Nellie Davis, owner of Outsider Hair Salon and Studio in downtown Reno, said she started her business as a place where people could feel comfortable no matter their background.
Davis, an enrolled member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, said she felt that opening up her store to all walks of life helps her celebrate her heritage.
“I wanted to open up the market for something that I didn’t see existed in our community,” she said. “We’ve really always had a foundation of inclusivity and I think a part of that was because I wanted everyone, regardless of how you identify, to be able to come through the door and feel like you belong in a space and that you’re safe there.”
“I think the importance of my Native heritage is really being in a place where I can celebrate my lineage and my ancestry because a lot of my relatives weren’t as fortunate to be able to be in that position,” Davis said. “My grandma is a survivor of boarding school and so I think it’s really about acknowledging how to move forward in a way that’s about celebrating who we are.”
November is Native American Heritage Month and the Friday after Thanksgiving marks Native American Heritage Day.
Nevada is home to 27 Native American communities. Nationwide, there are over 570 federally recognized tribes.
The first proclamation designating November as Native American Heritage Month came from President George H.W. Bush in 1990, after Congress approved a resolution designating November 1990 as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since then, every sitting president signed a proclamation designating the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month.
In 2009, Congress passed the “Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009,” which designates the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.”
The number of Americans identifying as indigenous increased by over 27% to 3.7 million during the last decade compared to a 7.4% uptick in the overall population, according to U.S. Census data. Another roughly 6 million Americans said they had some American Indian or Alaska native ancestry.
Interior Sec. Deb Haaland made history this year by becoming the first Native American to serve as a presidential Cabinet secretary. Charles “Chuck” Sams III has been nominated as director of the National Park Service. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first Native American to serve in that role.
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Davis said that properly acknowledging Native American heritage is a mix of recognizing the past, while not perpetuating stereotypes that Native Americans have disappeared.
“It’s important to start breaking those stereotypes where Natives are spoken only in a historical sense, there are so many negative annotations around being Native so it’s breaking that to show that we’re still here,” she said. “We are in the community and we’re just as much a part of that as anyone, so that’s important.”
Another stereotype that Davis said she hopes people will educate themselves on is the diversity within different tribal cultures nationwide.
“A lot of people think that all tribes share the same customs, they all share the same protocol,” Davis said. “Even within just the Great Basin Paiute, there are 14 different dialects and different bands of tribes. It’s really important to understand what happened here and what the history is here.”
Using her own business as an all-inclusive hosting place for all types of people, Davis said having Native American who are business owners opens the door to educate on Native American heritage and current topics for this month and beyond.
“I think it is incredibly important to recognize Native business owners because it does present an opportunity,” Davis said. “I’ve been able to have those deeper conversations with people and it’s an opportunity to educate in a lot of ways.”
More than a month
There are numerous ideas that Davis suggested as ways for a person to get involved with Heritage Month in a honoring and respectful way.
“I always encourage people to get curious and start asking questions to the original wisdom keepers of that land,” Davis said. “Move beyond just a land acknowledgement, ask what we can do to go further than that and really create a reciprocal relationship with the indigenous community.”
The Nevada Indian Commission is urging Nevadans to celebrate by planning activities such as visiting The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum in Carson City or reading the work of prominent Native authors like Tommy Orange, Louise Erdrich, Stephen Graham Jones and N. Scott Momaday.
Another way the commission recommends is by “decolonizing” your Thanksgiving dinner by putting away Native American decorations and tropes while introducing Native American dishes to the holiday meal.
Davis shared that being a Native American business owner plays its own important role at all times, but especially during Heritage Month. She said that Native American business owners and citizens deserve patronage and an attentive ear.
“We’ve been really able to open up this dialogue to dispel a lot of the false narratives that exist around Natives and Native communities,” Davis said I think it’s important to have those spaces that recognize those Native business owners.”
If you’d like to support, here is a list of Native-owned business that the Nevada Indian Commission recommends Nevadans should donate to or visit in honor of Native American Heritage Month:
- Outsiders Hair Studio and Salon
- The Eddy
- Nevada Flooring
- Star Village Coffee
- Next Evolution Coffee Shop
- Rupert Gems
- Rupert’s Auto Body
- Desert Hummingbird Designs
- Once Upon a Time Events
USA TODAY contributed to this report.