Honoring Native American Heritage

Honoring Native American Heritage

In November, we reflect on the rich and diverse tapestry of our nation's culture and the significance of preservation and generational healing within our communities.

By: Christen Bourgeois Date: November 1st, 2023

Native American Heritage Month 2023

Each November, we honor the Strength, Culture, and Healing of our nation’s Native people.

Historically, our nation’s observance of Native American Heritage has focused on the role Native people have played in United States’ history.

Today, communities everywhere aim to gain a better understanding of the diversity of Native people.

In 2023, President Biden issued a proclamation recognizing Native American Heritage Month:

  • Native people and their invaluable contributions that have shaped our nation;
  • Tribal Nations who exercise their inherent sovereignty as vital members of the overlapping system of governments in the U.S.;
  • Our Federal Government’s solemn trust and treaty responsibilities;
  • S. partnership with Tribal Nations to advance prosperity, dignity, and safety for all Native people.

It’s Origin /

Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity to pay respect to the profound contributions of Native people, and to underscore the critical importance of health equity and holistic healing practices to ensure future generations.

The appeal for a formal day of observance for Native people has been in the works since the early 1900s.

In 1916, New York was the first state to recognize “American Indian Day”. In 1976, the first federal Native American Heritage Recognition Week was authorized by President Gerald Ford as “Native American Awareness Week.” Between 1976 and 1990, various presidents proclaimed a day, week or month to recognize Native American Heritage—but it didn’t happen every year or with consistency.

It wasn’t until 1991 that another resolution passed authorizing and requesting the president to proclaim November as National Native American Heritage Month. George H.W. Bush signed the legislation, and it’s since been a tradition for the president to send out a proclamation each November.

Key Terms & Definitions /

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) AI/AN Populations Key Terms and Definitions provides cultural context and defines key terms used in communication and media.

Five Ways to Celebrate /

1. Learn about Native nations.

2. Attend events centered on Native American stories.

3. Read books by Native American authors.

4. Support Native American-owned businesses.  

5. Check-in with your Native American friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. 

Land Acknowledgement /

Why acknowledge the land?

Along with celebration, it is equally important to recognize that Native Americans were the First Peoples of this land — who were here long before white settlers arrived. Native Americans suffered greatly under colonization and the genocide, mass relocation, and forced assimilation that followed.

Supporting Native land rights is a key connection to helping communities improve their health, life and continued culture. 

In practicing a land acknowledgement, you are recognizing that the land you’re standing on is stolen. We recognize the people and communities that cared for, and lived on, the lands since the beginning of time. We acknowledge their stewardship, their forced removal, and their continued fight to live on their ancestral lands.

Further, in practicing a land acknowledgement one is committing to being a steward of that land. It’s not solely about acknowledging the caretakers, but also the land itself. Each of us as human beings has a responsibility to care for the land. We must respect the land, the waters, the plants, and the animals. Without them we would not be able to live on the land to begin with.

Seattle is Built on Native Land

The City of Seattle resides on the traditional land of the coast Salish peoples, past and present. We honor with gratitude our shared land and waterways, as well as the history and heritage of our indigenous neighbors.

The land we live and work on within Puget Sound was first inhabited by the Coast Salish peoples. These include the tribes and bands of the Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Tulalip, Snoqualmie and Suquamish Nations, who have lived and cared for the land since time immemorial. 

To acknowledge this land is to learn and recognize the lived history of Indigenous peoples, including the impact of colonialism and subsequent displacement, genocide and erasure of Native communities and culture throughout our country’s history.

Here are some examples to serve as starting points (or final versions) for your organization’s land acknowledgement.

Read more about “Land acknowledgments meant to honor Indigenous people too often do the opposite – erasing American Indians and sanitizing history instead” in The Conversation.

Symbolism /

The color Red is an important color in Native American culture. 

The most important number is Four – the symbol of the horizontal picture of the world, which is most clearly represented among North American Indians: “In its essence, this symbolism stays for a cycle associated with fertility.”

The “Magic Eight” (corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla, and cacao) are eight plants that Native people gave to the world and are now woven into almost every cuisine. Like many cuisines, Native American cuisine is not static.

At the point of contact, all Native American societies acknowledged three to five gender roles: Female, Male, Two Spirit Female, Two Spirit Male, and Transgendered.

Stats /

In King County – Roughly 1% of King County identifies as Native (American Indian / Alaska Native), but Native people represent 15% of King County’s homeless population. A history of unjust federal, state, and local policies has contributed to disproportionately high levels of homelessness among Native peoples in urban areas.

In Washington state – Health inequities include a significant shortage of Native doctors. In 2018, the Washington State Medical Commission reported that American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities had only one Native physician for every 1,281 people. In contrast, there was one white physician for every 413 people that identify as white.

In the United States – Native Americans are also underrepresented on the faculty of medical schools. Of all full-time academic faculty, only 0.48% are Native American.

Tribes /

Meet the Tribes of Washington StateDid you know there are currently 29 federally-recognized Native American tribes and 3 non-federally recognized Native American tribes located on reservations throughout Washington state? 

Native Resource Hub /

Services + Support. Community + Connection. The Native Resource Hub is a phone line and centralized information center for ALL Native people in Washington state. CALL: (866) 491-1683 (Open Monday – Friday 8:00a – 5:00p PT). 

Internship Opportunities /

2024 Alaska Rising Voices Changing Coasts Summer Internship (PDF) >> Apply Today!

Events & Exhibitions /

Each November, Native American Heritage is celebrated through events and dedications nationwide honoring Native peoples’ resilience, culture, and community contributions.

Education /

Washington State Standard – Native and state leaders push for K-12 schools to fully implement tribal history curriculum

Listen & Watch /

About Washington Tribes

CDC Injury Prevention & Control – The Friendship Makers and Stars that Connect Us

Listen to Living Nations, Living Words – a collection of contemporary Native poetry curated by poet laureate Joy Harjo and the Library of Congress.

Burke Museum – Traditional Coast Salish Foods

First Nations Development Institute – The feature film GATHER tells the story about Indian resilience and the renaissance of Native food systems.

We are Muckleshoot – Muckleshoot Homelands

NBCU Academy – Understanding Native American Heritage

Seattle Channel – Paddle to Muckleshoot: Honoring our Warriors Past & Present (31:14). Canoe Journey 2023, Paddle to Muckleshoot, brought together thousands of Native people from far and wide to celebrate their history and culture. This year’s theme was Honoring Our Warriors Past and Present, a tribute to our ancestors who paddled the Salish Sea and the surrounding waterways since time immemorial, and those who continue the fight to uphold our sovereignty and treaty rights today. Video produced by Groundswell in association with The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

UW News – Get to know the UW campus with Indigenous Walking Tour

Readings & Resources /

CDC Drug Overdose Prevention in Tribal Communities

2022 Washington Indian Tribes Today: Preserving Culture, Enriching People, Sustaining the Environment, and Building Community

The Economic & Community Benefits of Tribes in Washington

The Tribes of Washington State Map

YMCA of Greater Seattle – Bridging Cultures: Indigenous Wisdom and Environmental Education

Book Recommendations: First Nations Knowledge Center, 20 Exceptional Middle Grade Indigenous and Native American Books for Kids, 90 Recent Books to Read This Native American Heritage Month, UW American Indian Studies’ Books

CDC celebrates rich cultures and communities of Native and Indigenous peoples with The Star Collection books for young American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) readers. Each book in the collection celebrates feeling connected to culture and community and having positive relationships with others that are safe, stable, and nurturing.

Developed in response to the burden of diabetes among Native Americans and the lack of diabetes prevention materials for Native American children, the Eagle Books series for young readers encourages healthy living as part of the CDC Native Diabetes Wellness Program.

CDC – American Indian & Alaska Native Contributions to Public Health

Chief Seattle Club

Explore the map created by Native Land Digital and learn about the Indigenous history of the land and the impact of colonialism.

First Peoples’ Map of B.C. – Search for languages, arts, heritage and more

Indian Health Service – Two-Spirit

Learn more about the Paths (Re)Membered Project, which centers the Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ community.

Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. Learn about Native American Heritage Month

Native Land Digital Map – search by Territories, Languages or Treaties

Seven Directions, A Center for Indigenous Public Health – Indigenous Social Determinants of Health, Connections, and Indigenous Knowledge Pathways

Seattle Theatre Group (STG) Resource Guide: Native American Heritage Month

Stand with the Duwamish Tribe


The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust. Learn more about Native American Heritage Month >>

The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) continues to work alongside Tribal Nations and the federal government to ensure historic Trust and Treaty responsibilities are fulfilled while providing Public Health Policy Programs focused on Maternal and Child Health, Environmental Health, Behavioral Health, and Infectious Disease Prevention.

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians have lived along the shores of the Puget Sound in Washington State for thousands of years. Learn more about their Tribal History >>

UW College of the Environment / UW EarthLab – Future Rivers News & Events

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – AI/AN Health Disparities & Resources

UW Medicine, Department of Pediatrics – The Center for Indigenous Health

UW Medicine – Indian Health Pathway

UW School of Public Health – Resources to celebrate Native American Heritage Month and its intersection with public health

Visit Seattle Native American Cultural Heritage Guide

Washington state Department of Social and Health Services – Indian Policy

Washington Tribes – Preserving Culture, Improving Lives, Protecting Resources, and Building Community

Education Development Center (EDC) – We Need to Talk about Thanksgiving

YMCA of Greater Seattle – Indigenous & Native Peoples’ Heritage

National Indian Health Board (NIHB), Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) “How to celebrate Native American Heritage Month”, and Visit Seattle Native American Cultural Heritage, WashingtonTribes.org