History of Native American Heritage Month
November is Native American Heritage Month. The appeal for a formal recognition day for Native American peoples has been in the works since the early 1900s. The first state to recognize “American Indian Day” was New York in 1916.
In 1976 the first federal Native American heritage recognition week was authorized by President Gerald Ford, “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 that November, and every November after, as National Native American Heritage Month. George H.W. Bush signed the legislation, and it’s been a tradition for the president to send out a proclamation each November. Here’s the proclamation for this November, signed by President Joe Biden.
In 2009, Congress passed the Native American Heritage Day Act and President Barack Obama signed legislation that established the Friday following Thanksgiving Day as “Native American Heritage Day.”
Throughout the heritage month, events, dedications and celebrations of Native resilience and culture honor the history and the present and future contributions of Native communities.
Along with celebration, it is equally important to understand that Native Americans are the First Peoples of this land who were here long before white settlers arrived. They suffered greatly under colonization and the genocide, mass relocation and forced assimilation that followed.
For many years and recently with increased fervor, Native peoples have been reclaiming their ancestral homelands through “Land Back” movements, ways of being, and traditions, including relearning forgotten languages and reinvigorating traditional practices to care for the land.
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. Supporting Native land rights is a key connection to helping communities improve their health, life and continued culture.