Native American Heritage Month 2016

Nov. 9, 2016 MCW News - In honor of Native American Heritage Month, which runs throughout November, the Medical College of Wisconsin is highlighting and celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of individuals whose ancestors are American Indian.

The story will be posted on MCW’s Honoring Diversity webpage.

We also would like to hear from you.
We ask Native American members of the MCW community to offer some insights on your culture. Answers will be shared in a Native American Heritage Month story. Take the Cultural/Group Identity survey.

This week, we would like to provide background on tribal governance and highlight some contributions of the Native American community as well as some famous members of the Native American community.

Tribal governance
Currently, 566 sovereign tribal nations (variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities, and Native villages) have a formal nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. government. These tribal governments are legally defined as “federally recognized tribes.” Two-hundred-and-twenty-nine of these tribal nations are located in Alaska; the remaining tribes are located in 34 other states. In total, tribal governments exercise jurisdiction over lands that would make Indian Country the fourth largest state in the nation.

Tribal nations ceded millions of acres of land that made the United States what it is today and, in return, received the guarantee of ongoing self-government on their own lands. The treaties and laws create what is known as the federal “trust responsibility,” to protect both tribal lands and tribal self-government, and to provide for federal assistance to ensure the success of tribal communities.

Tribal governments are an important and unique member of the family of American governments. The U.S. Constitution recognizes that tribal nations are sovereign governments, just like Canada or California. Today, tribal governments maintain the power to determine their own governance structures, pass laws, and enforce laws through police departments and tribal courts.

Native American contributions

Edible plants domesticated by Indians have become major staples in the diets of peoples all around the world. Such foods include corn (maize), manioc, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, squashes and pumpkins, tomatoes, papayas, avocados, pineapples, guavas, chili peppers, chocolate (cacao), and many species of beans.

Indians were the first to raise turkeys, llamas, guinea pigs, and honeybees for food.

Non-edible plants
Other plants of great importance developed by Indians include cotton, rubber, and tobacco.

Indians discovered the medicinal use for quinine. Also, Canadian Indians knew how to prevent scurvy by eating plants rich in vitamin C, and they passed this information along to the Europeans.

The Maya of Mexico appear to have been the first to use the zero in mathematics. Scholars believe that Asians traveled across the Pacific Ocean and learned about the zero from the Maya.

Indian governments in eastern North America, particularly the League of the Iroquois, served as models of federated representative democracy to the Europeans and the American colonists. The United States government is based on such a system, whereby power is distributed between a central authority (the federal government) and smaller political units (the states).

Famous Native Americans

Jim ThorpeJim Thorpe (1888-1953)
Jim Thorpe grew up in the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma. He is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. He played professional baseball, basketball, and football. He also won Olympic Gold Medals for the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics.




PochahontasPocahontas (1595-1617)
Pocahontas was the daughter of the chief of the Powhatan tribe which lived near the English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. She ended up saving the life of Jamestown leader Captain John Smith when he visited her village. She also helped to warn the settlers of an attack from her father and his warriors. Later, Pocahontas would be captured and held for ransom by the settlers. She was treated well, though, and soon fell in love with English settler John Rolfe. After marrying John Rolfe, Pocahontas traveled back to England with Rolfe and became a famous celebrity. Unfortunately, she died in England at the young age of 22.


SacajaweaSacajawea (1788-1812)
Sacajawea was a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe. When she was a girl her village was attacked and she became a slave. Later, she was sold to a French trapper named Charbonneau who married her. She was living with Charbonneau when the explorers Lewis and Clark arrived. They asked for Sacajawea to travel with them as she could help translate with the Shoshone. She joined their expedition and played a major role their successful journey to the Pacific Ocean.




Sitting BullSitting Bull (1831-1890)
Sitting Bull was a famous leader of the Lakota Sioux Plains Indians. He is most known for having a premonition that the Sioux would win a great battle against the white man. Then he led a combined group of warriors from the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes into battle. This famous battle was called the Battle of Little Big Horn and was fought against General Custer. In this battle, sometimes called Custer's Last Stand, Sitting Bull completely destroyed Custer's army killing every last man.



Many other famous members of the Native American community can be found on  

The Medical College of Wisconsin prides itself on being an inclusive community where all individuals are valued and respected. We are committed to recognizing, understanding and appreciating the variety of individual differences that make up our community because we know that these differences make our community stronger and more vibrant. The diversity of MCW continues to be an important source of innovative ideas and creative accomplishments.

Throughout the year, we aim to celebrate the stories and histories of ethnic and cultural identities because together, all of these stories make up the larger United States narrative. We hope that through these stories and vignettes, we can honor the diversity of our faculty, staff and students and promote inclusion for all those who make up our community.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for how we can celebrate cultural/group identities at MCW, please share with our editorial team,

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