National American Indian Heritage Month, November 2013

2013 NAM banner

Each November National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month is celebrated in recognition of the many contributions of the original American peoples. This year’s theme is "Guiding Our Destiny with Heritage and Traditions." This month provides us an opportunity to learn about the rich traditions, art, heritage and history of the American Indian and Alaska Natives.

The first “American Indian Day” was declared by the governor of New York State and celebrated for the first time on the second Saturday in May 1916. Legislators enacted a similar day of recognition in Illinois in 1919, and it wasn’t until 1990 that President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating the month of November as "National American Indian Heritage Month."

American Indians and Alaska Natives are identified as people having origins in any of the original peoples of North, South and Central America, and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 5.2 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives living in the U. S. There are 566 federally recognized tribes. Additionally, there are 153, 233 Native American veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

American Indians were the first people to live in what is now America. Not surprisingly, many states, cities, and even rivers and lakes derive their names from Native American languages. Here are just a few, but see a larger list that follows:

  • Alabama: From the Alibamu tribe of Indians, members of the Creek Confederacy. The name may have come from words in the Choctaw language, "Alba ayamute" meaning "I clear the thicket."
  • Iowa: From a Dakota Indian word: the name had many different spellings until it became "Ioway" and the "Iowa".
  • Kentucky: Probably related to the Iroquois Indian word "Kenta" -- "level" or "Meadow-land" referring to the level land in the south central part of the state.
  • Massachusetts: From Massachuset Indians, who lived around the Blue hills near Boston, meaning "about the big hill".
  • Wisconsin: "Wishkonsing" -- place of the beaver.

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month is celebrated with community gatherings and festivals and government and educational activities. Many schools celebrate the month by learning more about the history and contributions of American Indians and Alaska Natives in education, art, literature, government, sports, science, and technology past and present. We encourage you to learn more about the rich past and present heritage of the American Indian and Alaskan Native people. Please find the time to participate in National American Indian Heritage Month in any of the various celebrations in your area honoring the traditions, art, music, culture, and contributions of these original Americans such as:

  • Take the time to go to a traditional Native American festival or visit a museum.
  • Cook some traditional Native American dishes to explore new tastes and honor their heritage.
  • Sit down with your children and do a project that reflects the Native American culture.

During November, we also celebrate a time for thanksgiving. Take time to reflect and appreciate the contributions of the original Americans to our great society.


Resources

Library of Congress
National Archives
National Gallery of Art
National Park Service
Smithsonian Institution