Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

National American Indian Heritage Month

National American Indian Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of the peoples who were the original inhabitants, explorers and settlers of the United States.

“National American Indian Heritage Month” had its origins in 1986 when Congress passed Pub. L. 99-471 (PDF, 93KB) which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.” As directed by Congress, President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5577 in November 1986 proclaiming the first American Indian Week. Both law and proclamation recognized the American Indians as the first inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States as well as making mention of their contributions to American society:

Many of the foods we eat and the medicines and remedies we use were introduced by Indians and more than one highway follows an Indian trail. Indians make contributions in every area of endeavor and American life, and our literature and all our arts draw upon Indian themes and wisdom. Countless American Indians have served in our Armed Forces and have fought valiantly for our country.

For almost one hundred years, Americans, both Indian and non-Indian, have urged that there be a special place on the calendar permanently designated by the nation to honor the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, and cultural and historical legacy of the original inhabitants of what is now the United States and their descendants: the American Indian and Alaska Native people.

The quest for a national honoring of Native Americans began in the early 20th Century as a private effort. As far back as the late 1970s, Congress has enacted legislation and subsequent presidents have issued annual proclamations designating a day, a week or a month to celebrate and commemorate the nation’s American Indian and Alaska Native heritage. In 2009, Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation that established the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.”

After 1900, one of the earliest proponents of a day honoring American Indians was Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker, a Cattaraugus Seneca and the director of the Rochester Museum in New York (now the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences). Dr. Parker (Gawasco Waneh) was a noted anthropologist, historian and author whose great-uncle was Brigadier General Ely S. Parker, secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War and the first American Indian to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior. Dr. Parker also served as the first president of the Society for American Archaeology (1935-36).

Dr. Parker was a founder of a number of American Indian rights organizations, including the Society of American Indians (SAI) in 1911 and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 1944, and advocated for American Indians to be given U.S. citizenship. He was successful in persuading the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans,” which they did from 1912 to 1915.

In the spring of 1914, another Indian rights advocate, the Reverend Red Fox James, also known as Red Fox Skiukusha, whose tribal identity is undetermined, began a 4,000-mile trek on horseback to Washington, D.C., to petition the president for an “Indian Day.” The next year, again on horseback, he traveled state-to-state seeking gubernatorial support for U.S. citizenship to be extended to American Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented to the White House the endorsements of 24 governors. In 1919, he petitioned the state of Washington to designate the fourth Saturday in September as an “Indian holiday.”

Also in 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association, meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, directed its president, the Reverend Sherman Coolidge, an Arapaho minister and one of the founders of the SAI, to call upon the nation to observe a day for American Indians. On September 18, 1915, he issued a proclamation declaring the second Saturday of each May as “American Indian Day” and appealing for U.S. citizenship for American Indians. Read More.

The National Museum of the American Indian is the first national museum dedicated to the preservation, study, and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of Native Americans. Established by an act of Congress in 1989, the museum works in collaboration with the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere to protect and foster their cultures by reaffirming traditions and beliefs, encouraging contemporary artistic expression, and empowering the Indian voice. Take a virtual tour of the Museum.