
History of Native American Heritage Month
Efforts to develop a national celebration to recognize the contributions and achievements of Native Americans begin with Red Fox James of the Blackfoot tribe in 1915. Red Fox James rode from state to state generating support for the approval of a day to honor Native Americans. On December 14, 1915, with the endorsement of 24 state governments, he visited the White House and presented his proposal. Seventy-five years later, in November 1990, the one-day celebration was extended to National American Indian Heritage Month by President George H. W. Bush. Every year since, November has received a similar proclamation under varying names until its current incarnation (which is sometimes extended to National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month).
While the initial celebrations focused on the achievements and tribes of the continental United States, the Alaska Natives are also included in this celebratory month. This designation is an important development, since Alaska has separate indigenous peoples, including Inuit, Aleut, and many other independent cultures.
This month we celebrate Native American heritage by honoring the lives of three different Native American individuals who have had a substantial impact on both their people and our history.
Charles Eastman was born in 1858 as Hakadah, a name whose English translation means “pitiful last.” While this name might seem harsh, it is Sioux tradition to choose names according to life events. Hakadah was so named because of his mother’s death shortly after his birth. Hakadah, who later changed his name to Ohiye S’a, or “wins often,” was just four years old when he was separated from his family during the Dakota War of 1862. He would not see them again for another fifteen years.
When they were reunited, Ohiye S’a found that his father and brother had converted to Christianity and had taken the surname “Eastman.” He adopted this name after his own conversion and became known thereafter as Charles Eastman.
Eastman’s career began after he graduated from Dartmouth and Boston College and became the first Native American certified as a European-style doctor. Eastman devoted his talents and training to helping his people, and he cared for those injured in the Wounded Knee Massacre. Eastman also went on to write and publish eleven books, including his most celebrated work, Indian Boyhood. This acclaimed autobiography chronicles the first fifteen years of Eastman’s life and offers a uniquely authentic glimpse into the world of a young Native American.
In the late 19th century, Eastman gained momentum with his philanthropic efforts. He opened 32 YMCA centers for Native Americans, became one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America, and became a lobbyist as well as an advocate for Native Americans in national politics. During this time, he held a number of roles including advisor for Theodore Roosevelt, co-founder of the Society of American Indians, and US Indian Inspector under President Calvin Coolidge (Charles Eastman’s Life and Work, 2008).
It is widely recognized that Native American artists have had a profound impact on the arts. One example of a Native American artist who received the highest level of recognition in her medium of choice can be seen in prima ballerina Maria Tallchief.
Maria Tallchief was born in 1925 in Oklahoma. Her father was an Osage Nation chief, and her mother was Scottish and Irish. From a young age Maria showed great promise in both dance and music, the former of which she would eventually dedicate her life to. When Maria was eight, her parents moved to California, where she was able to study ballet with the great teacher Branislava Nijinska (Maria Tallchief Biography, n.d.).
At the age of seventeen, Maria moved to New York City, where she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a company widely considered the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. It did not take long for Maria’s natural talent to be recognized, and she was soon given the honor of being a featured soloist.
Maria had a long and prolific career as a ballerina, during which she was appointed as the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet. This title is given only to the most exceptional dancers and has been awarded less than seventy times (Maria Tallchief, 2012).View an interview with Maria Tallchief and witness the beauty of her dancing in the video below:
John Herrington is also from Oklahoma, although his life would head in a much different direction than Maria Tallchief’s did. Growing up in Texas, Colorado, and Utah, Herrington would eventually earn a degree in applied mathematics from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Herrington was commissioned to join the Navy in March 1984, and in March 1985 became a naval aviator.
John Herrington eventually became a test pilot and worked with the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System. Herrington was selected as an Aeronautical Engineering Duty Officer, later choosing to pursue his Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering.
After being selected by NASA in 1996 and then completing two years of training, he earned the title of mission specialist and was officially qualified for flight assignment. That assignment came in 2002, when Herrington was selected for the sixteenth space shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station. Herrington became the first Native American to visit space. The mission lasted a total of thirteen days, during which Herrington went on three spacewalks. Herrington is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and carried their flag with him for the duration of his mission (John Bennett Herrington, 2012).
The First Americans
While it is impossible to detail the endless list of accomplishments of Native Americans, we hope that the above examples have helped illustrate some ways in which Native Americans and their culture has shaped history. To learn more about the many contributions of the first Americans and Native American Heritage Month, visit the Native American Heritage Month website.
The Creation of American Indian Heritage Month; A Brief History. (2007). Retrieved October 29, 2012 from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aihmorigins1.html
Charles Eastman’s Life and Work. (2008). Retrieved October 29, 2012 from http://www.worldwisdom.com/public/authors/Charles-Eastman.aspx
John Bennett Herrington. (2012) Retrieved October 29, 2012 from http://www.rocketrek.com/index.php?pg=about
Maria Tallchief. (2012). Retrieved October 29, 2012 from http://www.biography.com/people/maria-tallchief-9501522
Maria Tallchief Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved October 29, 2012 from http://www.notablebiographies.com/St-Tr/Tallchief-Maria.html
Roll Call Begins Drive for 2012. (n.d.). Retrieved on October 29, 2012 from http://va.eku.edu/rollcall
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