September 24 is Native American Day. It is a day designed to celebrate the culture of the Native Americans and their contributions to states and our country, and it is a holiday celebrated in several states across our country, but not in Pennsylvania.
Our country has historically marginalized and neglected our Native American and Indigenous populations. We have systematically attempted to eradicate their culture through forced schooling and migrations. Recently, entire groups of Indigenous Americans faced the pandemic without access to running water. A Native American household is 19 times more likely to not have running water than a white family, and 14% of Native American house-holds lack electricity. Comparatively, the lack of Internet access in disadvantaged Pittsburgh neighborhoods may be front page news, and nationwide athletic teams and streets have been renamed, but our Native American brothers and sisters are still faced without access to basic human needs.
The fact that September 24 is not celebrated nationally reflects our country’s continued neglect of these people. We are making strides towards inclusion but still fall far short of actual recognition. November was first named Native American Heritage month in 1994 and each year since, the sitting President has continued to announce its recognition, but it has not yet been written as a federal law. However, progress is being made at the federal level. President Biden appointed Deb Haaland, a Native American, to serve on his Cabinet as the Secretary of the Interior which is the first time an indigenous person has been named to such a distinguished position within our nation’s government.
In Western Pennsylvania, many of our townships and geological features retain an ‘Indian’ name or have roots in a Native language. For instance, Aliquippa Township, Hopewell Township, the city of Punxsutawney, and the names of all three rivers in Pittsburgh retain roots in our Native American history. It is imperative that all Americans understand the important role the Indigenous people played in the history of our country and do more to allow their descendants to fully participate today.
Faculty – School of Information Systems & Technology, DEI Taskforce Co-Chair