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Reflecting on Native American Heritage Month

As November comes to a close, it is important to reflect on Native American Heritage Month. Native American Heritage Month is a month dedicated to understanding and celebrating Native history and culture.

In Boston specifically, Native Americans have a rich and interesting history that we do not always get the chance to fully explore in our schooling. When the Europeans first arrived in the United States, they brought with them many diseases and mass genocide. Many Indigenous people died from these invasions and colonization. It was not long after the English set foot in America that King Philip's War broke out in the Boston Harbor Islands. This war was between the Natives in the area—specifically the Wampanoag and the Massachusett—and the English settlers. The Wampanoag were trying to resist English colonization, and many Natives were displaced to the Boston Harbor Islands. Once the war concluded, many of these Natives moved to different regions nearby. Boston was seen as a center of colonization for the English and thus, while we see Boston today as a hub for many cultures, it was built on the dehumanization of Native Peoples. 

Beyond this fascinating history, Indigenous communities in the Boston area continue to remain vibrant. Specifically, local Native tribes, such as the Massachusett, have been involved with organizations in and around Boston. Recently, Harvard University honored the Massachusett tribe with a land acknowledgement and raised the Massachusett tribe flag (you can watch the ceremony here). The City of Boston also promised to work with local Native groups in an effort to stop negative climate change effects in the Boston Harbor Islands. The Massachusetts are particularly interesting because they were the first Native group in Massachusetts to have contact with the Europeans and once resided in Newton, or Nonantum. To find out more about what the Massachusett tribe is currently up to and learn about their history in this area, you can visit their website.

Considering Native Americans have had a large impact on forming local areas, Boston College is far behind when it comes to incorporating Native American history and present day teachings into their curriculum. While there are a multitude of classes on European history, there is no course designed to teach the history of Native Americans. This is especially pertinent considering Newton, where the Massachusett once resided, is now a part of Boston College’s campus. While there are some classes like “American Art” that touch upon Native issues, we are yet to have a course specifically centered on Native American history. Schools in surrounding areas have courses and even minors dedicated to Native American studies. For example, UMass Boston has a Native American and Indigenous Studies minor and Boston University has multiple courses dedicated to Native American history. On top of this, the few courses offered at Boston College relating to Native American history are often taught by white or non-Native professors. 

While Boston College’s courses appear to be lacking, Boston College’s office for institutional diversity did put out a pamphlet regarding Native American Heritage Month. This talks about work that current professors and/or faculty are doing in relation to Native and Indigenous Studies, some of which you can take classes from. The pamphlet also suggests ways to educate yourself during the month (and after the month ends). Boston College also includes some links to local native organizations to Boston that are doing important work for the local Native communities. This pamphlet can be found using this link.

Boston College has a long way to go in recognizing Native American heritage. As of right now, they are far behind neighboring schools in courses and other educational resources relating to or focusing on Native American studies. These studies are particularly important considering we are occupying Native land and it is important to acknowledge and understand Native issues, culture, and history. Now that Native American Heritage Month has come to an end, it is ever-so-important to continue learning about what is going on in the local Native communities and celebrate their culture.

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