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Native American Heritage Month

DEC Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, and during this month, we take the time to recognize the work that Indigenous peoples have done, and continue to do, to protect our shared environment. Over the past few years, our Indigenous neighbors have protected the Allegany River from pollution (leaves DEC website), installed solar panels to generate clean energy at Onondaga (leaves DEC website), and removed a dam blocking fish migration up the Saint Regis River (leaves DEC website).

basket with beaded details
Bird's Beak Basket by Sheila Ransom (Mohawk),
on loan from the New York State Museum. Named
for the thin woven splints of black ash
that resemble beaks of birds. Made of black ash.

Despite the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 20 months, many Indigenous people are at the vanguard of protecting New York's environment. For example, earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the Seneca Nation's application to assume regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) in a manner similar to a state, enabling the Nation to implement its own water quality standards and certification programs, as well as to participate in CWA grant programs. With this designation, the Seneca Nation is developing water quality standards and certifying federal permits and license uses for surface waters within and upstream from Nation territories.

To show respect for our Indigenous neighbors, DEC joined in the process of renaming agency-managed resources. These include Skenoh Island, in Canandaigua Lake (See local news reports about the name change.)(leaves DEC website) and Ganowtachgerage Road in Hammond Hill State Forest. DEC welcomes public input on additional changes to location names. Please email justice@dec.ny.gov with suggestions.

DEC has also begun consulting with interested Indigenous Nations during the development of recreation and unit management plans, which guide how DEC manages the properties held in trust for all New Yorkers. Our goal is to make these lands more welcoming to all people, including Native people, and to explore how we can better integrate environmental stewardship practices with opportunities to sustain Native cultures.

collection of beaded items with place names and dates
These Tuscarora beadwork whimsies were hand sewn and made
of felt and glass beads. The Seneca and Mohawk people are known
for their beadwork today, but Tuscarora is famous for the "raised"
patterns, made of multiple layers of beads upon felt backgrounds,
and for a variety of shapes including hearts, horseshoes, picture
frames, shoes, and wall pockets. The whimsies are often labeled
with the place and date of sale. These were created by a variety
of artists. "Niagara Falls Hat" and assorted Tuscarora beadwork
whimsies, on loan from Grant Jonathan (Tuscarora).

During the month of November, DEC Central Office will be displaying materials on loan from the New York State Museum. Items include baskets made of black ash and sweet grass from Akwesasne, traditional and modern beadwork from Tuscarora, and arrowheads and other tools from archaeological sites in the Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area. These materials exemplify not just the relationship our Indigenous neighbors have with the environment, but also the cooperation that underpins the relationship between DEC and Indigenous people.

As we recognize Native American Heritage Month, we ask all of you to consider how your own actions may impact Native people and cultures. DEC also encourages you to learn more about how we can strengthen our relationship with nature and each other. You can find more information about Native American Heritage Month at https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/ (leaves DEC website).


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