NEH Resources for Native American Heritage Month

Lakota Woman at Pow Wow
Photo caption

photo by Andrew James, Unsplash 

(November 1, 2023)

Throughout November, the United States celebrates Native American Heritage Month, honoring the rich and diverse cultures, histories, and traditions of America’s Native peoples. The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to have funded numerous projects that preserve and document Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian language and history; expand humanities resources for Native communities; and deepen public awareness of the cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples. See a selection of NEH-supported programs below and consult, a collaborative website between NEH and other government organizations, to learn about additional upcoming Native American history exhibitions and resources for teachers.

NEH Announces Special Funding Opportunity for Tribal Communities for Projects Related to the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative

This special NEH funding opportunity for federally recognized Native American tribal governments and nonprofits and state and local government organizations that work with tribal communities supports projects that expand the reach and impact of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative (FIBSI).

Interior Department and National Endowment for the Humanities Partner to Preserve Federal Indian Boarding School Oral History and Records

The Department of the Interior and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced a new inter-agency partnership to expand the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative through the collection of oral histories and digitization of records documenting the experiences of survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies. NEH has committed $4 million to support the digitization of records from the United States’ system of 408 federal Indian boarding schools and the creation of a permanent oral history collection, documenting the experiences of the generations of Indigenous students who passed through the federal boarding school system.  

NEH-Funded Projects:

In Our Hands: Native Photography, 1890 to Now
This new NEH-funded exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art showcases over 150 photographs of, by and for Indigenous people. Focusing on photographers and photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries, “In Our Hands” illuminates the breadth of Indigenous photographic history and practice.

Community Archiving of Native American Music: Best Practices for Institutional Facilitation
Through consultation with Native American communities, scholars at the University of Oklahoma-Norman, are developing protocols for preserving and digitizing audio and audiovisual recordings of Native American music held at community archives and at the university’s Sam Noble Museum. The NEH-supported project aims to establish a set of best practices for collaborative community archiving of Indigenous heritage materials.

Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories
NEH grants to the Heard Museum in Arizona supported the planning, implementation, and updating of the exhibition Away from Home, focusing on the experiences of American Indians in federally operated, off-reservation boarding schools in the United States from 1879 to the present. The exhibition examines the history of American Indian boarding schools in the U.S., which were designed to assimilate Native American youth into “civilized” society, detailing their impact on generations of students and Native communities. Since the reopening of the updated permanent exhibition at the Heard Museum in 2019, Away from Home has also been adapted as a national traveling exhibition by the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

Wakan Tipi Center, a Cultural and Environmental Interpretive Center at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary
Ongoing development and construction of the Wakan Tipi Center, part of the Lower Phalen Creek Project in Saint Paul, Minnesota, will honor the Wakan Tipi Cave as a Dakota sacred site, create a gathering space and visitor center, and educate visitors about the culture and history of Dakota people in Lower Phalen Creek. Read project director Maggie Lorenz’s interview about the NEH-supported project in ChangeMaker: Maggie Lorenz, preserving cultural heritage through land conservation or listen to her discussion with Robert Pilot in American Indian Month 2020—Lower Phalen Creek Project.

First Nations Development Institute Native Language Immersion Initiative
This three-year language revitalization initiative, supported by a $2.1 million NEH matching grant supported Native language immersion projects developed by tribal organizations to support curriculum development, technology access, and teacher development. Among the language projects supported through this program are the development of immersion training programs for Nez Perce language teachers, efforts by the Chickaloon Native Village in Alaska to revitalize the Ahtna language through the creation of a new language and culture curriculum, and the expansion of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project’s language immersion school in Massachusetts to serve students in grades K-8.

The Heart of All That Is
Little Wound School in South Dakota is using an NEH grant to produce The Heart of All That Is, a seven-part podcast series on the history of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe.

Francis La Flesche Digital Resources Development Initiative
Nebraska Indian Community College is using an NEH grant to develop a curriculum and digital educational resources on Omaha tribal culture that draws on artifacts and information collected by 19th-century Native American anthropologist Francis La Flesche.

Local Contexts: Collaborative Curation Training and Education for Indigenous Collections
An NEH Preservation Education and Training grant has supported the creation of a specialized “Intellectual Property, Rights, and Native American Collections” curriculum to help train up to 70 staff members involved in the preservation and curation of Indigenous heritage materials at six institutions around the United States. The curriculum provides training on intellectual property and digitization for Native American collections, advanced training in the collaborative preservation and curation tools developed by the Local Contexts project, and technical training in developing collaborative curation workflows that can accommodate IP and Indigenous cultural rights. The project makes use of several digital tools offered through the Local Context online platform, including Traditional Knowledge Labels—digital markers defining attribution, access, and use rights that were developed with support from a previous NEH grant—as well as the NEH-supported Murkurtu collaborative curation platform. Learn more about the project by reading Decolonizing Attribution or listening to Episode 8: Thirty-one Cylinders of the Artist in the Archive podcast.

Mukurtu is a free, mobile, and open-source platform built by and for Indigenous communities to help them “manage, share, narrate, and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways.” Read about the creation of Mukurtu and NEH-supported projects that use the platform for community curation of Indigenous cultural heritage materials in Humanities magazine.

Tribal Justice
This NEH-funded documentary by Anne Makepeace observes two Native American judges reaching back to traditional concepts of justice in order to reduce incarceration rates, foster greater safety for their communities, and create a more positive future for Native youth. Read more about the film in Humanities magazine.

Crow Oral Histories
With support from an NEH Humanities Initiatives at Tribal Colleges and Universities grant, Little Big Horn College in Montana has collected oral histories of the post-World War II generation of Crow Tribe members and developed humanities course modules based on the interviews. Additional NEH grants to the college have supported the preservation, translation, and digitization of audiovisual materials in the Little Big Horn College archives documenting Crow history, language, and culture.

Resonant: Exploring Cultural Heritage through Game-Based Virtual Reality
Explore the ancient Native American site of Mesa Verde with this virtual-reality game prototype. The game, Resonant, will explore connections between place, culture, and language through historical and archaeological perspectives.

Infusing Contemporary American Indian Cultural Studies across the Curriculum
Courses developed throughout this two-year project to incorporate the study of contemporary Native American cultures across the curriculum at Lehigh University and Johnson County Community College (JCCC) now form part of the requirements for JCCC’s new Certificate in American Indian studies, launched in spring of 2020. Watch two of the lectures delivered during the project: Jordyn Gunville’s American Indian Maternal and Child Health and James Rains on writer D’Arcy McNickle.

I Paa Maila Ke Kahua Hale, "So that the House Foundation will be made Firm"
In 2020, Aha Punana Leo in Hilo, Hawai’i, received an NEH Cares grant to retain staff during the pandemic to continue Native Hawaiian teaching programs across the state and to get educational, cultural, and Native language teaching resources to families during the pandemic.

Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project
With support from a 2019 NEH grant, the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project continues to digitize, catalogue, and transcribe approximately 7,000 documents, including government records, photographs, oral histories, and other historical materials documenting the history of Indian boarding schools and the experience of Native Americans who attended the Genoa U.S. Indian School in Nebraska between 1884 and 1934.

Documenting Endangered Languages
Dynamic Language Infrastructure-Documenting Endangered Language senior research grants and fellowships, offered through a longstanding partnership between NEH and the National Science Foundation (NSF), support fieldwork and other activities relevant to recording, documenting and archiving endangered languages, including the preparation of lexicons, grammars, text samples, and databases. Made urgent by the imminent death of an estimated half of the 6,000-7,000 currently used languages, these grant programs aim to develop and advance knowledge concerning endangered human languages. Among the many projects supported by this initiative are the documentation of the Creek language spoken by Muskogee and Seminole nations, in partnership with Bacone and William & Mary College; the preparation of a print and web-based dictionary of Penobscot, an Algonquin language originally spoken in central and eastern Maine; and the analysis and digitization of stories, prayers, and song lyrics in Cahto, a Native American language from Northern California.

Guarding Oklahoma Native American Heritage
An NEH Preservation Assistance Grant to the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma supported updates to the John Hair Cultural Center and Museum’s emergency preparedness plan to protect the museum’s collection of tribal ceremonial items, photographs, baskets, tribal rolls, treaties, and correspondence. The grant project also supported workshops for staff at Native-led museums in Oklahoma on risk assessment, disaster preparedness and response, and working with first responders to safeguard heritage collections.

Meskwaki Nation Historic Preservation
The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa was awarded an NEH grant to digitize a collection of 5,000 films and images held by the Meskwaki Historic Preservation Department.

Mesa Verde National Park and the Construction of Pueblo Indian History
Numerous NEH grants to the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado have supported summer institutes and workshops for educators to deepen their understanding of the history of ancient Pueblo peoples and their legacy throughout the U.S. Southwest. The most recent program, "Mesa Verde National Park and Pueblo Indian History " was offered online in the summer of 2021 and allowed 36 school teachers to work alongside professional researchers and educators on the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center’s ongoing investigations into the ancestral Pueblo Indians of the Mesa Verde region. Participants in the one-week workshops surveyed over a thousand years of Pueblo history, exploring the beliefs and practices of the Pueblo and learning through archaeology how the Pueblo shaped the physical and cultural landscape of the Mesa Verde region.

Celebration: 10,000 Years of Cultural Survival
The Sealaska Heritage Institute’s (SHI) biennial dance and culture festival celebrates the Tlingt, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. An NEH grant is supporting the preservation, cataloguing, and digitization of recordings of SHI Celebration festivals from 1982 to the present, giving online access to 540 hours of song, dance, and oratory. Available now on YouTube are recordings from 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1988.

Paving the Way: Green Country’s Cultural and Historical Preservation Initiative
In fall 2019, Northeastern State University (NSU) held an NEH-supported two-day digitization event to collect materials that tell the story of settlement after the Trail of Tears and the establishment of the Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries. With donor permission, digitized items were preserved in the NSU Special Collections and Archives.

NEH-Supported Books:
NEH Fellowships and Public Scholars grants support the creation of well-researched, nonfiction humanities books written for a wide public audience. Below is a sampling of books by NEH Public Scholars and fellows on the history Native Americans and their lives today.

Not Native American Art: Fakes, Replicas, and Invented Traditions, by Janet Catherine Berlo, 2023.
Janet Catherine Berlo’s Not Native American Art, written with support from an NEH fellowship, examines the proliferation of faked Native American art and cultural objects for commercial sale. Through a series of historical and contemporary case studies, Berlo looks at the issues of forgery, replication, and misattribution.  

The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West by Megan Kate Nelson, 2021.
Megan Kate Nelson’s 2021 NEH-funded book, The Three-Cornered War, unravels how the Civil War affected Indigenous peoples and how it led to the fight for the West. Nelson’s book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Northern Cheyenne Ledger Art by Fort Robinson Breakout Survivors by Denise Low and Ramon Powers, 2020.

Denise Low and Ramon Powers used an NEH grant to digitize and publish ledger books created by seven Cheyenne men as they awaited probable execution at the Dodge City Jail in 1879 after the Fort Robinson Breakout in northwestern Nebraska. The prisoners used these ledger-art notebooks to maintain their cultural practices during incarceration. The book published by University of Nebraska Press features artwork depicting hunting, courtship, dance, social scenes, and war, accompanied by biographical information on the men and their imprisonment drawn from interviews, army reports, letters, newspapers, and the ledgers themselves.

Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment by Michael D. McNally, 2020.

Michael D. McNally’s NEH-funded book, Defend the Sacred, delves into the legal strategies Native American communities have used to protect their religious rights. McNally’s work explores cultural property, historic preservation and environmental law as important ways Native Americans have articulated their religious claims.

The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle by Malinda Maynor Lowery, 2018.
NEH Public Scholar, Malinda Maynor Lowery’s book The Lumbee Indians explores the role of the Lumbee Indians in American history and culture. Lowery looks at how the history of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina—the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River—sheds new light on America’s defining moments, from the first encounters with Europeans to the present day.

NEH’s educational website, EDSITEment, offers a variety of educational resources for K-12 classrooms, from lesson plans and curricula, to close readings and student activities. Explore the Picturing America: Black Hawk & Catlin, Reimagining Sitting Bull, Tatanka Iyotake, and Backstory: Darkness over the Plain: The Bison in American History media resources. Incorporate different Native American cultures into classroom teaching with the Anishinabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa: Culture of an Indian Nation, Not “Indians,” Many Tribes: Native American Diversity, and Native American Cultures Across the U.S. lesson plans. For more information on teaching Native American history and heritage see this EDSITEment teacher guide.

State Humanities Councils:
State and Jurisdictional Humanities Councils around the country partner with NEH to provide programs, events, and resources focused on Indigenous history and culture. Currently on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, the exhibition Contemporary Indigenous Voices of California’s South Coast Range—supported by a grant from California Humanities—showcases portraits by Kirti Bassendine of Indigenous community members from the South Coast Range. Florida Humanities has provided funding for the inaugural Native American Arts Festival a two-day immersive educational experience of Indigenous arts and culture in Jacksonville, November 10-11. The Maryland Humanities Council will hostmultiple events exploring Native American culture throughout the month, including a local tribes display at the Wicomico Public Library. In Oklahoma, spend time at the First American Museum and take a tour of One Place, Many Nations: Acknowledging the 39 exhibition which honors the 39 tribes who call Oklahoma home.

Blog Posts:
Native Americans in the Midwest: An NEH Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges Project
Native Students Help in Seminole Language Documentation
Beyond Moby Dick: Native American Whalemen in the 19th Century
50 States of Preservations: Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM
50 States of Preservation: Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Harbor Springs, MI
50 States of Preservation: Laramie Plains Museum in Laramie, WY
50 States of Preservation: Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island
50 States of Preservation: Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota
Preserving Language and Culture

A New Perspective on Displaying Native American Art: How the Eiteljorg Museum Rethought its Native American Galleries
Chronicling America and the Eskimo Bulletin: Recovering the History of a Residential Boarding School in Alaska

Humanities Magazine:
Courts and Communities Work Together for Native-American Justice
The History of the Stamp Act Shows How Indians Led to the American Revolution
Madam Sacho: How One Iroquois Woman Survived the American Revolution
Alaska Sojourn
Rivers Held a Spiritual Place in the Lives of the Cherokee
Uncovering Powhatan’s Empire
A Nation of Treaties
Reviving Ho-Chunk
American Originals
Mukurtu: A Digital Platform That Does More Than Manage Content

Choctaw Confederates
Saying Hello in Navajo
Code Talkers Were America’s Secret Weapon in World War II
A New Museum For First Americans
“To Build a Better Future than the One We Live In Today”

Media Contacts: