Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how important it is to be able to identify myself using terms that are personal to me; and the impact that has for all of us in the way we feel self-confidence and pride in our individuality. Perhaps you define yourself by the job you do or the language you speak. Or maybe you identify yourself by your skin color, sexual orientation, or what part of the world you grew up in. Or even the type of community you hail from or the hobby you particularly love. All of these are wonderful examples of how we, as humans, find power in the way we identify ourselves. And it’s most powerful because we are able to define for ourselves how we want to be identified.

Native Americans are often identified by labels and ideas that are not of our own choosing. That is why Native American Heritage Month is so important and means so much to me. National recognition of this month reinforces the choices we have to empower ourselves. It’s a month that not only honors our ancestors, but is a time when we celebrate with you, our friends, the wonderful things that make us remarkably special and unique. And as our friends, it’s important that as we celebrate, you show up for us and embrace us.

And we know you do because you’ve demonstrated that your support extends well past this month—it’s all year long.

When you support American Indian scholars, you are providing an opportunity to thousands of Native students to find themselves through education. So many of our students have shared with me how validating your support is. Your support says you respect our right to be Native American and live as Native American peoples. Your gifts say to our students “You are part of our community and part of my world.” Isn’t that amazing?

The opportunities we have when pursuing higher education affect our lives in so many enriching ways. Many of our scholars learn about their tribes and their culture for the first time in college. When we speak our language, understand our history, honor our ancestors, and live our true lives as Native peoples, we are better students. When we are supported in our choices, we are better people.

That is why I’m happy to share our theme this year – #ShowUp4NativeCommunities. We know you show up every day for Native communities and we’re excited to provide additional opportunities to show up in new ways.

Enjoy Native foods this holiday season and share celebratory tweets and posts. Join us in a Coast-to-Coast dine-out event at local restaurants for a night out or happy hour. Sign our online pledge and help us kick off a national movement to show our support for Native communities. We have these opportunities and many more. Thank you for showing up for us and celebrating with us.

In solidarity and with love for all students and their families,

Cheryl Crazy Bull