“Yá'át'ééh,” it is good, a Navajo greeting

“Mique,” a Ute greeting

In the United States, November is designated National Native American Heritage Month. During this time, we affirm our commitment to working toward a society that fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diversity of culture and history of the 573 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native nations in our country. This November and every month, we celebrate the culture, heritage, and resilience of these remarkable Americans who deeply enrich the quality and character of our nation. Learn more about this year’s theme in the Presidential Proclamation on National Native American Heritage Month, 2019.

Jody TallBear stands at a podium with the DOE seal, on the large screen behind her is a map of the US with sections darkened.
Jody TallBear, Chief of the Civil Rights Division within ED, served as host.

On November 14th, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) hosted a celebration of National Native American Heritage Month at the Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Jody TallBear, Chief of the Civil Rights Division within ED, served as host, and the Director of ED, the Honorable James E. Campos, provided opening remarks. Attendees were fortunate to hear from four speakers representing a total of seven different tribes that provided historical stories of tragedy and resilience.

Jody TallBear, who is Dakota and Arapaho, provided a brief history of the Dakota tribe originally from present day Minnesota. Jody recounted the violent history that resulted in many Dakota being pushed west in the late 1800’s.

Attendees were treated to a musical performance by Dennis W. Zotigh, a Native American research historian with the National Museum of the American Indian. Mr. Zotigh is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. He performed songs honoring Native American women veterans.

Director Frost stands at a podium with the DOE seal; behind him is a US flag.

Director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs Kevin Frost provided the keynote.

In his keynote, Director of the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, Kevin Frost, provided an overview of the Southern Ute Tribe and highlighted how his tribe was able to transform itself with limited-to-no energy development experience into one of the most successful tribes in the country with respect to energy development. He attributed their success in part to the tribe’s emphasis on self-reliance; “they come to Washington, D.C., with solutions, not problems”. While the story is ultimately one of success, Director Frost noted that it is also “a story of loss.” He shared headlines like “The Utes Must Go” from old Colorado papers, and painful memories passed down through the generations. 

Jasmine Anderson, special assistant to Director Frost, shared the story of her tribe - the Pamunkey tribe. The Pamunkey tribe is one of the “first contact tribes”; the famed Pocahontas was a member. Ms. Anderson shared the damaging effects of “black laws” such as the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The act mandated that individuals be classified as “white” or “colored” on their birth certificates, thus stripping much of their identity. Enforcement went beyond new births and reclassified generations of Native Americans as “colored.” As a result, descendants are unable to obtain federal recognition today; losing out on the protections, services and benefits this affords.

Thank you to Director Campos, Director Frost, Ms. Anderson and Mr. Zotigh for sharing your time, experience and wisdom. An additional thank you to Chief TallBear for hosting and Collette Bankins for organizing the event.