This essay was written by Fawn Douglas, ’15 BFA and current MFA student, and A.B. Wilkinson, a UNLV history professor who specializes in studies of mixed-heritage peoples. Douglas is a member of the Las Vegas Pauite Tribe.
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time that allows us to reflect on the rich history, struggles, and triumphs of Indigenous people. The term Indigenous here is used to describe the first peoples of the land in the Western Hemisphere, or the wider Americas, before the time of European colonization. UNLV is on the ancestral lands of the Southern Paiute people. We pay respect to those who have come before us and also recognize that Indigenous peoples are still here today, both at UNLV and throughout the United States and Latin America.
Native Americans have had a complicated and often conflicted place in U.S. history. Today, many people are taking a greater interest in learning about the painful truths behind the histories of Manifest Destiny, American Indian removal policies, and the genocide of Native Americans. The fall season often brings stereotypical reminders of these atrocities: Columbus Day, insensitive Halloween costumes, school children dressing up as Thanksgiving “Pilgrims and Indians,” and demeaning sports mascots that celebrate the destruction of Indigenous cultures.
In 2020, Indigenous people are combating these harmful images by playing an active role here at UNLV, through groups like NASA (Native American Student Association), NAAC (Native American Alumni Club), and AIA (American Indian Alliance). Native Americans are also contributing to the United States through military service, exercising their right to vote, and serving in U.S. Congress and in other important positions.
As we commemorate Native American Heritage Month, people across the nation are recognizing these contributions and the survival of our ancestors. For centuries, our Indigenous foremothers and forefathers struggled through colonization, and our presence here today is proof of their triumph. Our people are still here. We recognize the truths contained in the lands that we stand upon and acknowledge the beauty within the cultures of our people.
While we remember Indigenous people this month, we invite everyone to celebrate our history and cultures throughout the year. In this way, we show respect and share with one another, as we continue our work to decolonize. Furthermore, this provides a way for all of us to acknowledge and heal from the past and also allows us to address continuing issues as we move forward together.