Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month

a profile of Michael Eldon Brown

For 30 years, November has been designated as National Native American Heritage Month to mark the integral role that American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have in our history and culture. November is traditionally a time when many Native Americans hold fall harvest and world-renewal ceremonies, powwows, dances, and various feasts. This month of recognition honors the heritage of hundreds of different tribes and approximately 250 native languages, and celebrates the history, tradition, and values of Native American cultures.

It is also an opportunity to celebrate the significant achievements and contributions Native Americans have made to better our society and our agency.Here in the Migratory Bird Program, we work integrally with Federally Recognized Tribes around the country to manage and conserve birds, especially in Alaska. In fact, Native Alaskans are so integral to the management of birds that we are part of a partnership called the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council that includes the State of Alaska and Alaska Natives. By sharing information about bird populations, species at risk, and listening to the needs of stakeholders, a balanced approach to bird conservation can be realized. Our very own Migratory Bird Program Outreach Biologist Tamara Zeller wrote a story about the important role this partnership serves in managing sustainable levels of harvest of birds for all Alaskans to enjoy.

In addition to highlighting our collaborative work and partnerships with Tribes, we are also fortunate enough to share the story of one of our very own employees and Native American, Michael Eldon Brown, the Permits Chief in Interior Regions 6, 7 and 8, based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. We asked Eldon a few questions and he shared his experiences and thoughts with us:

  1. What is your Native American heritage
    I am Diné (Navajo). It is important to introduce myself in my language, Nakaai Diné Nishli, Shash Dine bashishchiin, Shi Cheii ei Todichiini nili, Shi nali ei Bitahni nili. Translation: I am Mexican People Clan, Born for the Bear People, My maternal grandfather is the Bitter Water People, and my Paternal Grandfather is The Folded Arms People.
  2. What do you know about your family history and heritage?
    Where do I start? I know a great deal of my family history and heritage. The easiest way I can explain this is to say from the very beginning we are taught through stories, songs, and gatherings about the importance of our relationships to people and places. It is a responsibility we carry every single day.
  3. What or who inspired you to work in conservation?
    The Mission of the USFWS is one that I try to align with my Indigenous worldview. Specifically, the part of conservation for the benefit for the American people. In Indigenous communities we understand our interaction has both negative and positive effects on a resource, it is working through this process we position ourselves as a caretaker of the resource, most importantly it is also understanding it is also for future generations.
  4. How do you think your Native American heritage played a role in your career choice?
    I came into the Service differently than most. I worked in the private sector for nearly 20 years prior to entering the Service. While I arrived late, I landed in a great place at the Division of Migratory Birds Office in Albuquerque. Ironically, I learned of this position through a college list-serve from the Native American Studies department at my University. In my position as Permit Branch Chief for the Division of Migratory Birds, being Native American has proven to be a benefit in working with all of our partners. The opportunity to work with our Tribal partners is critical to the USFWS Mission, I understand the perspective of most tribes and work to meet their needs in the best way I can while representing the Service.
  5. What would you like your USFWS colleagues to know about you and your experience(s) as a Native American?
    While I am an Indigenous person, I do not represent all Tribal Nations. Each Tribe is unique in their identities. With most of my Indigenous colleagues I find we represent the relationship values I referenced, and we carry this not only as an obligation but as knowledge to assist in our daily lives. This knowledge informs our work as administrators, biologists, scientists, and other jobs. We are professionals and should not be viewed as relics of the past. We exist because our ancestors were strong individuals and they held the same responsibility to relationships as we work towards every day.

The Migratory Bird Program has a long history of working with our tribal partners to meet their natural resource goals. We are proud to honor our tribal trust responsibilities and encourage you to find additional resources including videos and training opportunities about Native American Heritage Month.

Michael Eldon Brown walking in a creek. USFWS.

Michael Eldon Brown

Last Updated: November 19, 2020