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Native American Heritage Month: From Place Names to Literature, Indigenous Incarnations Are All Around Us

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A commentary in the Providence Journal of Rhode Island celebrates Native American Heritage Month by talking about the constant, obvious-yet-invisible reminders that the Indigenous Peoples of this land are ever-present. Woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, in everything from place names, to great works of literature and even the Massachusetts Commonwealth seal, so-called Indian references are ubiquitous.

“Massachusetts's name is derived from the term used by the Native American tribe in the Blue Hills area for ‘near the great hill,’ ” wrote Jamie Gass in the Journal. He names the three Indian tribes in what is today’s commonwealth—the Wampanoags, Mohegans and Mohicans—and notes that the Massachusetts seal, adopted in 1780, “portrays an Algonquian tribesman with a bow and arrow; the arrow is held downward, symbolizing peace.”

And of course it doesn’t end there.

“From Connecticut to Alaska and Oregon to Alabama, over half the states have Native American names, while Chicago, Milwaukee, Cheyenne, Seattle and Miami are among the cities with Indian identifiers,” Gass wrote in the November 26 edition of the newspaper. “Numerous rivers, including the Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Ohio and Chattahoochee, have Indian origins.”

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Then there are the American literature classics inspired by or referencing American Indians, he pointed out. Chingachgook, The Last of the Mohicans, was brought alive by James Fenimore Cooper; Captain Ahab’s ship in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick bore the name Pequod, and The Song of Hiawatha was all about the Ojibwe of Lake Superior.

The essay went on to talk about American Indian military involvement and the injustices and fabrications against Turtle Island’s Indigenous Peoples over the centuries since the United States took root. The piece serves as a concise history lesson for anyone seeking the larger, accurate, historical picture of how colonization went down.

Read Jamie Gass: End Ignorance About Native American History