Coming-to-know : overcoming a limited understanding of Native American knowledge
Spang-Willis, Francine Dawn
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The challenge is the perpetuation of a limited understanding of Native Americans, and the negative impacts it has on Native Americans, non-Native Americans and the American society, as a whole. An autobiographical narrative of my experience preserving and sharing Crow, Northern Cheyenne, and Chippewa Cree knowledge history and culture, from their perspective, through the American Indian Tribal Histories Project (AITHP), and collected documents are used to further understand the themes of the study. The AITHP intent is to preserve, maintain, and share American Indian histories and cultures, or cultural heritage knowledge from an American Indian perspective. The project trained tribal members in preservation-related disciplines, recorded tribal traditions through American Indian perspectives, and maintained flexibility in programmatic design as each tribe was engaged in the project. The Northern Cheyenne Constitution promotes all tribal members enjoying, without hindrance, freedom of worship, conscience, speech, press, assembly, and association as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. However, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council (NCTC) passed a resolution, which prohibited the Western Heritage Center's AITHP from utilizing its tribal resources, including tribal members sharing their Cheyenne knowledge. Two years later, the NCTC passed another resolution supporting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and requesting the United Nations to adopt the same Declaration of the Right of Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) came into effect in 2007. The U.S. government showed its support in 2010. Individuals within the current U.S. government, educational, and legal structures, including tribal government structures need to further support Native American peoples' right to self-determination, and empower them to define themselves in ways they deem appropriate. Individuals must actively implement existing structures created to empower Native Americans, including the Northern Cheyenne Constitution (Bill of Rights), United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), Montana's Indian Education For All Act, and the AITHP. By supporting Native Americans' right to self-determine, including Indigenous approaches to define themselves, a limited understanding of them as the Other, and its negative impacts can be overcome.