Presidential Proclamation Sparks Debate
On Oct. 31, 2019, President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation declaring November to be National American History Month and Founders Month. Trump’s reasoning for this decision is that to continue ensuring the success and growth of the United States, it is important that the next generation be educated and aware of our country’s “proud history.” According to the text of the official proclamation on the White House website, “to continue safeguarding our freedom, we must develop a deeper understanding of our American story. Studying our country’s founding documents and exploring our unique history – both the achievements and challenges – is indispensable to the future success of our great Nation.”
There was initially a false claim that the White House had replaced Native American Heritage Month with this inaugural celebration. On the contrary, there was actually an additional proclamation issued on the same day discussing the importance of Native history. However, that statement cannot be found anywhere on the official White House website, unlike the controversial proclamation in question. This fact has remained unaddressed, which has created even more criticism. The main issue critics find with this decision is the ambiguous nature of it; it is unclear in its language who this new celebration is for.
The language within both proclamations has also created controversy. The proclamation of the National American History Month and Founders Month announcements made no mention of Native Americans and their genocide as an integral part of the founding the United States. According to a tribe member of the Oglala tribe, Simon MoyaSmith, the centering of the Founders (who were white men who referred to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages” in the Declaration of Independence) completely subverts the goal and importance of Native American Heritage Month. Many important indigenous leaders refuse to consider Trump’s intentions as anything but harmful due to the administration’s history of undermining indigenous people. His past actions in question are the approval of the Dakota access pipeline days into his presidency, his slashing of funding towards services that benefit Natives, his reference to Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” in an ignorant manner and his past joking tone when discussing the Wounded Knee massacre of Native Americans.
On the other hand, supporters of Trump and this proclamation argue that there is too much meaning being read into this decision. Their interpretation of Trump’s decision is solely on what was said and done, which is the creation of a new awareness campaign for American History without the erasure of Native American Heritage Month. President Trump did not neglect to declare November National Native American Heritage Month, continuing the tradition since 1990, which many have taken as a clear sign that Trump is not trying to replace or subvert the acknowledgement of Native history and its importance.
President Trump and his administration’s intention with this inaugural awareness campaign is ultimately unknown. Fortunately, neither critics nor supporters have been dissuaded from speaking out about the effects of such a decision. Both sides can agree that National American History Month and Founders Month have not been established with a clear acknowledgement of the effect they will have on the discussion of Native history. The administration has refused to comment on the issue, which has only further proved to Native leaders that Native issues really are being silenced. As November draws to a close, no more information has come to light about the administration’s alleged prioritization of America’s Founding Fathers over the country’s native populations. Therefore it’s simply up to each American to educate themselves on the history they find important.
By Yajaira Ramos-Ramirez, Staff Writer