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National American Indian Heritage Month, November 2014

What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the contributions of the many intertribal cultures, as well as to educate everyone about the rich history, heritage, art, and traditions of the original American peoples made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose.

In 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December the following year, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House, however, there is no record of such a national day being proclaimed during that time in our history.

Held on the second Saturday of May, 1916, the governor of New York declared the first American Indian Day on record. Several states followed with celebrations held the fourth Friday in September of the same year. Several states designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continued to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.

It wasn’t until 1986 that Congress passed a proclamation authorizing American Indian Week and not until 1990 when President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month") have been issued each year since 1994.

Today, 27 states and many cities, rivers and lakes have names that came from American Indians. American Indians and Alaska Natives are 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. They represent two percent of the population. American Indians and Alaskan Natives have a unique relationship with the federal government due to historic conflict and subsequent treaties. To date, there are 566 federally recognized tribes and more than 100 state-recognized tribes across the U.S., plus an unknown number of tribes that are not federally recognized. Native Alaskan tribes belong to five geographic areas, are organized under 13 Alaska Native Regional Corporations, speak 11 different languages and 22 different dialects. They also have 11 distinct cultures.

boxDid you know that American Indians have the highest population, per capita, of any ethnic group serving in the military? American Indians have participated with distinction in U.S. military actions for more than 200 years. According to DoD records, there were 156,515 American Indian veterans counted as of 2012. Today, 22,248 American Indians serve in the Armed Forces, making up 1.7 percent of the military populations. American Indian and Alaska Native employees represent only one percent of the DoD federal workforce.

boxDid you know that the Iroquois League of Nations government was a model for the development of the U.S. government? Benjamin Franklin said that the idea of a federal government, in which certain powers are given to a central government and all other powers are reserved for the states, was adapted from the system of government used by the Iroquois League of Nations. As the first people to live on the land we all cherish, American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country's character and our cultural heritage. Today, American Indians are leaders in every aspect of our society—from the boardroom to the battlefield, to the classroom.


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.

Please find the time to participate in any of the various celebrations in your area honoring the traditions, art, music, culture, and contributions of these original Americans.

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Arapaho
“When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us.”
- Arapaho