FILE - In a Jan. 31, 1989 file photo, Russell Means, who heads the American Indian Movement, (AIM) testifies before a special investigative committee of
FILE - In a Jan. 31, 1989 file photo, Russell Means, who heads the American Indian Movement, (AIM) testifies before a special investigative committee of the Senate Select Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Means, a former American Indian Movement activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee, reveled in stirring up attention and appeared in several Hollywood films, died early Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 at his ranch Zzxin Porcupine, S.D., Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Solomon said. He was 72. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander, File) (Marcy Nighswander)
FARMINGTON — Five hundred and sixty-six American Indian tribes are federally recognized in the United States, though many more are unrecognized.

The month of November is for all of them.

"We are a presence. We are a player. I'm talking about all of the tribes," said Sharon Clahchischilliage, a member of the Navajo Nation and the newly elected state House representative from District 4.

Since 1990, November has been designated "Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month," 30 days dedicated to making the country more aware of the role American Indians and Alaska Natives have played in shaping the nation's culture, and the role they hope to play in the future.

The month is filled with activities throughout the nation and New Mexico, which has one of the highest populations of Native Americans in the United States.

"New Mexico's history and culture is all the richer for the influence that tribal communities have had in the Land of Enchantment. We see every day the accomplishments and importance of Indian country," U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, of New Mexico's 3rd District, said last week.

Native American have been in the news often in the past year, both statewide and nationwide.

Regionally, water rights has been a contentious issue for both state and tribal leaders in the Southwest.

The Navajo Nation also has lost several Navajo Code Talkers, servicemen who used their native language to create an unbroken code used against the Japanese during World War II.


Code Talker George Smith, 90, formerly of Shiprock, died Oct. 30.

The American Indian Movement lost controversial leader and civil rights activist Russell Means, 72, on Oct. 22. Though a divisive character, the Oglala Sioux actor became a media magnet in the 1970s and brought attention to American Indian issues.

Only a week before Means' death, Pope Benedict XVI named the first American Indian saint, 17th century Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha. Tekakwitha was a Catholic convert who was alienated by her Mohawk family after her conversion and later vowed lifelong chastity. She died at age 24.

In May, questions about what it means to be Native American surfaced when the media and her opponent, Massachusetts' Sen. Scott Brown, raised issue with Elizabeth Warren's claims of Cherokee and Delaware heritage during her ultimately successful Senate campaign.

The question is becoming more common among American Indians, and anyone with American Indian heritage. Hence the effort on behalf of Native Americans, groups and tribes to answer those questions this month and further into the future.

"A lot of kids are in the dark. They are asking, "Who am I?'" said Anthony Lee, a cultural and traditional instructor and coordinator for The Healing Circle Drop-In Center in Shiprock.

The center offers support groups and educational tools to the surrounding Navajo community, and those who want to learn about or be part of the community.

"We encourage everybody to go" visit the center, Lee said.

Lee and others said the best way to help and honor tribes any of them is to learn about them and recognize that all the tribes are very different.

"The major stereotype is "One tribe fits all sizes.' Not so," said Clahchischilliage.