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Native American Heritage Month 2021: Exhibit Descriptions

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-two Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries, including the Akimel O’odham & Pee Posh Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of the Salt River Valley allows us to be here today


Two book exhibits were created for Native American Heritage Month this year. One at ASU's West Campus Fletcher Library, with "Broken Promises" as the overarching theme. The second at ASU's Tempe Campus Hayden Library, "Reunite, Reignite, Revitalize" counters Fletcher's theme to highlight ways in which Indigenous Peoples are fighting back against Broken Promises in the modern-day setting.

Fletcher Library's Broken Promises display has 6 different areas of promises to Indigenous peoples that have been broken and the repercussions the communities have faced.

Fletcher Library

Broken Promises

Indigenous communities in the United States have experienced, and continue to endure, unfulfilled promises and destructive compromises made with the United States. Knowing these broken promises is integral to understanding the relationship between Indigenous people and the United States as a colonialist force. Even in 2021, there is a lack of awareness about the history of these Broken Promises. Labriola's purpose in curating this display is to change that. The books the Labriola Center has chosen highlight past policies and treaties that did not protect Indigenous people. This display also points out the laws that fail to recognize that Indigenous communities need protection. We stress the importance of becoming educated on these issues during Native American Heritage Month. However, we feel recognition of our history should be more than just one month out of the year. This display is not the first time Indigenous people have pushed these broken promises into the public eye and it certainly will not be the last. 

The book display contains six sections that represent the different types of broken promises. You may notice some titles overlap with multiple categories. These instances show the complex nature of Indigenous people's history with America's government system.

How can we help to amend these broken promises? Answers to this question can be found at the Labriola display at Hayden Library. The display at Hayden coincides with the Native American Heritage Month Committee’s theme for this year. The theme being Reunite, Reignite, Revitalize

Boarding Schools

One of the ways to eradicate a culture is to go after their youngest generation. In 1819, the United States passed the Indian Civilization Act promising to provide a western education to Native American children. The promise of this law allowed the US government to carry out systematic cultural genocide and disguise it as American education. In 1879, the United States opened one of the first off-reservation boarding schools in Pennsylvania, the Carlisle Indian School. The goal of this school was to "Kill the Indian and Save the Man". Indigenous students were taken miles away from their families, stripped of their cultural practices, and punished for using their Native languages. All of these horrific acts disconnected Native American youth from their communities and heritage. The Carlisle Indian School led to the establishment of over 350 boarding schools across the United States. It was common for students to experience abuse at these boarding schools. Death for the Indigenous students was also all too common. This past June, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland created the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. This US initiative is the first to critically examine the troubled history of federal boarding schools and their lasting generational impact on Indigenous communities. 


When it comes to decisions of environmental concern on what should be treaty protected sovereign lands, Indigenous people and leaders have been historically, and continue to be, excluded from participating in important decision making processes impacting their lands. From destructive uranium mining on the Navajo Nation that began in the 1940s, to the drainage of sacred waters in O’odham lands in Arizona, to the treatment of wastewater in Hawai’i homes, and the struggle to stop Pipe Line 3, an oil pipeline that would disrupt hundreds of miles of Indigenous lands in both the U.S. and Canada, all of these environmental issues have resulted from the vast majority of treaties and U.S. promises to protect Indigenous sovereign lands being broken. Despite these environmental injustices, Indigenous people are developing ways to overcome the resulting negative health impacts, such as Navajo high school students’ utilizing ArcGIS, GPS receivers, and Indigenous knowledge to create a water user database for water system maintenance and to identify homes that may have leaks in their water system. Ultimately, this database will protect the community from any contaminated water and harmful health effects consuming unsafe water, which could lead to numerous health issues.

Indigenous Sovereignty 

In the eyes of the American government, legitimate Indigenous sovereignty is a governmental relationship between Tribal Nations and the United States that is formed by the U.S. Constitution, treaties, and executive orders. This relationship is given form by the Federal Indian trust responsibility where the U.S. has a legal obligation to protect and uphold tribal treaties, rights, lands, and resources for the benefit of Tribal Nations. However, relying on western governmental practices to define sovereignty diminishes Indigenous sovereignty to something that is not inherent to Native people, but rather given to Native people. This results in the US government having the power to decide how and when it will recognize and uphold tribal sovereignty and who gets to have tribal sovereignty. This has led to the U.S. breaking most of its promises to Tribes and opened the Tribes to immeasurable harm. However, without sovereignty, Indigenous communities become a racial group with no Tribal Nation autonomy or protection. As we move towards the future, it is important to recognize what sovereignty means to Native people. Indigenous sovereignty is about independence, identity, and self-determination. Hopefully, the future will continue to move towards Indigenous sovereignty being about the empowerment of Indigenous people by Indigenous standards. 

Intellectual Property

In an age where technology has advanced so fast, it is a challenge to keep up with how to properly protect people and their data. When it comes to Indigenous people and the protection of intellectual property, the question is now how to properly protect Indigenous knowledge and content. In addition, we are asking what does data sovereignty mean for Indigenous people. There is often a struggle in how “legal” ownership, such as patents, are created for Indigenous knowledge, when there are many Indigenous oral stories, sound and video recordings of cultural activities that have been in possession by institutions, mostly anthropologists, decades before intellectual property concerns became a priority. For the library world, this also refers to archivism, this means reevaluating public access to Indigenous material, and reincorporating respective tribal leaders in the repatriation process, or developing protocols to ensure any cultural memory is returned to its proper cultural context. Solving these kinds of issues is difficult, but these books can help us to understand the multitude of ways Indigenous knowledge and data can and should be protected. 

Land Rights

Tribal nations’ land rights across Turtle Island and Hawai’i have been completely ignored. For Native Americans, land rights stem from both a political process, through treaties, and from their cultural knowledge. Tribes use treaties to define their national borders, which defines their tribal jurisdiction over their lands and citizens. In addition, Tribes rely on their oral stories and cultural teachings to determine their traditional territories. These traditional territories, although sometimes existing outside their national borders, are still considered to be a part of their lands and integral to their culture. So, it is important to know and acknowledge whose lands you are on. Arizona State University has officially released a Land Acknowledgement statement which states its institutions sit on the ancestral homelands of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh peoples. It is also important to note that Arizona is home to Twenty-three Tribal nations. By doing the research and learning whose lands you are currently occupying, you are supporting the efforts of Tribal nations to continue in their efforts to maintain, protect, and strengthen their connection to their lands, whether it be politically or culturally.

Treaties, Policies, and Laws

The United States government signed one of its first treaties with Indigenous peoples in 1778, and broke this treaty a few years later in 1782. Since then, hundreds of treaties between Indigenous peoples and the U.S. government have been ratified and all of the treaties have been broken. Despite this, Indigenous peoples continue to leverage treaties, and federal policy and laws for the betterment of their communities. Navigating these laws and policies is challenging when there are many issues and shortcomings of laws that keep Indigenous people safe and protected. One such policy is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Tribes used this act to strengthen their law enforcement efforts to better protect their community. This allowed Tribes to create laws that could help protect Indigenous women from harm and create protocols to ensure proper consequences are taken when harm does befall Indigenous women. Although this act provided a great opportunity for Tribes to protect their communities, it had its shortcomings. The act needs to be reauthorized by Congress every couple of years. Fortunately, we are seeing an increase in Indigenous lawyers, politicians, and government officials, who are fighting for their people and who can support acts, such as VAWA, to ensure they are reauthorized. Tribes will continue to fight for protection, improve Indigenous lives, and ensure that no more promises get broken.

Hayden Library

Reunite, Reignite, Revitalize

In light of Native American Heritage Month, the Labriola Student librarians created two complimentary book displays. One display, here, at the Hayden Library and another at the Fletcher Library on West campus. The West campus book display highlights the Broken Promises that Indigenous communities in the ‘United States’ have experienced, and continue to endure. Here at Hayden Library, we want to showcase the variety of ways Indigenous peoples are tackling these Broken Promises and how our communities Reunite, Reignite, and Revitalize our cultures, traditions, and what it means to be Indigenous in the 21st century. 

Before the settler colonial term “Native Americans”...

There was an intersectional Indigenous existence, without segregation of border walls and settler colonial domination. There was once a time we all existed as the first “People” or “Human beings” on the lands we all know today as “North and South America.” In the face of colonization, attempted genocide, forced assimilation, and ethnic cleansing, Indigenous people continue to acknowledge their relations to one another and continue to battle settler colonization together. This book display acknowledges our ties to Indigenous relatives beyond U.S. borders, as we all continue to Reunite, Reignite, and Revitalize. Indigenous peoples have always had a mutual exchange of knowledge and unique ways of living, which is why we highlight books from other Indigenous communities outside the ‘U.S.’ We are beyond the settler term “Native American.”

Completed signs that are up on display!

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-three Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.