Native American Heritage Month

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Native American Heritage Month


November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, customs, and experiences and to acknowledge the significant contributions of America’s original inhabitants. This month, we will pay tribute to the contributions and influences Native Americans have made on today’s society.  

History of Native American Heritage Month
National Native American Heritage Month started at the turn of the century as a campaign to have a day set aside to recognize the significant contributions Native Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States. Today, an entire month is dedicated to that recognizing those accomplishments.
 
Seneca Indian, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to establish the “First Americans” day, which they did for three years. 
 
The first American Indian Day declared by a state was on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states followed, celebrating on different days. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month,” and similar proclamations have been issued yearly since 1994.
 

Native American Innovations Continue to Influence Daily Lives

Not only did indigenous people of the Americas change the world with inventions and scientific discoveries, but those innovations still influence our lives today.
 
Native Americans from the Arctic to the southernmost tip of South America developed many innovations—from baby bottles, kayaks, and birth control to genetically modified food crops and pain-relieving medicine—allowing them to survive and flourish.
 
RUBBER
Some Native American inventions are attributed to Europeans who had the means to manufacture and commercialize them. One such invention was rubber. Columbus took the material developed by Native Americans back to Europe. Charles Goodyear later developed a process that allowed rubber to withstand heat and cold. Today, we use rubber worldwide.
 
KAYAKS
According to Canadian historians David Johnston and Tom Jenkins, the Arctic Inuit hunters developed small, narrow boats with a sealed cockpit to protect the boater from sinking if the craft capsized. The vessels were comprised of wood or whalebone frames and covered by sealskin or other hides. Today, kayaks are often built of carbon fiber and plastic, but the design is basically the same.
 
BABY BOTTLES
Taking dried and greased bear gut and adding a nipple made from a bird’s quill, the Iroquois designed the first baby bottles, according to Iroquois historian Arthur C. Parker.
 
CORN
Everyone knows about corn. But corn wouldn’t exist without human intervention. Famers in southern Mexico and Guatemala selectively bred wild grass (teosinte) for several generations to develop kernels soft enough for humans to eat. Once they created the corn plant, they taught European colonists how to grow it, spreading their invention throughout the Western Hemisphere.
 
SNOW GOGGLES
Today’s sunglasses have ties to the Inuit as well. They invented goggles made from wood, leather, bone, or antler to protect the eyes from exposure to reflected sunlight. They would create a slit in the goggles to mimic the way you squint and therefore cut down on the amount of ultraviolet light getting in the eyes.   
  
RAISED BED AGRICULTURE
According to the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World, Native Central and South Americans built raised garden plots, called chinampas, by enhancing soil and piling it up on swampy land and in lakes. Modern vegetable production still uses this raised-bed farming technique.
 
ANESTHETIC AND TOPICAL PAIN RELIEVERS
Native American healers developed pain relief. By grinding the root of the jimson weed, healers were able to create a plaster that they applied to cuts and bruises. Patients also ate the plant as an anesthetic when healers set broken bones. Healers also concocted tea made from the bark of the American black willow, which contains salicin. Once ingested, salicin produces salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin made today. Capsaicin, a chemical found in hot peppers, was also used by Native Americans as a topical pain reliever.
 
SYRINGES
Using animal bladders and hollow bird bones, Native Americans made syringes. This technology didn’t appear in European medicine until the 1850s.
 
HAMMOCKS
According to letters, when Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he found natives resting in hammocks, beds made from cotton netting, and connected to two poles or trees. Finding them so comfortable, European merchant and naval ship sailors began sleeping in them as well. 
 
BIRTH CONTROL
Long before the pharmaceutical industry developed the birth control pill, the Shoshone and Navajo tribes used stoneseed, known as Columbia Puccoon, as an oral contraceptive.
 
MOUTHWASH
Many Northeastern North American tribes used goldthread, a wildflower, to treat oral pain and mouthwash.
 
SUSPENSION BRIDGES
Getting across gorges was a challenge to the Inca of South America. They developed a way to weave mountain grasses into cables, sometimes as thick as a human body. They then used those cables to build suspension bridges across the gorges. An Inca-style grass cable suspension bridge, the last of its kind, still hangs across a gorge in Peru’s Canas Province.
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