The National Congress of American Indians describes Native American Heritage month as a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. This month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.
One of earliest recorded attempts to create a day of recognition for the contributions of “First Americans” dates back to 1912, when Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker (Seneca Nation), who founded several Indian rights organizations, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to recognize “First Americans” Day, which they did for three years.
Three years later, Red Fox James (Blackfeet), rode his horse around the country to ultimately secure endorsements from 24 state governments in favor of a day honoring American Indians. Although he presented the resolutions to the White House on Dec. 14, 1915, the Library of Congress reports that there is no record of such a day ever being proclaimed. That same year, at the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, the association’s president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge (Arapahoe Tribe) issued a proclamation declaring the second Saturday of each May as a day to recognize American Indians. The proclamation also included the first formal appeal to recognize Indians as citizens.
In 1916, New York became the first state to recognize American Indian Day (also on the second Saturday in May). In 1987, Congress called upon President Ronald Reagan to designate the week of November 22-28, 1987, as “American Indian Week.” And in 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution proclaiming November as “National American Indian Heritage Month.”
Watch this short video provided by PBS that explains the importance of Native American Heritage Month and how it came to be.
On Monday, November 1 from 7-8 PM EDT, the Library of Congress is kicking off Native American Heritage Month with a live event featuring the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo and the first Native American cabinet secretary, Deb Haaland.