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Native American Heritage Month originally started as just one day to recognize the significant contributions the First Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States. The efforts to gain one day of recognition turned into a whole month.
One of the first to incorporate 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 convinced the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans.” For three years the Boy Scouts of America adopted the day.
The annual Congress of the American Indian Association met in Lawerence, Kansas in 1915. Leaders at the meeting formally approved a plan concerning Native American Day. Reverend Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe — and president of the Congress of the American Indian Association — called upon the country to observe Native American Day.
He issued a proclamation on Sept. 28, 1915, declaring the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day. It also contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.
On the second Saturday of May 1916, the governor of New York declared the state would honor American Indian Day. The state of Illinois’s legislators enacted an American Indian Day in 1919. Today, many states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day. However, it has yet to be observed as a national legal holiday.
President George H. W. Bush approved designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Since then similar proclamations were made including Native American Heritage Month and National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
The countless contributions of Native peoples past and present are celebrated during the month of November. This month is also set to honor the influences, Native Americans have had on the advancement of the Nation. It is also a time to recommit to upholding trust and treaty responsibilities, advancing Tribal self-determination, and strengthening Tribal sovereignty.
The ancient Iroquois Tribe’s “Great League of Peace” became the stepping stone to outlining the formation of the U.S. and its democracy. In 1988, the United States Senate paid tribute to the Tribe with a resolution that said, “The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was inﬂuenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.”
Native Americans are also responsible for the development of many innovations. Such as:
- Baby bottles.
- Oral contraceptives.
- Genetically modified food crops.
- Analgesic and topical medications.
- Snow goggles.
- Cable suspension bridges.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed “The Native American Heritage Day Resolution” which designated the day after Thanksgiving as “Native American Heritage Day.” After he signed the resolution into law he encouraged everyone to observe the civil holiday. He further stated, “It is also important for all of us to understand the rich culture, tradition, and history of Native Americans and their staus today, and to appreciate the contributions that First Americans made and will continue to make to our Nation.”
Written by Sheena Robertson
PBS: How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy; by Terri Hansen
History: 10 Native American Inventions Commonly Used Today
Native Hope: Native American Heritage day
Native American Heritage Month: About National Native American Heritage Month
Top and Featured Image by Marc-Lautenbacher Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Jason Mrachina’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License