A Chippewa woman and child, c. 1880. Courtesy the New York Public Library
Hispanic Heritage Month is held from September 15th to October 15th and Black History Month is observed during February, but did you know there is also a month honoring Native Americans? Throughout the 30 days of November, the cultures, traditions, histories and contributions of Native people are celebrated. Also known as Native American Heritage Month, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month and National American Indian Heritage Month, this event dates back to the early 1900s.
Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to start a day for the “First Americans.” This event lasted for three years until 1915 when the Congress of the American Indian Association met and called for an annual American Indian Day. The association’s president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge issued a proclamation in September of that year and declared the second Saturday of May as American Indian Day. This declaration became the first formal recognition of Native Americans as citizens of the United States. A year later, in 1916, the governor of New York made the second Saturday in May also American Indian Day. Other states followed suit, but decided to celebrate the event as the fourth Friday in September. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan created the week-long celebration from November 23rd to 30th as American Indian Week. It wasn’t until 1990 when President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution that designated the month of November to be National American Indian Heritage Month. Today, this month is packed full of events and commemorations. Here are some ways you and your family can honor National Native American Heritage Month.
- Visit a reservation or museum. Throughout the United States, there are about 56.2 million acres of land and 326 reservations for various Indian tribes and individuals. While reservations are not tourist attractions due to being the home for tribes and communities, many do welcome visitors and have museums for the public. One you can visit without traveling too far is Cherokee in the mountains of NC. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian has exhibits for all ages and hosts cultural events.
- Read books and pieces of literature by Native American authors. No matter how old you are, diversifying your books every now and then is a key thing to do in order to learn more about those around you. Spend some time this month reading some work by Native American authors. For adults, Tommy Orange, Louise Erdrich, Stephen Graham Jones and Joy Harjo are good choices. For children, try the writings of Debbie Reese, Joseph Bruchac and Monique Gray Smith.
- Research Native American art. While immersing yourself in books, don’t forget to learn about Native American art. American Indian artwork is created to honor one’s family and tribal ancestry. As you are researching and looking at pieces, be sure to gather information about the artist and the item’s meaning. If you are purchasing a piece, also learn about its history.
- Support a Native-owned business or brand. While supporting locally owned businesses, also consider supporting Native-owned businesses and brands. The money spent at these businesses helps their economic communities and social causes. A quick search online will show what companies are in your vicinity. You can also consider sending a donation to charities that aid Native communities and causes.
- Learn about Native American Culture. One of the biggest things you can do during this month is to educate yourself and your family about the diversity of Native cultures, Native Americans and Indigenous people throughout the world. In the United States, there are 574 federally recognized tribes with rich cultures, languages and customs. For North Carolina, we are home to eight recognized tribes – the Coharie, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Haliwa-Saponi, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin, the Sappony, the Occanecci Band of the Saponi Nation and the Waccamaw Siouan. By familiarizing yourself with their culture and way of life, you may just be surprised by how much you can learn about Native Americans, their cultures, accomplishments and contributions that you may not have known about before.
National Native American Heritage Month is here. Let’s make it our goal to honor Native Americans and their heritage in multiple ways throughout the month of November.