November 1 kicked off Native American Heritage month, a month not only to celebrate indigenous cultures and contributions, but to learn about the rich history of all American tribes. This month also honors the indigenous people’s ability to overcome the unique challenges they have faced over the years.
The Boy Scouts of America were the first to have a dedicated “First Americans” day at the behest of Dr. Arthur C. Parkers, Director of the Museum of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed a joint resolution that called for the month of November to be designated as “Native American Indian Heritage Month.” In 2008, the language of the resolution was amended to include Alaskan Natives.
As of 2021, there were 574 federally recognized Native American tribes and 6.79 million Native Americans with their own cultures, traditions and histories. The historically known narrative of Native Americans, however, has been largely told through a Western perspective, not a Native perspective. The month of November highlights the chance to learn from the stories of those who lived history; however, we have the chance to respect and learn throughout the entire year.
November also gives us the change to acknowledge the trauma indigenous nations have suffered — from colonization to genocide — and their continued struggles with stereotyping and cultural disrespect. By taking the time to learn from the offered stories and history of Native Americans, we can shift the narrative to a more historically accurate perspective that allows Native Americans to speak to their lived experiences.
Restorative justice originated from indigenous communities use of peacemaking circles to address and repair harm within a group. Restorative justice focuses on the harm done, restoring relationships, and building community. It can be used in a variety of settings, including schools. At UP Partnership, we highlight the importance of healing circles in our Restorative Practices Collaborative. Circles can provide a safe space for students that allows them to heal from experienced trauma, while fostering a community of support and understanding.
“While the language of restorative justice is contemporary, the [Indigenous] foundation of it is always seeking restoration and renewal to find the well-being of the community,” one partner recently explained in an interview. These circles make up a large part of the teachings from our partners such as American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, Empower House, and IDRA and engagement within three school districts in Bexar County – Judson, Harlandale and San Antonio ISDs.
Restorative justice is just one way UP Partnership and its partners are implementing healing within Bexar County’s young people. Healing — along with Access and Voice — are the equity pillars that drive Future Ready Bexar County, a community wide plan that serves as UP Partnership’s strategic plan.
By having practices such as peacemaking circles that help young people recognize and talk out their issues, young people in Bexar County are receiving valuable conflict resolution tactics that increase healing. The work our partners do in restorative justice will be key as we collectively work toward the North Star goal of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan — to increase the percentage of Bexar County High School’s graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030.