Janee’ Kassanavoid: What It Means To Be Native American

by Janee’ Kassanavoid

Janee' Kassanavoid celebrates after winning bronze in the women's hammer throw final at the 2022 World Athletics Championships on July 17, 2022 in Eugene, Ore.


National Native American Heritage Month is 30 days to recognize and honor our nation’s first people. It is a time to celebrate the rich cultures, traditions, histories and many contributions of Indigenous people. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to become widely educated and aware of the challenges Native Americans have faced and continue to face. Many native tribes have contributed to the foundation and survival of this nation. It is important to recognize the movement and join in support of Indigenous people and their communities.
As a professional track and field athlete for Team USA, it is a great honor to represent myself as a Native American and an Indigenous woman in sport. Making history as the first Native American woman to medal at the World Athletics Track & Field Championships symbolized the strength and the resilience that I have carried throughout my career.
I will continue to fight for Indigenous representation, equality and justice. It is with great gratitude that I amplify my voice, walk forward as a leader and embody the role of those who walked before me. I am proud to be Indigenous and pave the way for the future generations of young athletes, women and fellow natives to come.
For the month of November, I encourage everyone to acknowledge the land, support Indigenous-owned businesses, learn about Indigenous history and cultures, and donate to Native American organizations. We are stronger together. Below are a few special events during the month of November to recognize:


  • Rock Your Mocs – Nov. 15
  • Red Shawl Day – Nov. 19
  • Native American Heritage Day – Nov. 25


Additionally, there are several ways to learn, celebrate, honor or observe Native American Heritage Month. If you consider doing so, here are a few things you can indulge in to discover the rich and diverse stories of tradition and resiliency:


  • Attend the National Museum of the American Indian
  • Attend a Powwow
  • Read books written by Native American authors
  • Support Native American-owned businesses
  • Understand issues referred to as ‘Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’

Janee' Kassanavoid competes during the women's hammer throw final at the 2022 World Athletics Championships on July 17, 2022 in Eugene, Ore.


Growing up, I lacked the true value of Indigenous education and the recognition of those that came before me. It is crucial that our people reconcile to create a future for those that come after us. In 1990, Congress passed a law declaring November as Native American Heritage Month. However, the importance of honoring Native people runs much deeper than this one month of celebration and commemoration. There are 574 federally recognized tribes that reside in the Unites States. Many of them have lost their language and traditions. Why were the languages and traditions lost?


The U.S. forced native youths to attend federal boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak their languages. They were required to learn English and forced to assimilate in numerous ways. It was against the law to practice spiritual or cultural traditions. The U.S. and Indian tribes agreed upon roughly 500 treaties, and 500 treaties were broken. The value of upholding our identity is at the heart of Native American Heritage Month.


The importance of Native American Heritage Month is that it creates an open space in the track and field community for people who look like me. It allows an opportunity, a challenge and a vision that several natives never thought was available. My goal is to inspire and empower not only athletes, but also others chasing their dreams of being that shining light. I want to show them that in the end, hard work does pay off.


Being a world-class athlete has allowed me to reconnect with my Comanche heritage. It has allowed me to listen and learn from my family, and to hear the stories my ancestors have passed down. Additionally, it has allowed me to give thanks to the creator, and honor the land, the water and all necessary things for life itself.


I am honored and humbled to share my journey towards making history. But I can only hope that this is the beginning. I hope to continue breaking barriers, educating and promoting awareness for my community. It is a culture that embodies such beauty, strength and resilience.


We are still here.


Thank you, Team USA fans, for all your support. And I look forward to open conversations or questions that you may have for myself, or my journey, as a Native American woman in the track and field community.

Janee' Kassanavoid is a USA Track & Field athlete who specializes in the hammer throw.