Roundup: Native American Heritage month

In the United States, November is Native American Heritage Month. It is a month to recognize the rights and achievements of indigenous peoples and to provide a platform for the sharing of Native cultures and traditions. In light of this month, we’re highlighting student work in Carwil Bjork-James’ course at Vanderbilt University, titled Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

One student significantly expanded the article on Lean Bear, a Cheyenne peace chief who lived from 1813–1864. This student’s additions now give context for Lean Bear’s tribal governance role, the notable peace deals in which he took part, and his murder. Lean Bear was chosen to be a part of the Council of Forty-four, a council that promoted peace between Cheyennes and white settlers. He took part in the signing of the Treaty of Fort Wise in 1861 to this end. Lean Bear also met then-President Abraham Lincoln a few years later at the White House, and asked that the President denounce violence against native peoples. About a year after his request, Lean Bear was murdered by troops of the 1st Colorado Regiment under the command of Lieutenant George Eayre, who were ordered to kill Cheyennes on-sight. While there are no confirmed photos of Lean Bear, the student also added a photo that is believed to be Lean Bear. Photo of Lean Bear (+caption) uploaded by student: Caption–“Cheyenne Peace Chief believed to be Lean Bear. Taken 1863, in Washington D.C.”

Another student created a new article about the Protection of Native American sites in Florida. As the article discusses, the looting of Native American sites is a big problem in the state. Not only does this illegal removal of artifacts threaten archaeological projects in the area, but it also threatens efforts to preserve cultural heritage and Native histories in general. Florida Law enforcement are trying to develop enforcement practices to prevent and persecute such actions, but because of the sheer number of sites–this proves difficult. So far, they have been focusing protection efforts on the most threatened sites. Recent bills in the House and Senate also create new threats for these already vulnerable sites. Fortunately, though, these bills have brought more awareness to this issue.

Among the many other articles that students contributed to in Bjork-James’ course, another student focused on the Red Power movement, a social justice movement led by American Indian youth in the 1960s and ’70s. The movement used civil-disobedience and confrontation to demand policies and programs in support of Native rights, in events such as the Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Wounded Knee incident. Its legacy includes many bills and laws passed to protect rights of American Indian groups, a greater awareness for American Indian civil rights, and an increasing sense of pride among American Indian communities.

Having students contribute to Wikipedia is a valuable effort to rounding out histories of marginalized groups in a open-access, digital environment. A Wikipedia assignment also provides students with great skills to take with them in their future endeavors, both academically and professionally. If you’d like to teach with Wikipedia or learn more, reach out to us at Or visit our informational page.

Image: File:Tribal Flags at Eagle Butte, SD.JPG, by National Park Service, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


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