Native American Heritage Month

During the month of November, we celebrate Native American Heritage month. You may also hear it described as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.  This is a time to recognize and celebrate the many diverse cultures and traditions of Native people and educate ourselves about the unique challenges Native people have faced throughout history and that still exist today.

The first American Indian Day was declared in 1916 and in 1976, Jerry C. Elliott, a Osage-Cherokee Native American authored legislation in Congress to create Native American Week.  In 1990, President George HW Bush approved a joint resolution in Congress calling for November to be named National American Heritage Month.

It is believed that Indigenous people have lived in the Americas for thousands of years. Though it wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans were granted US citizenship and given the right to vote.  It took another 40 years for all 50 states to extend voting rights to this community.

There are approximately 175 Indigenous languages spoken in the United States today and more than half of the states in the US have names that come from Native languages including:  Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Native Americans have made notable contributions to US history and culture.  Most notable are Native American veterans who served as Code Talkers.  Many people are aware of the Navajo code talkers who used their ancestral language to create code during World War II.  The efforts of 29 Navajo radio operators at Camp Elliot in California were critical for the Marine Corp in their successes in the Pacific. The code they developed was used in every  major operation and is widely recognized as a key factor in the US victory in Iwo Jima.   Lesser known are the Cherokee and Choctaw code talkers in World War I  who originally served in a similar capacity.

Other contributions include the development of sign language as means of communication, the establishment of large body government(modeled after the  Iroquoian League of Nations) and the invention of pain relievers and ointments that were used to treat wounds, cuts and bruises.

Notable Native Americans

  • Charles D. Curtis (Kaw/Osage/Potawatomi), 31st Vice President of the United States
  • Annie Dodge Wauneka (Navajo), Winner of Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Scott Momaday (Kiowa), Pulitzer Prize winner
  • Sam Bradford (Cherokee), Heisman Trophy winner
  • Marilynn Malerba (Mohegan), Treasurer of the United States
  • Susie Walking Bear Yellowtail (Crow), First Native American registered nurse
  • Benjamin Reifel (Lakota) US Congressman
  • John Herrington (Chickasaw), Astronaut