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Celebrating Native American Heritage Month: Three Questions for our Fellows

Art above by Patrick Paul @absoluteoriginalart

Indigenous Peoples across the Americas and beyond have influenced modern life as we know it in countless ways like spearheading medicinal, agricultural, and engineering initiatives and more. When Solve thinks about Indigenous innovation we understand the importance of harnessing traditional knowledge and the teachings of the past to inform the future. While every month of the year can be used to celebrate Indigenous ingenuity, November marks the celebration of Native American Heritage Month in the United States, so we wanted to share a few learnings with our community directly from two of our 2023 Fellows; Amanda Bernard, Founder of Shawish Market, and Chantel Harrison, Co-Founder of Indigenponics

What does Native American Heritage Month mean to you? Why is it necessary to celebrate the past, present, and future of Indigenous peoples this month and every month? 

Bernard: Native American Heritage Month holds significance for me as it provides an opportunity for Indigenous individuals throughout Turtle Island to take pride in their heritage and share their vibrant cultures with the world. Additionally, this month encourages the broader public to pause and reflect on the remarkable achievements of Native Americans and their unwavering resilience. 

Celebrating the past, present, and future of Indigenous peoples is essential for several reasons, and it's important to do so not just during one designated month but year-round. This month acknowledges the Indigenous communities’ existence and their vital role in shaping the world we live in today. Celebrating Indigenous peoples provides an opportunity to address historical injustices and work toward reconciliation and healing. By acknowledging the achievements and resilience of Indigenous people, we can empower them and inspire younger generations to take pride in their heritage and contribute to positive change within their communities.

Harrison: Native American Heritage Month provides an opportunity for us, as individuals and communities, to share our culture, traditions, and food with others in a form that is both meaningful and respectful of the past and present. Additionally, It allows Indigenous communities to express our creativity in showing others how we identify presently, while also acknowledging the inequalities that have transformed our futures. Since Native American Heritage Month also coincides with the start of the holidays, it’s an opportunity to highlight the ceremonial harvests of the seasons that many Indigenous communities celebrated for hundreds of years. And personally, this month is an opportunity to further support local and Indigenous-owned businesses and start conversations about socio-economic change that can lead to transformation for our futures. 

Participants from an Indigeponics program pose with their new hydroponics kits

What are some exciting ways our readers can support Indigenous communities and innovators? 

Bernard: To show your support for Indigenous communities and innovators, consider buying directly from Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs. Often, large corporations release Indigenous-inspired products that can overshadow local artists. One excellent way to do this is by visiting our website, Shawish Market. Vendors on the Shawish platform don't need to worry about monthly or transaction fees, and the money from their sales go directly to their bank accounts. This not only provides Indigenous artists with a source of income but also contributes to the preservation of their cultural practices and traditions.

Another meaningful way for readers to support Indigenous communities is by taking the time to educate themselves about Indigenous cultures, history, and issues. This knowledge will enable them to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Indigenous artists and businesses.

Examples of Shawish Market’s products available online

Harrison: Engage with us year around! During this month, we have more requests to share information about our work, which we love, however, there are many opportunities throughout the year to promote Indigenous innovators and entrepreneurs, like Indigeponics. This support could be by engaging with our social media, creating connections to colleagues and organizations, or purchasing Indigenous-produced products. More specifically, related to food, we respectfully encourage others to purchase food locally and support Indigenous food producers.

Harrison (second from right) stands with a group who toured an Indigeponics greenhouse and harvested microgreens together

Do you have any exciting updates from your organization or communities you would like to celebrate? 

Bernard: I'm thrilled to share an exciting update about Shawish – we've successfully achieved our goal of having over 750 authentic Indigenous products from diverse Indigenous communities across Turtle Island. From the start of Shawish, my vision was to establish it as more than just a shopping destination. It was meant to be a place where people not only shop but also explore a rich array of Indigenous products and experiences. Witnessing my vision come to life brings me much joy.


Bernard recommends the following educational material below.

Home on Native Land: A free self-guided course – including videos, cartoons, and lessons – about Indigenous justice in Canada. 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer- Drawing on her life as an Indigenous scientist, mother, and woman, Robin Kimmerer shows readers how other living beings like plants and animals offer us value and lessons.

Mohawk Institute Residential School: Virtual tours that will guide you through the former Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School, which has a 140-year history. In addition to touring rooms inside the school, hear interviews from five survivors.

This Is Not A Ceremony: Niitsitapi writer and director, Ahnahktsipiitaa (Colin Van Loon), takes us beyond traditional media and transports us via virtual reality to where colonial rules and assumptions are forgotten. Here we are asked to bear witness to some of the darker sides of living in Canada while Indigenous. 

Harrison recommends the following resources to learn about Indigenous foodways and how food and agriculture can transform communities.

Gather: An intimate film portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political, and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.

Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman: Read about how Indigenous peoples are returning to traditional foods produced by traditional methods of subsistence globally. The goal of controlling their own food systems, known as food sovereignty, is to reestablish healthy lifeways to combat contemporary diseases such as diabetes and obesity. This is the first book to focus on the dietary practices of the Navajos, from the earliest known times into the present, and relate them to the Navajo Nation's participation in the global food sovereignty movement. 

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