About Native American Heritage Month
November is Native American Heritage Month and it’s an important time to celebrate the current and historic role the Native American voice has played in the United States. It’s a time to celebrate the modern and traditional cultures, people, and societies of Native American peoples. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the important contributions of Native peoples and the shared histories between tribal nations and other communities.
Today, Native American cultures, people, and communities are strong and vibrant. According to the 2010 Census, there are over 5.2 million American Indian and Alaska Native people (in combination or alone) and there are 566 federally recognized tribal nations - that exist as sovereign nations within 33 states of the United States.
The strength of culture and community comes from a myriad of voices. Like many American citizens we too, are doctors, athletes, artists, leaders of nations, leaders of businesses, active duty soldiers and military veterans, elders, teachers, government employees, women and men, children and young adults.
We have a history of story and our voice remains. In the past many tried to quiet our voices, we could not be silenced. Today we celebrate; to remember and recognize our past, to bear witness to what our people face today; to give voice to great work and contributions we make; and to share our promise for the future generations.
Heritage Month History
Over the past century, efforts to establish a Native American Heritage Day have lead to today’s celebration of an American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. Early advocates for an official day eagerly urged organizations, states, and the U.S. government to officially designate a day to celebrate the traditions, cultures, histories, and contributions of Native people. One advocate, Red Fox James (Blackfeet), rode by horseback from state to state and obtained the support of 24 state governments which he presented to the White House in 1915. While no official, national day was declared following James’ efforts, in 1916 the Governor of New York declared the second Saturday in May as American Indian Day (the first ever official celebration). Today, several states, including California, South Dakota, and Tennessee observe Native American Day every year, and Native Heritage is celebrated on a national level.
In the past couple decades, the idea of a Native American Heritage Month has become a nationally-recognized reality. 1986 when Congress passed Pub. L. 99-471, authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.” With Presidential Proclamation 5577, President Ronald Reagan declared the first American Indian Week. From 1987-1989, Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush issued annual proclamations for National American Indian week, until, in 1990, President Bush approved a joint resolution to declare November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since 1990, Presidents have continued to dedicate this month to American Indian Heritage on a consistent basis. In addition to the month, the Obama Administration declared National Native American Heritage Day at the end of November. To get more information and to view the Presidential Proclamations, click here.
One day of particular importance during the month of November is Veterans Day. Historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita as compared any other ethnic groups. During Heritage Month, as we celebrate the traditions and contributions of Native people to the greater society, this day in particular is an important time to honor the Native veterans who have sacrificed to protect our nation.