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Indians Before Cowboys: Here's to The Native Peoples of the American West

In 1990, the month of November was designated as the Native Heritage Month here in the United States. Debates aside about why our government waited so long to recognize the Native people of this land, I and Buckaroo Bling want to give a nod to some of the contributions of the Native people(s) to history and culture of the American West.

  Dream Catcher - photo by Jaime Handley

It's easy to tell when you look at Buckaroo Bling jewelry collections that I hugely admire and draw some inspiration from traditional Native American designs. Having lived in Alaska, South Dakota, and Montana - all states with rich Native history and tradition - and having had friends from different Native tribes, I've learned to listen and observe before jumping to conclusions or falling back on stereotypes. So today, in honor of the Native Heritage Month, I'll try to show you a slightly different take on the Native history of the American West.

Growing up in Europe, I watched a lot of old westerns: cowboys and Indians always fighting each other, with Indians mostly relegated to the roles of bad guys. What a stereotype! Not only were there many, many good guys among the Native peoples of the American West, but some of them were instrumental in helping this country reach the heights of its greatness.

Alaskan Native Dancer - photo by Zeke Tucker

Of course, everyone knows about Navajo Code Talkers' place in the World War II history, but did you know that some of the well known statesmen in this country were Native? Charles Curtis from Kansas, an Osage Nation/Kansa/Potawatomi, served as Vice President from 1929 to 1933. Keith Harper, Cherokee, was the US representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council. And there were also numerous Native men and women in both the US House of Representatives and the Senate.

Closer to the hearts and minds of us country folk in the American West are those who made it in the film and western industry. Any self respecting fan of western culture is surely familiar with Will Rogers, but very few know that he was a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Actor and film producer Wes Studi, also Cherokee, has won numerous awards for his work, and anyone who's interested in the movies and TV even the tiniest bit has probably heard of Geraldine Keams, Navajo, Martin Sensmeier, Tlingit/Athabascan, Rodney Grant, a member of Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, Jay Tavare, Navajo, Will Sampson, Muscogee/Creek, Irene Bedard, Inuit/Cree, and the list goes on.

I won't even go into talking about the likes of artists and designers Allan Houser, Chiricahua Apache, R.C. Gorman, Navajo, and Lloyd Kiva New, Cherokee. Suffice it to say that, without the contributions of our Native brothers and sisters, the art and design of the American West could've never been what they are today.

So, here's to the Native inhabitants of this land, both past and present, and may we all live in peace and respect for each other! Mitakuye Oyasin!

Want to see how Buckaroo Bling respectfully considers Native design inspiration and turns it into contemporary southwestern style bling? Check out some of the pieces below. When you click on images, you'll even be able to get them for yourself or a loved one in our online shop.

Dream Catcher Necklace with Mexican Turquoise and Deer Leather     Dreamer Earrings with Mexican Turquoise and Deer Leather    Statement Necklace with Mexican Turquoise and Deer Leather

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