November is Native American Heritage Month, a time for us to celebrate and honor Indigenous ancestors and relatives, cultures, environmental stewardship, and so much more. We hope that you will take this opportunity to engage in local, state, and nationwide Indigenous celebrations and learnings. This month is also an opportunity to pause and consider how we respect and care for one another, the environment, and the world, in alignment with Indigenous principles of relationality and connection. While we reflect on the past and on the ongoing colonization Indigenous communities face, it is important that we come together to not only learn from our history and diversity, but also realize that our strengths are in understanding and solidarity among all people. Together, we can both address and heal from structural and systemic inequities and change the policies that maintain them.
My name is Heather Sauyaq Jean Gordon and I am a member of the Child Trends Indigenous Children, Youth, and Families research team, led by Deana Around Him. Our team draws on relationships before research, meaning we know the importance of building trust with communities and learning about their perspectives, strengths, and protective cultures that promote community resilience and healing. As an Iñupiaq person and citizen of the Nome Eskimo Community (Indigenous from Alaska), I can attest to the strength and healing found in cultural connectedness and its role in advancing the well-being of Indigenous children and families.
Indigenous communities have shown immense resilience in their millennia of survival through various adversities. This strength lies in the Indigenous Knowledge each Indigenous Nation holds, passed down intergenerationally. This Knowledge is only recently being recorded in books and is historically based in the oral traditions of story and song and in actions like dance and apprenticeship. It is also based on the millennia of observations that Indigenous people accumulate by living on and with the natural environment as kin. Learning about and from Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledges is vital as it contains approaches different from Western science, largely due to its basis in Indigenous ways of knowing, understanding, and values—a pluralistic worldview which includes relationships beyond those that are interpersonal (including spiritual, ecological, and other relationships). As climate change emerges as one of the largest threats to children, we are seeing increased child and youth trauma—including greater rates of mental health issues, substance use, and suicide—linked to climate change and its associated extreme heat, fires, floods, and displacement. Indigenous Knowledge provides wisdom and teaching on how to survive and adapt to a changing climate by drawing on millennia of survival through changing conditions, cultural connectedness, and caring relationships with (and in a responsibility to) the natural world.
We encourage you to continue watching our growing work as we expand into more environmental justice issues affecting Indigenous child and family well-being, and as we continue our work in early childhood, reproductive health, youth development, policy, and other issues important to our community partners. We are excited to deepen and expand our partnerships with new researchers, communities, Tribal Nations, and funders, and we hope you will continue to support our efforts. We are committed to engaging with Indigenous communities in research to develop evidence that impacts policy and improves Indigenous well-being in the United States and U.S. territories.
Gordon, H.S.J. (2023). Celebrate Indigenous Heritage Month by honoring Indigenous Knowledge. Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/blog/celebrate-indigenous-heritage-month-by-honoring-indigenous-knowledge
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