Editor’s Note: Simon Moya-Smith is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and culture editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter @Simonmoyasmith. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Day after Thanksgiving is Native American Heritage Day
Simon Moya-Smith: Black Friday terrible choice for Native American Heritage Day
Fifteen years ago, Pope John Paul II apologized for hundreds of years of violence and subjugation that the indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered at the hands of Catholics. Pope Francis, speaking in Bolivia, followed this up in July by expressing remorse over the cruelty committed against the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
But November 27 is not just Black Friday. By presidential proclamation, it is also Native American Heritage Day.
This, folks, is egregious.
November is Native American Heritage Month. Its roots date back to 1900 when Arthur Caswell Parker, who was Seneca and is the founder of the National Congress of American Indians, first advocated for a day to recognize this country’s indigenous population.
In 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot, rode horseback for thousands of miles, through several states, before finally arriving in Washington to petition President Woodrow Wilson for an “Indian Day.”
Fast forward to 2009, and Congress and President Barack Obama finally designated the Friday following Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. Of course, Native Americans are not opposed to a day set aside to recognize our achievements, our continuing contributions and especially our service to this country (per capita, Native Americans serve in the military more than any other ethnic group). What we are opposed to is sharing the day with something as trivial as Black Friday.
Native American Heritage Day deserves honorable recognition, and should not be tied to a day when people purchase copious amounts of material possessions after just having consumed copious amounts of food in the name of a holiday that belies the brutality Native Americans suffered at the hands of the Pilgrims.
As Chase Iron Eyes, a Hunkpapa-Oglala Lakota and vice president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Project, noted, Black Friday is the antithesis of Native American morals.
“(It’s) capitalism gone wild (and) diametrically opposed to Native American values,” he said, noting that real riches are your loved ones and a healthy ecosystem upon which we can all rely.
The truth is, on Black Friday, as they shiver in the cold, flirting with pneumonia, Americans are not wishing other store-goers a “Happy Native American Heritage Day!” And they are certainly not discussing Native American values.
Plus, on Black Friday, students are not in class. Professors, like most Americans, are far from the hallowed halls of their universities. We need our educators in the classrooms on Native American Heritage Day to impart upon the next generation lessons concerning our history, and, yes, our present prosperity and plight.
The solution seems obvious – pick another day for Native American Heritage Day, perhaps the first Monday of November, and not the last Friday. Given all the pains Native Americans have suffered throughout the centuries, such as massacres, forced removal from and theft of our homelands, broken treaties and all manner of dehumanization, is it so much to ask not to lump Native American Heritage Day – a day meant to honor us – with a consumer holiday that has no honor?
Apparently it is.
Of course, I am left wondering if this preposterous combination would fly with any other group. Would the black or Asian or Latino communities feel honored or even sit idly by as a day established to recognize their contributions was clasped with that one day a year known mostly for shoppers being viciously trampled in the name of savings?
I do not think so.
Sadly, as Native Americans, we routinely have to remind people that we have not died off. I’m not kidding – ask many Native Americans, and they will tell you they have encountered that exact assumption. I believe people think we are gone because we are mostly ignored in society – just like Native American Heritage Month and Day.
Still, I believe that if Americans could put the same effort into recognizing and embracing the Native American today the way they do our dream catchers and fringed buckskin clothing, then they might just begin to understand how important it really is that we choose the right day and month to honor a race of people who were once slated for extermination by this country.
We have always deserved better than what we have been dealt, and we certainly deserve better than Black Friday.