National American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month

November brings with it National American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month.

This celebration has had many iterations and names since one of its first declarations in 1915, led by Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, NY. In 1990 President George H. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994 with varying names [1].

It’s important to remember that these cultures are not of the past—they are alive and thriving! To see first-hand just how alive these cultures are, take a look at Project 562 by Matika Wilbur [2].

Matika Wilbur, a visual storyteller from the Swinomish and Tulalip peoples of coastal Washington, has been running Project 562 for the past ten years. Project 562 is an art project that has taken Wilbur across the country visiting, engaging with, and photographing the over 560 Native American sovereign territories in the US. She covers tough topics like Thanksgiving, sobriety on reservations, and the constant struggle to reclaim sacred lands. Wilbur also makes sure to show the positives, highlighting up-and-coming Native musicians and authors, profiling community leaders, and documenting powwows and native-run ranches across the country.

It is also important to remember that these groups are not immune to public health disparities. HIV is a public health issue among American Indians and Alaska Natives, who currently represent about 1.3% of the US population.  In 2015, an estimated 3,500 American Indians and Alaska Natives were living with HIV, and 81% of them had received a diagnosis [3]. Creating culturally appropriate prevention programs for these groups can be challenging because there are, as mentioned, over 560 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, whose member speak over 170 languages.

One thing everyone can do to help prevent HIV transmission is to simply talk about it. Mention it to your friends and family and get the conversation started. Education has a domino effect. If more people know how HIV is transmitted and what they can do to reduce their risks, then it is less likely that the virus will be spread.

If you have questions, the CDC has many resources to help you out [4]. You can contact Caring Communities to set an appointment for your own free and confidential HIV test, or to ask any questions you may have.