By STEVEN NALLEY
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman issued a proclamation on Nov. 12 recognizing November as National American Indian Heritage Month at the encouragement of the Hic-A-Sha-Ba-Ha Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
National American Indian Heritage Month was approved by the U.S. Congress and then-President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Hellen Polk, chapter chairman, said NSDAR still encourages cities’ mayors to issue proclamations recognizing the month each year.
“It is celebrated in November because the Native American Indians have helped to shape our nation through their survival, their religious ceremonies and their social and political contributions,” Polk said. “It is important that we not forget that portion of our past and what they currently contribute.”
Wiseman and Polk said they are both uncertain whether or not the city has issued proclamations for the national heritage months in the years before Wiseman’s term. However, Wiseman said he was happy to issue a proclamation last year, and he intends to issue one again next year.
“I think it was a worthy cause,” Wiseman said. “The city of Starkville, like most places in Mississippi, has a connection to Native American tribes indigenous to this part of the country. This gives us an opportunity to recognize the contributions that Native Americans have made to our culture.”
Polk said schools across town have marked National American Indian History Month with units of study on Native Americans and celebrations tying in with Thanksgiving. At each monthly NSDAR meeting, she said, members hold a “Native American Minute” focusing on the achievements of famous Native Americans. For example, she said, one “Native American Minute” earlier in the fall focused on Greenwood Leflore, the last Great Chief of the Choctaw Indians east of the Mississippi.
“He lived in Mississippi and became a wealthy planter and served in the Mississippi State Senate from 1841-1844,” Polk said. “November’s ‘Native American Minute’ was on smoke signals and ways that Indians communicated.”
Polk said even though she has no Native American heritage of her own, she has always been interested in their culture, including their beadwork, dancing and art. She said she has also presented workshops at the Head Start Center on the reservation for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
“In 1999, when I served on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Accreditation Peer Review Team for the Choctaw Tribal School System in Philadelphia, I was assigned to Redwater Elementary in Carthage,” Polk said. “I think that helped me have a better understanding and appreciation of Mississippians who are Choctaw. On trips to my grandmother’s home at Lake Mississippi, we used to stop at various small towns where the different Choctaws lived, and I’ve just been fascinated by their culture.”