Prof. Kiara Vigil: Why It Is Important To Highlight Roles Of Native Americans In History (audio)

Historians in the News
tags: film, radio, Native American history

A growing number of history and civics educators are trying to highlight the roles of Native Americans in U.S. history. For one professor in Massachusetts, that effort is personal.


A growing number of states and communities have changed the name of today's holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. It's part of a larger effort to highlight Native Americans in U.S. history. And for one professor in Massachusetts, that effort has been personal.

KIARA VIGIL: I'm Kiara Vigil. I'm an associate professor of American studies at Amherst College. And I'm also Dakota and Apache heritage, as well as Irish and Mexican.

VIGIL: So it's interesting to grow up in the Greater Boston area and learn about Native people or history. I think most folks learn about it through, first, Thanksgiving - right? - the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims. You learn about them again in terms of the 19th century and the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears. And then the Native people seem to drop out of the narrative.

My dad was very proud of being Native, but I think he didn't have as much access to it. He always hated Westerns. I think that kind of distrust of Hollywood's representation of Indigenous people totally was conveyed by my dad through his own experiences of racism. So we all knew those stories, but, you know, that doesn't tell you everything.

It was, like, third grade or fifth grade, and my dad gave me this book. I think it was, like, a history of the Sioux people or something like that. I also remember sitting up, like, in my bed at night before bed, and I would read it. It was very clear that that was a kind of missing piece in a bigger puzzle - you know, stories, histories that I wasn't getting immediate access to in school. So I had to kind of do supplementary reading on my own. And that just continued throughout life - you know, in elementary, high school and then college. And so it's not surprising to me that I found my way into being a teacher of history, a teacher of literature and culture.

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