Continue to Celebrate Indigenous Excellence

By: Kendra Becenti, Navajo Nation, Gen-I and special projects intern

November 30th marks the final day of Native American Heritage Month, but it only serves as a reminder that we must continue to celebrate Indigenous excellence into the future. Throughout this month we have seen exceptional achievements happening all around Indian Country and beyond, especially by our young people. Early on in the month we were reminded of the falsehoods and invisibility our communities experience in the national consciousness when media outlets failed to acknowledge the record turnout of Native voters in many key swing states, such as Arizona, Nevada, and Wisconsin. Though this contribution to democracy was labeled as “something else” (Read “Native Voters Played a Huge Role in the 2020 Elections” by CNAY’s Nikki Pitre and Mikah Carlos featured in Teen Vogue), this was in fact due to the Get Out the Native Vote efforts led by Native youth who mobilized in their communities to make Indigenous voices heard on election day. November 4th also was a historic moment when six Native leaders were elected to serve in the 117th congress. 

CNAY spotlighted the creativity and sheer talent that our youth continue to exude. We met Keoni Rodriguez (Native Hawaiian) and Jaycie Begay (Navajo), who are two of many young Indigenous youth creating excellence in their artistry. We heard from young fearless leaders who are working to uplift, support, and center their communities, whether that be on their college campuses or in their tribal communities, especially as we continue to experience and endure this historic COVID-19 pandemic. They are shifting narratives and bringing awareness to historic and contemporary truths.

We were also reminded that Native people have and always will be reflections of resilience as we celebrated Veteran’s Day by honoring our warriors who have served in the armed forces at a rate higher than any other ethnicity, even when they were not considered American citizens. We remembered our ancestors who were lost to the boarding school era, one of the United States’ most barbaric and abominable attempts at assimilating Indigenous children that lasted well into the 20thcentury. We finished out the month with the release of the 2020 State of Native Youth Report, written almost entirely by Indigenous young people, that highlighted what we know in our hearts to be true; that Native Youth are Medicine. Their passions, pursuits, and accomplishments represent the advancement and brighter futures for all Indigenous people. 

Above all, we were reminded of the beauty, brilliance, leadership, and excellence that rests in Native communities, individuals, and especially among our youth. Though Native American Heritage Month is coming to a close, this celebration of Indigeneity should not end here. We know Indigenous Excellence happens all year-round, whether recognized or not. Yet, this should always be honored, celebrated, and valued.

To our non-Native allies; look toward Indigenous youth for examples of strength and leadership, listen to them, educate yourselves, and understand that in our pursuit of true sovereignty, recognition, and justice, we can not do it alone. To our Indigenous young people; keep creating and influencing change. Continue leading us into the future with your brilliance. And always remember to fully and whole heartedly love and celebrate who you are, where we come from, and the hope you bring to our people. Remember that you are the medicine our ancestors prayed for.