Friday, September 22 is Native American Day in California and Humanities E-Book is taking the opportunity to honor Native American history and culture. Though California celebrates Native American Day on September 22, other states such as South Dakota, Washington, Alaska, and Minnesota celebrate on Monday, October 9, instead of Columbus Day.
To celebrate this day, we sat down with an expert on Native Americans and an author in our collection. Donald L. Fixico (Shawnee, Sac and Fox, Mvskoke Creek and Seminole) is Distinguished Foundation Professor of History in the School of Historical, Religious and Philosophical Studies and Affiliate Faculty in American Indian Studies and Distinguished Scholar of Sustainability in the Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. His research focuses on indigenous people and the U.S. West. He has been on faculty and a visiting professor at ten universities (including the University of Nottingham in England and the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Frie University in Berlin, Germany) with postdoctoral fellowships at UCLA and The Newberry Library in Chicago.
He has worked on 20 documentaries on American Indians, and is currently the author and editor of 14 books. His most recent book, That’s What They Used to Say: Reflection on American Indian Oral Traditions, is forthcoming from University of Oklahoma Press in October. His other books include Indian Resilience and Rebuilding: Indigenous Nations in the Modern American West, (2013) and Call for Change: The Medicine Way of American Indian History, Ethos and Reality (2013), among others.
Thank you to Dr. Fixico for taking the time to answer some questions over email and giving us your informed perspective.
Q: Humanities E-Book is really fortunate to have a number of titles from you in our collection, among which are “Rethinking American Indian History,” “The Urban Indian Experience in America,” and “Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960.” Can you speak to how your works have become increasingly relevant in today’s political landscape?
A: As a historian trained in ethnohistory and policy history, I have always written books with an agenda to inform the public and government officials so that they can be better informed about the reality of American Indians including their issues, both past and present. This is why I chose the career direction to study modern American Indian history, so that my work can help people now. However, since my first book in 1986, the U.S. government has never contacted me, while Canadian officials have contacted me three times for advice. I hope one day that my work is helpful to some federal, state or local official and perhaps this has already happened without me knowing it.
Being Indian is knowing who your people are, and understanding one’s relationships. It would be wonderful on September 22, if people would take a walk, a hike, camp out, or just think about how to improve their relationships with other people, and things, especially the earth.
Q: What are the current obstacles in the way of promoting scholarship and awareness in your field?
A: Since American Indians and Alaska Native only constitute about two percent, or five million of the 323 million population in the U.S., there has always been a lack of attention and concern about Indians unless they capture national headlines like the Dakota Access Pipeline protest last year in North Dakota. As a result, most people in this country are not concerned about American Indians or their histories until they begin to know Indian people and Alaska Natives.
Q: Where do you see the discipline of Native American History/Indigenous People heading?
A: The history of Indigenous people in the U.S. and in other countries have a very bright future. More students interested Indian History are studying the twentieth century when it used to be nineteenth century Indian history was more popular. There are 567 federally recognized tribes and because many of them started to rebuild their communities in the late twentieth century, they have attracted attention due to the Indian gaming industry, defending tribal natural resources, and trying to hold onto sacred lands and sacred artifacts.Imagine, learning the collective history of 567 Indian nations compared to a global history of 195 nations in the world.
American Indian history has always been complex and continues to be in the twenty first century because of studying relationships with the U.S., other peoples, other tribes, and non-human relations. Some scholars are transnationally comparing histories with Indians with Indigenous peoples in other countries.
Q: How can we make Native American history and culture (both in academic and public life) more visible and accessible?
A: If academic and public life would expand their radars, scholars and mainstreamers would discover that American Indians have been around for a very long time and faced some of the most serious problems concerning life. This means setting aside the western perspective and trying to understand the many tribal perspectives of American Indians and learning how indigenous logic works and comprehend Native worldviews. In order to trying to solve our most difficult problems like racial relations, terrorism, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, including climate change and global warming, different perspectives need to be entertained for the best potential answers.
Q: How are the lives of Native American women distinct from those of other minority groups? From Native American men? What unique struggles have they faced in the past and how does that inform their present?
A: In general, Indian women are strong women. A good friend of mine says that Indian men are the jaw bone and Indian women are the back bone of their communities. The majority of Indigenous communities are matrilineal, meaning that Native women were and are the strength in the continual fight for sovereignty. For example, treaty rights are more important than civil rights, which makes Indian women different from other minority women. Indian women face a double glass ceiling, trying to break through racism for being a person of color and trying to break through for fair treatment as a woman.
Presently, a lot of Indian women serve two roles as mother and father in single parent families, which has become increasingly a challenge for many women in America, and Indian women keep their children connected to their cultures and network of relatives.
Q: Your book on the urban Indian experience in America describes a complex struggle for identity and culture for the generations of Indians moving to and/or growing up in cities. Going forward, what needs to change, externally and/or internally, in order for the Indian community to thrive?
A: For the record, roughly two-thirds of the American Indian population lives in urban areas, not on the current 326 reservations. In order for the Indian community to thrive, the mainstream needs to be more accepting and understanding of the issues confronting American Indians who leave rural homelands for new lives in cities.
In order for the Indian community to thrive, the mainstream needs to be more accepting and understanding of the issues confronting American Indians who leave rural homelands for new lives in cities.
Presently, we are well into the third generation of Indian urbanization while most Americans have little knowledge or none about the federal relocation program of the 1950s and 1960s that moved Indians to cities. If mainstream Americans would try to learn more about other peoples, they would gain a greater knowledge about other cultures and insights about themselves.
Q: Is there anything else that people should know about Native Americans in honoring this day (September 22)?
A: People should know that American Indians are a strong and resilient people who have struggled and rebuilt their communities in cycles throughout history to the present. Traditional Indians have cultures that developed organically and independent from white America. After Columbus in 1492, Indians and their histories changed due to the contact history of Indian-white relations.
All things are related and we need to understand and respect our relationships to make this a better planet for everyone.