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30 Stories for 30 Days of Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month

November 1, 2021

By Beatrice Alvarez

We are celebrating Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month by devoting more time to listening to the many creative people of Native American and Alaska Native heritage who carry on Indigenous traditions in a modern world. Each day in November, we are highlighting an individual or group who are telling their cultural stories via myriad different ways, from fashion to film to cuisine. Join us as we explore an Indigenous story each day this month.

*We will update this article throughout the month with new voices and films available to stream here and on the PBS Video app.

Bunky Echo-Hawk (Pawnee)

Multimedia artist Bunky Echo-Hawk ignites conversations around topics like environmentalism and Naive rights. He makes art showing that Indigenous culture is not only a thing of the past, while sharing his family and Pawnee traditions for future generations. Hear from him as he explains his motivations and ambitions in this episode of American Masters' In The Making.

American Masters

Bunky Echo-Hawk: The Resistance

How the reality of Native Americans inspires Pawnee artist Bunky Echo-Hawk's work.

2. Joy Harjo (Muskogee)

Poet Joy Harjo is serving her third term as U.S. Poet Laureate. Her words speak to the soul of our nation. You can hear Harjo read her poetry in this interview from New Mexico PBS show Colores!


United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo

United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo explores what is at the heart of her poetry.

3. Link Wray (Shawnee)

Learn about Link Wray, the rock guitar legend that created a sound so new and rebellious that his instrumental song, "Rumble" was banned for inciting violence. Seriously.

Enjoy the Independent Lens documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.

Independent Lens

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World

4. Daniel Golding (Quechan)

Golding's film Chasing Voices premiered on PBS in April of 2021. Golding's documentary tells the story of John Peabody Harrington, a man who spent his life documenting Native American languages. Many of the languages were thought be dead until Golding's research proved otherwise. Learn more about him and his work from our producing partner Vision Maker Media.

Vision Maker Media

Chasing Voices: The Story of John P. Harrington (Trailer)

American linguist and ethnologist John Peabody Harrington amassed well over one million pages of notes on over 100 different Native American languages during his 50-year career. Descendants of these lost speakers are now reviving their languages thanks to Harrington and the tribal elders who trusted him enough to speak.

More Information:
Don't forget to visit our Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month Page: 

Who is Vision Maker Media?

5. N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)

Pulitzer Prize-winner and prolific writer N. Scott Momaday was a formative voice in the time literary critics refer to as the Native American Renaissance. Learn about his life, from growing up with Kiowa storytelling traditions to the art he continues to make American Masters film N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear.

American Masters

N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear

Delve into the enigmatic life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet N. Scott Momaday

6. Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree)

Cree artist Buffy Sainte-Marie is often remembered around here for her time on Sesame Street, when she was featured along with her infant son from 1975 to 1981. Sainte-Marie was a successful singer and songwriter before that and her career has continued since. Hear her discuss her life's work, and what it was like to find out she was blacklisted and surveilled by the U.S. government in this interview with PBS39 program Articulate.


Buffy Sainte-Marie's Indefatigable Spirit

Buffy Sainte-Marie's 1960s protest songs made her the subject of FBI attention.

7. Charles "Boots" Kennedye (Kiowa)


Filmmaker Charles "Boots" Kennedye has focused his storytelling career highlighting Native American and Indigenous experiences. His latest project is focused on modern life for Alaska Native families. You can watch the series on Vision Maker Media's YouTube channel this month.

Vision Maker Media

Growing Native Alaska: People of the North Trailer

8. Sequoyah (Cherokee)

Before Sequoyah, the Cherokee language was spoken, but not written. By all accounts, he was a Renaissance man who took it upon himself to document the language 200 years ago, creating the Cherokee Syllabary. That was in addition to his many other accomplishments as a soldier, artist, and statesman. The documentary Searching For Sequoyah explores his legendary life and the mysteries of his death. 

Vision Maker Media

Searching for Sequoyah (Trailer)

"Searching for Sequoyah" is the first documentary feature to chronicle the legendary accomplishments and mysterious life of the famed Cherokee Renaissance man, Sequoyah. While much is known about Sequoyah and his many accomplishments, we know very little about the man himself. 

The greatest mystery is not how he created the Cherokee syllabary, but rather the details of his final journey to Mexico and the circumstances of his death.

More Information:


Don't forget to visit our Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month Page:

Who is Vision Maker Media?

9. Maria Tallchief (Osage)

The first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet was the magnetic ballerina Maria Tallchief. She was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma and her father was Osage. Tallchief was widely known on stage for her Firebird role, which was created for her by famed choreographer George Ballanchine. Off-stage, she advocated for Native American rights and spoke out against discrimination.

Chicago Tonight

Web Extra: Maria Tallchief 1978

We look back at a 1978 John Callaway Interviews episode with Maria Tallchief.

10. Bethany Yellowtail (Crown, North Cheyenne)

Fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail gave audiences insight into her creative process in the Independent Lens alter-Native series. Her design talent serves to increase Indigenous representation in an industry that has often profited from cultural appropriation.

Indie Lens Storycast

alter-NATIVE Ep. 1 "Bethany Yellowtail: Sun Road Woman and Fashion Designer"

11. Sandy White Hawk (Sincagu Lakota)

Sandy White Hawk is a survivor of the Indian Adoption Era, when Native American children were taken from their families by the government and placed in white homes. She tells her personal story of reconnecting with the Lakota culture she was cut off from, and going on to advocate for the thousands of others who were separated from their heritage. Hear her story in the America ReFramed film Blood Memory.

America ReFramed

Blood Memory

A survivor of America’s Indian Adoption Era helps Native adoptees find their way home.

12. Jeremy Dennis (Shinnecock)

Photographer Jeremy Dennis explores Indigenous identity, culture, and assimilation through his art work. He also helps other artists to create their own explorations of culture and identity by making space for them in his family home on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Long Island, New York. Learn more about how he is preserving history by making contemporary art in the film The First Twenty: Ma's House.

The First Twenty

The First Twenty: Ma’s House

Shinnecock Indian Nation photographer Jeremy Dennis explores Native American art.

13. Louise Herne (Mohawk)

 The storied site of the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY is on land belonging to the Haudenosaunee. Six nations joined together to form the Haudenosaunee Confederacy: the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora, and they are a matriarchal society. The women's suffrage movement drew heavily from the these matriarchs, yet they have been largely written out of the history books. See the women's rights movement anew,  through the perspective of Mohawk Clan Mother Louise Herne in the PBS Short Film Festival film Without a Whisper.

PBS Short Film Festival

Without a Whisper

The untold untold story of how Indigenous women influenced the early suffragists.

14. Julian Brave NoiseCat (Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen)

Julian Brave NoiseCat is a journalist and political strategist. His work centers Indigenous perspectives across disciplines. Most recently, he worked to increase representation of Native American voices in government, specifically at the Department of the Interior, an agency whose past leaders included some who sought to destroy Native cultures. In this clip from NewsHour he discusses just how meaningful it is to have Native American and Indigenous people in leadership roles.

PBS NewsHour

Why Native Americans are celebrating Rep. Haaland’s nomination

15. The Sacred Cypher (Jicarilla Apache, Diné, Navajo)

Albuquerque, New Mexico-based dance crew The Sacred Cypher demonstrates the close connection between Indigenous and hip hop cultures with each performance. Indigenous dancers from the many different tribes in the area come together to tell their stories through the art of dance. Learn more about The Sacred Cypher from this episode of KQED's If Cities Could Dance.

If Cities Could Dance

Albuquerque's Native American Hip-Hop Dance

Albuquerque’s hip-hop & freestyle dance scene is influenced by various Indigenous tribes

16. Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux)

Gertrude Simmons Bonnin was born in 1876 on the Yankston Reservation, but later renamed herself Zitkála-Šá which means "red bird" in the Lakota language. She saw the deeply negative impact of the strict  assimilation measures at the core of Indian boarding schools and wrote about her time as a teacher at the Carlisle Indian School in a series of exposés published in the Atlantic Monthly. She continued to advocate for Native American rights while working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and writing the first American Indian opera, based on healing practices of many tribes across the Great Plains. Learn more about her life's work in the American Masters digital portrait featured in the Unladylike2020 series.

American Masters

Zitkála-Šá: Trailblazing American Indian Composer and Writer

Zitkála-Šá co-composed and wrote the libretto for the first American Indian opera.

17. Tommy Orange (Cheyenne, Arpaho)

Tommy Orange's debut novel "There There" explored identity and myth through its American Indian characters. Readers and critics alike loved the book, which connects historical events like the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island to today's generations of Native youths. Hear Orange read from his exceptional work in this University Place episode from PBS Wisconsin.

University Place

There There: A Reading by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange reads from his Pulitzer Prize nominated novel.

18. Jeffrey Palmer (Kiowa)

Artist and filmmaker Jeffrey Palmer takes great care to represent Indigenous experiences in all their diversity and cultural adaptations. He recalls listening to his Kiowa family and elders tell stories in his upbringing and carries on that storytelling in his own work. His documentary profile of Kiowa artist and writer N. Scott Momaday for American Masters displays all facets of a compelling story: lush soundscapes, connections to the land, and artistic visuals.

American Masters

N. Scott Momaday: Words From a Bear

Delve into the enigmatic life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet N. Scott Momaday

19. Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha)

Susan La Flesche Picotte was born on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska in 1865. Encouraged to pursue higher education and driven to help her community, she earned a medical degree and became a physician. She returned home, to the reservation, and treated everyone who needed help. Dr. La Flesche saw patients in her home and made house calls, arriving on foot or via horse and buggy. She also achieved her lifelong goal of founding a hospital on the Omaha Reservation in 1913 and left a legacy of culturally competent medical care in her community.

The First American Indian Doctor
American Masters

The First American Indian Doctor

Susan La Flesche Picotte became the first American Indian woman doctor.

20. Billy Luther (Hopi, Navajo, Laguna Pueblo)

Billy Luther’s award-winning documentaries share Native American stories with wider audiences. Luther explores and honors his own Navajo, Hopi, and Laguna Pueblo heritage through filmmaking. His documentaries, whether it’s Miss Navajo (2007) or Alter-NATIVE: Kitchen (2019), tell the contemporary Native American stories that he didn’t see in film and on television as a kid. You can stream his work in Alter-NATIVE and Alter-NATIVE: Kitchen via Independent Lens.

Independent Lens

alter-NATIVE: Kitchen, Episode 5

What Is “Pre-Colonial” Cooking?

21. Ben-Alex Dupris (Miniconjou Lakota)

Ben-Alex Dupris directed the 2020 PBS Short Film Festival entry “Sweetheart Dancers,” in which he explored the respect and acceptance of Two-Spirit people within Indigenous communities. Dupris uses the story of a dance competition to highlight the damaging effects of assimilation efforts that stripped Native Americans of their cultural traditions and belief systems. More recently, Dupris created one of eight profiles of emerging cultural icons as part of American Masters’ In The Making collection. You can watch Sweetheart Dancers on Kanopy and stream his American Masters short film on Pawnee artist Bunky Echo-Hawk on the PBS app.

American Masters

Bunky Echo-Hawk: The Resistance

How the reality of Native Americans inspires Pawnee artist Bunky Echo-Hawk's work.

22. Brian Yazzie (Navajo, Diné)

Chef Brian Yazzie makes meals that blend modern techniques with Indigenous ingredients. He is a traveling chef while also mentoring Native youth. Originally from Arizona, Yazzie attended culinary school in Minnesota. There, he met his own mentors who were expanding Native cuisine and encouraged him to continue connecting Native communities to their land via Indigenous ingredients.  You can see Yazzie in action in the Independent Lens Alter-NATIVE: Kitchen collection.

Independent Lens

alter-NATIVE: Kitchen, Episode 1

How This Navajo Chef Brings His Native Food Traditions Back

23. Stevie Salas (Apache)

Rock guitarist Stevie Salas set out to make a documentary about his rock and roll heroes. Salas produced Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, a film that explores the Indigenous roots of the foundational sounds of American music genres like rock, pop, jazz, and blues. The story is told through artists who themselves were influenced by the sounds of Native American musical heroes, ensuring music history records the contributions of Indigenous artists. You can watch Rumble, which first aired on Independent Lens in 2019, on the PBS app until the end of November.

California Film Institute

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD - Q&A with Executive Producer Stevie Salas

May 2017 – DocLands Closing Night Q&A with 'Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World' Executive Producer Stevie Salas

24. Jordan Dresser (Northern Arapaho)

Jordan Dresser, film producer and current Chairman of the Northern Arapaho tribe, is dedicated to uplifting Native American stories and contemporary art in different forms. He wrote about the present-day battle over tribal lands and how a land developer or tourist might see the same place so very differently than Indigenous people who care for the land because it represents home and heritage as it related to the Independent Lens film Conscience Point. Dresser co-produced a film about modern Indigenous artists from the Wind River Reservation: The Art of Home. He also helped bring another important story to light: Home From School: The Children of Carlisle, which documents the healing process 130 years after Native American boys died at an Indian boarding school.

Independent Lens

Home From School: The Children Of Carlisle

Native Americans recover the remains of children who died at an Indian boarding school.

25. Princess Daazrhaii Johnson (Neets'aii Gwich'in)

Princess Daazrhaii Johnson is able to share her Neets-aii Gwich’in heritage through the eyes of a child. Her stories, and those of many other Alaska Native people, are reflected in the PBS Kids series Molly of Denali. In an interview with PBS Hawaii’s Long Story Short, Johnson discusses her upbringing and how parts of her family history, like loss of certain Native traditions due to forced assimilation, were difficult to face. She also notes how her family instilled in her a deep connection to storytelling and the significance of maintaining Indigenous traditions.


‘Molly of Denali’ Producers Discuss WGBH Involvement In New PBS Kids Show

‘Molly of Denali’ Creative Producer Princess Daazhraii Johnson and Executive Producer and Co-Creator Dorothea Gillim provide behind-the-scenes insight on the creation of the new PBS Kids animated series based in the fictional Alaskan village of Qyah. The show is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature a Native American lead character. The series is also the first series to feature a curriculum called informational text, a foundational aspect of literacy education. Informational texts are designed to convey information and can include written words, images, graphics, video and oral language.

26. Sarah Ortegon (Shoshone, Northern Arapaho)

Sarah Ortegon recalls feeling fully herself on weekends as a child when she visited with family on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Now a multimedia artist, Indigenous stories are central to her art. At times, she discovers Shoshone and Arapaho connections in her work that she previously had not known about, helping her learn more about modern ties to her ancestral past. You can learn more about her and other Native American artists in The Art of Home: A Wind River Story.

The Art of Home: A Wind River Story

The Art of Home: A Wind River Story

Two indigenous artists create new works and define what it means to be a "native artist."

27. Phillip Kilirunguq Blanchett (Inuit Yup'ik)

Phillip Kilirunguq Blanchett co-founded the band Pamyua with his brother in Anchorage, Alaska. He describes their sound as “Inuit Soul” and it blends different elements of traditional Yup’ik and R&B music. Pamyua’s music is a clear representation of Blanchett and his bandmates and their interwoven cultures. Blanchett is featured in this episode of Indie Alaska, available to stream now on the PBS app.

Indie Alaska

Pamyua, Alaska's most famous Inuit band | INDIE ALASKA

Pamyua is the Inuit soul music group from Alaska wow-ing audiences worldwide.

28. Julianna Brannum (Comanche)

Julianna Brannum has been making documentaries and films for over 15 years. Her work includes American Experience’s We Shall Remain, Native America, and the recent Independent Lens film Conscience Point, a documentary on the Shinnecock Nation in what is now known as Long Island, NY. Her 2014 film LaDonna Harris: Indian 101 was a personal journey, as the Native activist and civil rights leader was also Brannum’s great aunt. The documentary was exemplary of Brannum’s mission to tell more modern-day, positive Native American stories. While it is important to understand the tragic events in this country’s history of state-sponsored displacement and cultural harm, it is just as critical to make space for all the contemporary Indigenous experiences of strength and excellence.

Independent Lens

Trailer | Conscience Point

A Native American woman fights to protect her tribe from development in the Hamptons.

29. Chris Eyre (Cheyenne, Arpaho)

Vision Maker Media

Growing Native Alaska: People of the North Trailer

30. N. Bruce Duthu (Houma)

Independent Lens


Watch this film up to November 30th.

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