November is Native American Heritage Month, which celebrates the history, community, culture, and traditions of indigenous people. This commemorative month originated from the efforts of the Native community to establish an official day, and later, a week that celebrated their people. A month was later officially designated on August 3, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) states, “Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”
In honor of this month, we’re providing a guide to five Native American trailblazers that you should know.
Dr. Adrienne Keene
Dr. Adrienne Keene is a writer, college professor, podcast host, and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She aspires to change how the world views Native cultures in today’s society through a variety of mediums. Adrienne is most known for being the creator and author of “Native Appropriations”, a blog that discusses cultural appropriation and stereotypes of Native people in pop culture. She’s also an Assistant Professor at Brown University, where she teaches courses on Indigenous Education, Native representations, and Native American Studies. Her research centers on the accessibility of college education for Native students and the role of pre-college access programs in student success.
Philip Yenyo is a civil rights activist and Executive Director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. He is one of several prominent figures in his community to spearhead a movement against the use of Native American imagery as sports mascots. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, his hometown’s very own Major League Baseball (MLB) team has been a main focus of Yenyo’s activist work. The Cleveland Indians’ previous mascot — which has mostly beeen retired due to the collective efforts of the aforementioned movement — was an insulting depiction of Native people. He has stated, “I think our people and others have come to realize that this caricature of our people as a red-face, smiling savage does great harm to us and our culture and has done so for many years."
Sydney Freeland is an Emmy-nominated film/TV writer and director, who has had several of her projects receive critical acclaim. She has used film to examine intersectionality and build cohesive narratives that negate stereotypes attributed to Native culture. One of her most known films is “Drunktown's Finest”, which was inspired by her motivation to challenge a controversial ABC News report about her hometown of Gallup, New Mexico. Sydney, who is transgender, also directed an online series about the lives of queer and trans women called “Her Story”. This series went on to be nominated for a 2016 Emmy Award. She has most recently directed television episodes of “Grey's Anatomy”, “Chambers”, and “Fear the Walking Dead”.
Vincent Schilling is a Native American media executive and member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Currently serving as Executive Vice President of Media and Public Relations for Schilling Media, Inc., Schilling is also an author of a popular book series that highlights prominent Native American figures, the host of an acclaimed indigenious radio show, and has won awards for his work as a photojournalist for several national and regional news publications. He strives to uplift the faces and voices of Native people in media and pop culture to raise awareness of the issues that his people have historically faced as well as the ones that they face now.
Tara Houska is the National Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth, a tribal attorney, and a former advisor on Native American affairs to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. A citizen of Couchiching First Nation, she has worked to advocate on both the local and federal level for tribal nations. She has become a prominent force in her community’s efforts to raise awareness of environmental issues harming indigenous people and their land. Tara is also a co-founder of Not Your Mascots, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting against stereotypical Native representations in sports. Additionally, Tara is a prolific speaker who has been featured on the networks of MSNBC, CNN, CBS, and BBC. She has also been featured as a speaker at TEDWomen.