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November is American Indian Heritage Month
Posted By Staff On November 25, 2009 @ 9:01 am In Online Exclusives | 3 Comments
By Susan Johnson
This month, we remember the original inhabitants of America. Aug. 2, 1990, President George W. Bush declared the month of November 1990 as
National American Indian Heritage Month.
The bill read in part that
the President is authorized and requested to call upon Federal, State and local Governments, groups and organizations and the people of the United States to observe such month with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.
This was a landmark bill, honoring America’s tribal people.
The declaration of this month to honor native people was due to the efforts of Princess Pale Moon, president of the American Indian Heritage Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, who contacted various tribes in spring 1990, seeking support for the bill to enact this commemoration. After many letters and phone calls, through the joint efforts of a congressman and a senator, the presidential proclamation was signed, and November 1990 became the first national American Indian Heritage Month.
The American Indian Heritage Foundation, originally in Falls Church, Va., now based in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., according to its literature,
has worked for more than three decades to promote and improve the health, education and welfare of the American Indians. It has also diligently promoted the idea of preserving and protecting the unique cultural and artistic contributions the native peoples have made to the benefit of all Americans.
The American Indian has one of the world’s unique and varied cultures. Its many facets have fascinated and attracted the interest of people from all over the world. The American Indian is one of the most widely recognized but perhaps least understood of any cultural group. Some of this may be due to portrayals in the popular media (movies, TV, books) that are not always fair or accurate, resulting in a big gap between the popular appreciation of the Indians and the reality of both their past and present.
Controversy over Pale Moon’s heritage
Yet, like the people she represents to the public, Pale Moon’s image has been affected by controversy. A Time magazine article of Aug. 16, 1998, called her
a self-proclaimed American Indian
and recounted the story of an appeal that somehow went awry, possibly due to a communication error. The AIHF had asked for donations for
starving Paiute Indians in the Alaskan village of Port Graham.
In fact, the charity attempted to send 1,000 pounds of beef liver to the needy tribe. But two problems immediately surfaced: there was no food shortage, and as the outraged Port Graham officials said, the Paiute tribe lives in Nevada, not Alaska, so they refused the shipment. An officer of the AIHF claimed the whole episode was based on a misunderstanding.
The other major issue concerns Pale Moon’s ethnic heritage. Born Rita Ann Sentz in Asheville, N.C., she is three-quarters Cherokee or Choctaw, according to different sources. A natural performer, she started singing as a child, performing as part of a trio with her brother and sister. Later, she performed as a solo, first for a shoe company promotion, and then in church choirs, pickup bands and one-Indian road shows. She also received some formal training at Sonoma State College, Santa Rosa, Calif.
She met her second husband, Wil Rose, a former Hollywood voice-over announcer and promoter, in 1961. He helped her develop her talent, and she sang at the GOP National Convention in1976 and again in 1980. Wil Rose kept casual contact with her for several years, and he saw that she was making appearances and trying to get a message out, but, as he saw it,
she needed to develop a charitable scope.
With Pale Moon as the spokesperson, they established the American Indian Heritage Foundation in 1973
to provide relief services to Indian people nationwide and to build bridges of understanding and friendship between Indian and non-Indian people,
according to their Web site, www.Indians.org. It was originally founded under the umbrella of the National Heritage Foundation, but as the organization grew, it was separately incorporated under the laws of Virginia on Sept. 20, 1982. The couple were married in 1977 and have two sons who perform today as the White Eagle Dancers.
Wil Rose, who serves as a fund-raising consultant to the AIHF, is the sole breadwinner. All of Pale Moon’s earnings go to the foundation, which pays her travel expenses but no salary. Pale Moon’s earnings, plus donations, enable the AIHF to give about half a million dollars annually in American Indian-language Bibles, Thanksgiving turkey dinners, scholarships to leadership seminars and scholarships to summer basketball clinics at Oral Roberts University, as reported by Mike Sager in The Washington Post.
title may be assumed, but in an effort to aid tribal young ladies who have aspirations, Pale Moon is also the founder of the Miss Indian National USA Scholarship Program, held annually. According to their Web site,
The program theme ‘She Walks in Beauty, As She Walks in Two Worlds,’ encourages young Indian women to balance the traditional ways of their ancestors with the ways of the modern world.
There is also a youth program, the National American Indian Student Eagle Awards Program, for ages K-12, which
seeks to build confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness in American Indian youth through public acknowledgment and reward for their achievements.
Again, from AIHF’s fact sheet:
Recent statistics provided by the Office of Indian Education and Indian Health Service reveal that Indians have the highest mortality rate of any ethnic minority in the U.S., the lowest levels of educational attainment of any ethnic minority in the U.S., the highest rates of unemployment, the lowest per capita and family income of any ethnic minority in the U.S., and they have more people living below the poverty level than any other ethnic people in the United States.
Comments from Native Americans in northern Illinois
Thunder Ruthven, an Anishinabi/Metis (French/Canadian culture from Sault St. Marie), who was raised on a reservation, spoke with The Rock River Times for this article. He said,
The title ‘Princess’ does not come from the Choctaw or the Cherokee.
He wasn’t sure how she got this title. But on the subject of the commemorative month, he said,
It’s a good thing. It helps people outside the culture to have an opportunity to explore and better understand the things of Native American culture. We are really glad for this holiday [Thanksgiving]. Like the other cultures in America, like the African-Americans, it’s a good way to spread information about various cultures. So we embrace the time heartily. We get a lot of requests for cultural information, to do presentations, to have our impact in ceremonial arts that are retained, and we find that our requests from schools, Scouting groups and things of that nature increase substantially in the month of November. It’s very important that the cultures be represented, which is my concern about Princess Pale Moon. I do not have direct knowledge of her. She is described as a ‘self-proclaimed American Indian’ in one of the articles.
Ruthven is the chairman of the Odanah Project as well as the
Honor the Firekeepers
Powwow at Lake Geneva, Wis. He was interviewed by The Rock River Times for the first Native American Heritage Days held at Delavan, Wis., Sept. 18-20 of this year.
MacVenn, of the Native American Awareness Committee, said,
Although the Native American gatherings of thanksgiving had no distinct date as the European thanksgiving [Nov. 26 in the U.S.], it moved with the seasons down the continent with the harvest. It was the last time that clans and villages would be together before they dispersed into family groups for the time of winter. It was a time of celebration of thanksgiving in a spiritual way as well as a time of gathering and celebration [socializing] with family, friends and people in the villages whom they would not see until the next spring.
From the November 25-December 1, 2009 issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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