Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month is a commemorative month celebrated every November to pay tribute to the many sacrifices, contributions, and achievements of Native American people. 

It is also an opportunity to educate us about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.

We recognize Native Americans as the original inhabitants, explorers, and settlers of the United States. We honor the rich ancestry, traditions, and culture of Native American people, and acknowledge the work that needs to be done to ensure the rights and recognition of Indigenous Peoples across America.

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Recognition of Indigenous People of the Tennessee Valley and Trail of Tears

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The Shoals area has a rich history. According to the Muscle Shoals Heritage Area, the original inhabitants of the Tennessee Valley included the Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes. Early European interactions with Native Peoples tended to be more violent than peaceful. Between the Revolutionary War in 1776 and Creek War of 1813-14, Native American tribes endured many tragedies coming in the form of false agreements and treaties from European and Euro-American settlers. 

The year 1830 began the tragic removal of Native American tribes from their sacred homelands, known as the Trail of Tears. There are many routes documented in the Trail of Tears. One infamous route follows the Tennessee River from highway 72 through the Courtland-Decatur railroad. The long enduring trek that many tribes took is remembered as a tragedy for the many who suffered and died during this inhumane forced removal.

Remembrance, Resistance, and Joy

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Native Americans are not a monolith. There are over 600 tribes in the U.S. Each tribe has its own unique culture, language, foods, dances, songs, stories and beliefs. Each nation has its own sovereignty.

Recognition of the resistance of Native and Indigious people is important in remembering that even though Native people have suffered immensely, they have been able to preserve their culture and hold on to their joy. 

Visit the Shoals

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There are several historic sites and festivals in the Shoals area that we encourage you to learn more about: 

Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area (MSNHA), hosted by the University of North Alabama with offices in Florence, was officially designated by Congress in 2009. The MSNHA spans the six counties of north Alabama’s Tennessee River water basin and was developed to help preserve the history of this region by focusing on three main themes: music, Native American heritage, and the Tennessee River.

Sacred Way Sanctuary The mission of the Sanctuary is to educate the world regarding the true history of the horse in the Americas and its relationship with the Indigenous Peoples. This historical reconstruction has been compiled by combining Traditional Knowledge from a number of Native Nations with cutting edge academic research.

Oka Kapassa Return to Coldwater Festival is an annual festival held at Tuscumbia’s Spring Park. The Oka Kapassa festival uses storytelling, dancing, music, traditional cuisine, crafts, and demonstrations to celebrate the culture and traditions of Native Americans who once thrived in the area. 

The Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, also known as the Tom Hendrix Wall or Te-lah-nay’s Wall, memorializes the journey of Tom Hendrix’s great-great-grandmother, Te-lah-nay. Taken from her home with the Yuchi people along the Tennessee River and forced to march to Oklahoma in the Trail of Tears, Te-lah-nay spent one winter in Oklahoma before embarking on a five-year journey back to Alabama. Taking Hendrix thirty years to construct, the wall is unique to Florence and the United States in that it is the largest un-mortared rock wall in the U.S. as well as the largest memorial to a Native American woman.

The Florence Indian Mound Museum stands at the base of Florence’s own Indian mound – one of the largest Woodland period mounds in the state of Alabama at forty-three feet tall. Visitors can walk to the top of the mound via stairs free of charge and pay a small museum entrance fee to view artifacts found on the property dating as far back as 10,000 years.

Also be sure to visit our Native American History Month Exhibit in Collier Library that is on display during the month of November.