by Amy L. Covell-Murthy
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is observed in the City of Pittsburgh alongside Columbus Day and I would like to suggest some ways to observe the holiday for those who do not claim Indigenous heritage. In a state with no habitable federally recognized Indigenous land, Native people are all too often seen as existing only in the past. While educating yourself on the Indigenous history of the region is an important part of observing the holiday, it’s also important to recognize that many First Nations people live, work, and play in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. Indigenous Peoples’ Day should not be a memorial, but a recognition of the important history and cultural heritage of those who are the past, present, and future caretakers of this land. Here are some things you can do to respectfully celebrate on October 11, 2021.
Learn about the people who have called Pittsburgh home. Many different cultural groups have occupied the Upper Ohio River Valley including but not limited to the Delaware/Lenape, the Haudenosaunee, the Shawnee, and the Wyandotte. The Osage Nation also claims origin in the Ohio River Valley, and you can learn about all these nations on their official websites. I also suggest hitting up your local library to check out books on these groups as well as the cultural traditions and ancestors who came before them. This region was home to those who are often referred to as the Adena, Hopewell, and Monongahela. But keep in mind, we have no idea what they called themselves. Here are some resources:
Educate Yourself Some More
Learn about the history that may have been left out of your primary and secondary school curriculums. You may be unaware of the atrocities that Indigenous people faced in the State of Pennsylvania. Many First Pennsylvanians were forced from their homelands and infected with unfamiliar diseases by colonizers. Later, beginning in 1879, the first assimilation school was created in Carlisle, PA and used as a model for 24 additional institutions whose primary goal was to force Indigenous children to abandon their Native languages and customs. In the 1960s, the building of the Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River upstream from Warren, PA forced Seneca Nation citizens to move into the State of New York, breaking the 1794 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Indigenous communities thrive despite these events and institutions, but it is important to recognize and not try to hide these gruesome parts of our shared American history. You can find more information about these examples on these websites:
Carlisle Indian School Project
Support Local Indigenous Groups
The Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center is a regional intertribal nonprofit that promotes the socio-economic development of the Native American community and others who experience the same type of economic difficulties in the Greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area. One way to support them is to plan to attend their annual Pow Wow that is held just outside of Pittsburgh in Dorseyville in late September. Learn more about their Early Childhood Education, Native American Elders, Veterans, and Employment programs here:
Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center (website)
Council of Three River American Indian Center (Facebook page)
Honor the Land
Planting Native Pennsylvanian plants is a wonderful way to honor our connection to the Earth and to provide food and shelter for the diverse species who live here. You can learn about how Indigenous People use trees, ferns, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and grasses to enhance their quality of life. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania offer suggestions for those who are interested:
Landscaping with Native Plants
List of Western PA Native Plants
Attend an Online or In Person Event
Many cities around the United States hold events to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A quick Google Search can point you in the right direction. I’m going to be learning about the current racial and social landscape from young Black-Indigenous activists at the Smithsonian. You can tune in to the National Museum of the American Indian at 1 p.m. on October 11th to attend this free webinar titled, Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Black-Indigenous Youth Advancing Social Justice.
Support Indigenous Artists, Authors, Film Makers, and Musicians
You have so many options! The Sundance Institute has a version of its 2021 Indigenous Short Film Tour available to stream. It’s an 85-minute program featuring 7 short films. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh website offers staff picks and lists of Indigenous authors. My favorite is a list of Indigenous Science Fiction from 2020 which is intended for adults, but they also have lists of Indigenous books for children and teens. Independent Lens presented a list of Indigenous musicians you should know in 2019, which included Raye Zaragoza and Pamyua. You can support Indigenous artists by purchasing art through the online gift shop of the Seneca Iroquois National Museum/Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center.
Help Change Derogatory Mascots and Place Names
Sign petitions, attend community forums, and advocate for the changing of harmful stereotypes and offensive signage in our community. From the Cleveland Guardians to Hemlock Hollow Road, there are many instances of this happening around us. The National Congress of American Indians offers a state tracker of schools with offensive mascots, and Pennsylvania has 45 districts and 115 schools who need a change.
Consider Donating Time or Resources
The Seneca Iroquois National Museum/ Onöhsagwë:de’ Cultural Center is only a few hours’ drive from Pittsburgh and occasionally may be looking for volunteers. Check their website and follow their social media accounts (Instagram and Facebook) for more information.
If you are able, here are just a few organizations who can use your help:
Native American Agriculture Fund
Indigenous Environmental Network
So, join me in unlearning some Columbus Day myths and celebrating the cultural diversity of Indigenous People throughout the history of our region. Remember that the best places to start educating yourself are the local libraries and museums. Carnegie Museum of Natural History offers guided tours of our cultural halls that strengthen the messages we wish to share with the community. Visit the Alcoa Hall of American Indians to learn more about the Tlingit, Lakota, Hopi, and Haudenosaunee, and keep in mind that there are so many other Indigenous groups, traditions, nations, and organizations for you to explore on your own!
Amy L. Covell-Murthy is Archaeology Collection Manager at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.
An Indigenous Presence: Cultural Survivance and Contemporary American Indian Art & Design
Seldom Seen: Archaeological Textiles in the Eastern United States
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: Covell-Murthy, Amy L.
Publication date: October 11, 2021