National Native American Heritage Month is a month-long cultural celebration of the Indigenous peoples of the U.S. Since President George W. Bush officially declared November National Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month in 1990, November has been a time to recognize the contributions Indigenous peoples made at the start of this country. The month also serves as a time to highlight members of Native American groups on their works today.
To show recognition for these Indigenous peoples, here is a list of five individuals who are using their work to spotlight their culture to the rest of the world.
Actress Irene Bedard is a member of the Inupaiq Eskimo and Cree group out of Alaska. Bedard is famous for playing Native characters in projects like “Westworld,” “Smoke Signals” and “Tree of Life.” Bedard’s first television acting role was in “Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee.” Her performance as Mary Crow Dog earned her a nomination for a Golden Globe award that year. One of her most famous roles is that of the titular character in Disney’s “Pocahontas,” where the actress not only performed the voice work, but also became the physical model for the character. In 1995, Bedard was chosen to be one of People’s Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People.” Her performances have not been limited to television and movies, however. Her resume includes spoken word poetry, theater, producing television media, public speaking and teaching.
Writer and Pulitzer-prize winner Tommy Orange is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. His book “There There” is a multi-generational story focusing on the life of a Native American person living in a modern city. “There There” was a hit right off the bat, giving Orange the Hemingway Award, the American Book Award and more. Orange wrote his story after noticing a lack of books about urban Native Americans, or Native Americans living in urban settings like a city or suburb. Orange so far has one book, but according to interviews, he plans on writing more in the future.
Singer Tori Amos, part Cherokee, thanks her Native heritage for putting her in touch with nature, healing and a different kind of energy than others have. Amos started singing at four-years-old in her church choir. Soon after learning the piano, Amos started songwriting to pass the time. The singer studied at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory school until she was 11. From there, Amos developed her style until signing onto Atlantic Record at the age of 24. Since then, Amos has released over 15 studio albums and been nominated for eight Grammys.
Frank Henry Kaash Katasse
Frank Henry Kaash Katasse is a Native Alaskan playwright. His newest play “Where the summit meets the stars,” is a cultural romance to his people, the Tlingit. Kaash Katasse actually stumbled into playwriting as a way to make extra cash in between acting jobs. He noticed when he would audition, he could not find a monologue around or featuring Indigenous people. At first, his play was just a monologue, a correction of sorts according to Kaash Katasse, but soon he found himself engrossed in a story about his own culture, ending with the writing of his first play, “They don’t talk back.”
Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, has been a congressperson for the state of Kansas since 2019. Davids broke barriers in 2019 by becoming one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress and the first openly lesbian congressional representative from Kansas. But before all of her success, Davids was another broke student at Johnson County Community College. But Davids pushed through and eventually earned her degree from Cornell Law. Since being elected to Congress in 2019, Davids has been “putting Kansas first,” according to her website davids.house.gov.