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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

November: Native American Heritage Month

A+Native+American+of+the+Arapahoe+Nation+in+traditional+dress+at+a+pow+wow.

A Native American of the Arapahoe Nation in traditional dress at a pow wow.

November has arrived, and most of us are caught up in schoolwork and the finalization of holiday travel plans. It is a particularly hectic time with Thanksgiving looming on the horizon, taunting us with its assorted roasted turkeys, homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes slathered in gravy, and signature pumpkin pies. However, it’s important to remember that the eleventh month of the year is National Native American Heritage Month. Perhaps, in the time between dinner and dessert, we ought to give consideration to the indigenous cultures that have impacted contemporary American society in more ways than we realize. 
On the topic of Thanksgiving, the holiday’s traditional cuisine is composed almost entirely of foods originally grown and harvested in the Americas. Crops such as potatoes, beans, corn, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes were unbeknownst to European settlers before arriving in the Americas. The introduction of these foods by Native Americans was a key component in the survival of the colonists, as they provided a larger variety in diet and nutrition. Furthermore, they have served to influence American cuisine as a whole today—particularly the cuisine of New England at this time of year.
When we think of autumn, what comes to mind? Butternut squash soups, roasted vegetables, savory meats (turkeys were another commodity of the New World), and all things pumpkin spice. Without the agricultural influence of indigenous peoples, early settlers in the Americas would have likely starved. At the very least, autumnal fare wouldn’t be able to lay claim to pumpkin lattes. 
Outside of the culinary realm, Native American influence is evident in the very foundations of United States government. Benjamin Franklin himself accredited the League of the Iroquois with being the foundational model for the democratic representative government we live under today. Artistically, commodities such as turquoise jewelry and intricate beadwork remain prominent in the fashion world. Contrary to popular Western belief, medical innovations like syringes, oral contraception, and pharmaceuticals were pioneered by Native Americans in the New World. Later on, colonists discredited them and discoveries made by Western scientists received far more attention. Furthermore, it is important to note that the movement toward environmental consciousness can be traced back to Native American culture. These are peoples that fostered a deep respect for the land; utilizing all parts of any animal they killed and being careful to only take as much as they needed. This conservationist attitude was deeply ingrained in their cultural values long before ecology was a concern of scientists. 
Contemporary American culture tends to downplay the prevalence of Native American influence, rendering a large portion of the population blind to their contributions. Cultural assimilation has so thoroughly entwined certain indigenous values with those of the West that the heritage of Native Americans has been, in many ways, swept under the rug.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude, don’t forget to give thanks to Native American cultures and all they have given us.