Native American Heritage Month A History of Cultural Opression

Many look forward to the month of November for Thanksgiving, the day many Americans celebrate the Natives of North America giving Pilgrims the means to survive the hard winter ahead. What did the Pilgrims bring to the Natives, though? November is Native American Heritage Month, lending time to open up further dialogue on the oppression of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, who face racism similar to and different from other minority groups within the United States. According to Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute, “forced cultural assimilation” as well as “political and economic subjugation” produce “tremendous cultural damage” as well as poverty.

Sande Tisdale is a member of the Cherokee Tribe.

The daughter of a direct descendant of the Trail of Tears Natives and member of the Cherokee Tribe, Sande Tisdale, describes seeing this poverty and cultural damage within Stilwell, Oklahoma, the community her Cherokee father grew up in, by way of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as low education levels and high unemployment rates.

Tisdale's father with the author

Furthermore, her father’s siblings faced further loss of culture, as they were sent to boarding school. This forced assimilation from boarding school was likely pressured due to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, an initiative of John Collier under President Franklin Roosevelt.

John Collier of the indian reorganization act

Though most stories Tisdale recounts are somber reminders of the cultural degradation of her family, she does recount one story told to her with ironic humor, about her father's time in the military on the Pacific Rim during World War II: He was always picked to be on the scout team. Though this is a prime example of racism, Tisdale laughs to think that people would imagine her father could put his ear to the ground and hear the enemy approaching.

Tisdale's father in military uniform

To learn more about Native American and Alaska Native heritage, visit

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