November is Native American Heritage Month: Change-Making Projects in the Arts and Humanities

dancer on stage with topographical-ethnographical map of Alaska in background Courtesy of Alaska Native Heritage Center

What started at the turn of the 20th century as an effort to establish a national day of recognition has come to be an annual, month-long observance of the significant contributions of Indigenous communities across the US. Native American Heritage month, observed in November, offers us an occasion to look to our grantees working at the fore of issues and opportunities impacting native and indigenous people. 

Below we profile the dynamic work of Alaska Native Heritage Center, which represents the state’s 11 major Native groups; highlight the growing momentum toward cultural repatriation in the digital space; and look back at our story about the robust programs dedicated to advancing the next generation of Native American cultural leaders at the Peabody Essex and Heard museums. 

building a qayaqCourtesy of Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Visitors to the Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC) can encounter the past through exhibitions and a collection of art and objects. Since its founding more than 20 years ago, the Anchorage-based nonprofit has been dedicated to not only preserving Alaska’s Native culture, languages, and art, but also redefining those traditions with contemporary artists, knowledge keepers, and learners. “The ANHC is a living cultural center,” says Emily Edenshaw, its president and CEO. The center brings Native stories “from behind the museum glass,” as Edenshaw has said, by providing youth-centered education, internships, wellness and healing outreach, and other programming and services to Native communities. 

A current project is Utuqqanaatmiñ, a three-year, Mellon-funded initiative to create innovative Indigenous programming that will drive social change and community healing. Utuqqanaatmiñ (an Inupiat word meaning “from our elders”) will deepen ANHC’s existing partnership with the nonprofit Alaska Art Alliance, which supports Native men struggling with substance misuse, homelessness, and reentry from incarceration by providing a shared workspace and materials for them to create and sell artworks. The partnership expands Alaska Art Alliance’s peer-based, non-Western methods for inspiring personal growth and building emotional and economic stability through the creative process of making art. 

At the heart of ANHC’s strategic plan is the fundamental understanding that social enterprise brings cultural vibrancy and economic sovereignty, which from an Indigenous perspective is true sovereignty.

More Stories

Indigenous Communities Reclaiming Their Histories in the Digital Space 

Sharing may be the currency of our open-source digital age, but in some cultures not everything is meant to be made public. For Indigenous communities, viewing a ritual object, even in reproduction on a website, might be strictly reserved for tribal elders who fully understand its meaning. A grassroots effort to create a tool to address those concerns resulted in Mukurtu, a community access platform now used by more than 600 communities globally. Read more here. 

Two people in a museum store room with a painting in the background.The Peabody Essex Museum hosts a field-leading fellowship program for emerging Native American leaders. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.

How Can Museums Deepen Their Commitments to Native American Perspectives? 

The Peabody Essex Museum, which houses the oldest ongoing collection of Native art in the Western Hemisphere, hosts a fellowship program dedicated to fostering and advancing the next generation of Native American leaders in the cultural sector. Last January, as the Peabody’s program entered its second decade (est. 2010), we profiled PEM and regional efforts being undertaken by the Heard Museum. Read more here.

Visit PEM’s website for information about applying for the next round of summer or long-term fellowships. 


Centering Native American Knowledge: Notable among 2021 grantmaking in the Higher Learning Program are:  $1.1 million to support a Native language preservation strategy with a focus on capacity-building at 37 tribal colleges, $1.4 million to the Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies Research at Northwestern University to create a national network of Native American and Indigenous studies programs and $1.6 million to continue support for the Native American Scholars Initiative at the American Philosophical Society.

Supporting Native Art and Artists: The Arts and Culture Program renewed support for the Advancing Indigenous Performance Program,  awarded a capacity-building grant for the new Center for Native Arts and Cultures, and supported the Native Performing Artist Leadership Program and programming at Oglala Lakota Artspace.