President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Powwow on June 13, 2014, in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Obama’s predecessor George H.W. Bush established National Native American Heritage Month. Credit: Pete Souza/The White House

Although the month of November has many titles, I want to focus on the title National Native American Heritage Month (also known as American Indian Month and Alaska Native Heritage Month).

Then-President George H.W. Bush on Aug. 3, 1990, declared the month of November as National Native American Heritage Month. It is a month to become acquainted with Native American traditions, contributions, history and challenges.

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey. As a child, I became aware of Native Americans (called “Indians” then) when watching the TV western series The Lone Ranger. “Tonto” was the name given to the “Indian” companion of the Caucasian cowboy called the Lone Ranger.

I thought Tonto was the actual hero in the series, because he was the one who seemed to be able to observe and decipher tracks on the ground, know how many horses had passed, directions and distances, etc. The Lone Ranger relied on Tonto for his knowledge. So, I believed Native Americans were smart and very much in touch with the world around them.

Jay Silverheels was the stage name for the person playing Tonto. His real name was Harry J. Smith (1912-1980). He was a Canadian actor and athlete of Mohawk Seneca heritage.

He assumed the name Jay Silverheels based on the name he was called when folks observed him running so fast in white lacrosse shoes that they said one could only see white flashes. They did not want to refer to this phenomenon as white heels, so they referred to it as silverheels.

To my knowledge, there were no full-blooded Native Americans in my hometown. However, there were Blacks who claimed to have Native American blood.

I read that phenotypically Black Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970; guitarist, songwriter) claimed to have Native American blood. One of the quotes attributed to him is: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

The only reference to “Indians” that I remember having in elementary school was that the Pilgrims and “Indians” celebrated Thanksgiving together.

Below are some quotes by Native Americans:

  • “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” – Dakota tribe
  • “Don’t live up to your stereotypes.” – Sherman Alexie (1966-; poet, screenwriter, film-maker)
  • “You’re not selfish for wanting to be treated well.” – Jason Momoa (1979-; actor)
  • “Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.” – Tecumseh (1768-1813; Shawnee chief and warrior)
  • “Strong alliances can thrive even where disagreements exist, but they cannot thrive where free and open communication is shut down.” – Sharice Davids (1980-; attorney, mixed martial artist; politician, U.S. Rep from Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District)

Yes, indeed.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...

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