Native American Heritage Day Falling On Black Friday Is 'Poor Taste,' Activist Says

Nov 21, 2017

The day after Thanksgiving is Native American Heritage Day. Some Native Americans say the federal holiday should be moved so it doesn’t coincide with the Black Friday shopping holiday.

Simon Moya-Smith (@SimonMoyaSmith), a journalist and activist from the Oglala Lakota Nation, joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to make his case for moving Native American Heritage Day.

Interview Highlights

On why Black Friday is the wrong day to honor indigenous people

“Native American Heritage Day should be a day when the nation takes time to recognize our contributions, our sacrifices, what happened to indigenous people, what’s still happening to indigenous people. Instead, Native American Heritage Day falls on Black Friday, a day of excess and gluttony and greed and aggressive capitalism. And that’s extremely in poor taste.

“When you look at our values as indigenous people, it’s not materialistic. As indigenous people, especially if you look at what happened at Standing Rock, we say honor the water. Honor the earth. Honor the people. And on this specific day, it’s the complete opposite of what we teach our youth and what’s taught to us and what we value.

“Native American Heritage Day falls after a holiday that omits the murder and mutilation of Natives. And that’s even more difficult to stomach for me … For indigenous people that day is known as ‘Un-Thanksgiving’ or ‘the National Day of Mourning.’ Because we mourn the millions of indigenous people who died as a result of aggressive settler colonialism.”

On the Thanksgiving narrative

“These invaders who encroached on our territory were so focused on finding gold that they didn’t spend the time to dig crops. So when they got here, what they did was they didn’t just steal things from the grave. They weren’t just grave robbers. What they were were cannibals. They ate the flesh because they needed to eat something. So this is part of the narrative that’s excluded, and this narrative is just way too myth-made, way too whitewashed, and then, again, after the holiday, Native American Heritage Day is Black Friday. And I don’t imagine people are turning around saying, ‘Hey, yeah, I’m gonna get this big-screen TV, this flat-screen TV, and by the way, happy Native American Heritage Day.'”

On how non-Natives should observe Native American Heritage Day

“You’ve basically missed a lot, because November is Native American Heritage Month. In most cities you can find an American Indian Community house — that’s here in New York, there’s the Denver Indian Center. The universities — Yale, Columbia, all the way in Los Angeles, you have university student groups that have lessons … I want people to recognize the indigenous people of today who are doctors, lawyers, professors. We’re not this stereotypical image that’s perpetuated in media. But by the time Native American Heritage Day comes around, you’ve missed a whole month of lessons and opportunities to introduce yourself to the indigenous person of the 21st century, who lives on a [reservation] or doesn’t live on a rez, has short hair or has long hair, is traditional, is Christian … So on that day, you’re just kind of hoping that they follow us on social media, because on that day as well we’re trying to dispel all the false stereotypes of who we are and what happened.”

On how he’ll be spending the Thanksgiving holiday

“We’re gonna be outside the FedEx Field in Maryland when the Washington football team plays on the holiday known as Thanksgiving. And the reason we’re doing that is because the CDC just came out and said that Native Americans are more likely to die at the hands of police than any other demographic. The name of the team means ‘proof of Indian kill.’ The holiday, Thanksgiving, omits the murder and mutilation of natives. Football players are taking a knee against systemic oppression and police brutality. A 14 year-old Native American boy was just shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Wisconsin. So it’s a confluence that brings us back to the issue of murdered and mutilated Indians. And the fact that we’re not recognizing that is egregious.”

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