Native American Heritage Month.
November is Native American Heritage Month. It’s a time to recognize the contributions of Native people to this country and a time to acknowledge the history behind some of the issues facing Native people today. It’s also a time to learn more about the incredible diversity of idigenous culture and traditions.
Attempts to set aside a day to honor and celebrate the first people of the US began in 1912. Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker of the Seneca Nation took his proposal for “First Americans Day” to the Boy Scouts. The Scouts celebrated Parker’s day of recognition for three years. The year 1915 saw Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfeet tribe, take the idea even further. Riding his horse around the country, James secured endorsements from twenty-four state legislatures for a day to be set aside to honor Native Americans. He took the endorsements to the White House, but despite his efforts, no such day was approved.
That same year at the Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, Rev. Sherman Coolidge of the Arapahoe tribe took the matter into his own hands. He proclaimed the second Saturday in May of each year to be set aside as a day to recognize the contributions of Native Americans.
Coolidge’s proclamation served a dual purpose in that it was also a push for recognizing all Native people as citizens of the US. It would take a few years, but in 1924 Congress finally passed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizen status to all Native Americans born in the US. But the Act had a major flaw. It left one very important right, the right to vote, to the whims of state law. It would take until 1957 for that right to finally be established for all Native people.
In 1990, then president George H.W. Bush proclaimed November to be Native American Heritage month. The recognition was long overdue but today Americans can learn about and celebrate Native culture, traditions and the contributions of Native people to their country. If you’re looking for ways to engage with the festivities, there are a number of them:
- Native.America.travel.com offers information on various places across the US to travel to and learn more about our indigenous tribes
- GoUSA TV hosts a playlist of videos on Native culture and traditions
- nativerhythmsfestival.com is a three day Native music festival
- Watch Native films at festivals such as LA Skins Fest and Red Nation International Film Festival (laskinsfest.com; www.RedNationFF.com)
There are also a wide variety of books by Native authors you can read and Native art available for purchase. It’s been over a hundred years in the making, but Native American Heritage Month has a great deal to offer all Americans.