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The History of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month

The History of National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month


At the turn of the century efforts were implemented for a day of recognition for Native contributions to America. As a result, November was designated as National American Indian and Native Heritage Month.

One of the early proponents of an American Indian Day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian who was the Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day to honor the first Americans, which was done for three years. In 1915, at the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, a plan celebrating American Indian Day was formally approved. The association directed its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapaho tribal member, to call upon the country to set aside a day of recognition. The proclamation was issued on September 28, 1915, and the second Saturday of May was declared as American Indian Day.

The year before this proclamation, Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode on horseback from state to state, seeking approval for a day to honor American Indians. On December 14, 1915 Red Fox James presented the endorsements of 24 state governments to the White House. There is no record, however, of a national day being proclaimed from his efforts.

The first American Indian Day to be celebrated in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrated the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Today several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be observed without legal recognition as a national holiday.

In 1990 President George Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as National American Indian Heritage Month. Similar proclamations have been issued by American presidents every year since 1994.

National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month is celebrated in November to recognize Native cultures and to educate the public about the heritage, history, art, and traditions of the American Indian and Alaska Native people.

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