November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the cultures, history and traditions of Indigenous peoples. It also provides an opportunity to learn about the lived experiences of Native Americans and the impactful work taking place in Indigenous communities to create a healthier future. Native American Heritage Month is a vehicle for all peoples to support meaningful Indigenous inclusion and accurate representation in our society.
Indigenous peoples have inhabited the region now known as New Mexico for thousands of years, and their presence is felt throughout the state among New Mexico’s 23 Native American pueblos, tribes and nations.
“The Native American world is always going to be a culturally rich and sacred community,” says Lenora Anaya, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico senior business consultant and New Mexico chairperson for the Native Americans in Progress Business Resource Group.
“This month, we’re sharing the traditions and beauty of different tribal nations and pueblos with the theme, ‘Celebrating Tribal Sovereignty and Identity.’ The theme serves as a reminder that any decisions about tribes regarding their property and citizens are made with their participation and consent,” adds Anaya, from Zia Pueblo.
“The Native American world is always going to be a culturally rich and sacred community.”
In celebration of the month-long observance, Kyan Asdebi Odi:wokkwinne (Water Strider) Dance Group from the Zuni Pueblo performed a buffalo dance Nov. 15 in the courtyard of BCBSNM headquarters.
“Their dance encourages the representation of their traditions and the Zuni Pueblo culture,” Anaya says. “We wanted to provide a look into their world and share it with the BCBSNM community.”
During and after the performance, the NAIP BRG provided a buffet of traditional Native American food, including northern-style frybread from the Hidatsa tribe in North Dakota, “Pah-keweh” Indian cookies from Zia Pueblo (a recipe from Anaya’s grandmother) and Dakota Sioux “Wojapi” berry pudding.
“The event was beautiful with the dancers against the backdrop of the Sandias,” says Leslie Gartner, manager of Medicaid encounters. “The opportunity to learn about and taste traditional foods was awesome and delicious. I love the sense of community when we get together for these events.”
During the month, the NAIP BRG also hosted a “Rock your Mocs” event that encouraged Native American employees to wear their moccasins to work, as well as a cold-weather gear drive to benefit the Albuquerque Indian Center.
“Our spirit is a serving spirit, and we feel called to serve our community,” Anaya says.
Before the month-long celebrations, BCBSNM launched a cultural awareness training course specific to New Mexico tribes and pueblos. The course also provides an overview of the existing health care challenges and infrastructure for the American Indian and Alaska Native population.
Anaya says learning about Native American heritage and culture helps BCBSNM employees better understand and empathize with their coworkers. This was the first year since the pandemic BCBSNM could hold such a celebration.
“It’s been such an honor to be able to bring this event back to BCBSNM,” she says. “A large part of Native American culture is sharing our traditions, our dances, our songs and our food, and it means so much to be able to bring something like this to the employees.”