National Native American Heritage Month: Date, History, Facts & Activities

July 13, 2022 4 min read

During November, National Native American Heritage Month celebrates the vast and rich culture, history, and customs of Native Americans. The observance also provides an opportunity to educate anybody and everyone about the various tribes, as well as raise awareness about the difficulties native people have faced in the past and in the present. American Indian images, language, names, and stories continue to shape our lives today.

1. What is the Date of National Native American Heritage Month?

National Native American Heritage Day is observed on November 26, the day after Thanksgiving. On this day, American Indians are honored for their unique cultures, achievements, contributions, and heritage. Native Americans founded America, and the bald eagle on the United States shield is an Iroquois symbol. On this day, we can honor their traditional clothing and food while simultaneously speaking out against the horrible abuses they have faced.

2. History of National Native American Heritage Month

For nearly a century, Americans, both Indian and non-Indian, have advocated for a permanent place on the calendar to honor the contributions, accomplishments, sacrifices, and historical and cultural legacies of the original inhabitants of what is now the United States and their descendants: the American Indian and Alaska Native people.

The movement for Native American national recognition began as a private enterprise in the early twentieth century. Since the late 1970s, Congress has passed laws and subsequent presidents have made annual proclamations to honor and recognize the nation's American Indian and Alaska Native heritage. The President signed legislation in 2009 recognizing the Friday following Thanksgiving Day as "Native American Heritage Day."

Native American Heritage Day encourages Americans of all backgrounds to appreciate indigenous cultures through rituals and activities. Schools are also encouraged to develop Native American knowledge among children through classroom activities that focus on their history, contributions, and successes.

Native American Heritage Day and Month offer Indigenous people an ideal opportunity to educate the public about their heritage. They are now, more than ever, spearheading the cultural conversation by wearing traditional footwear ("rocking the moccasin") and focusing a light on the varied indigenous communities.

3. National Nativie American Heritage Facts

- American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month are other names for Native American History Month.

- Between 1912 and 1915, Dr. Arthur C. Parker of the Seneca tribe lobbied for an "American Indian Day" to be acknowledged within the Boy Scouts of America.

Reverend Sherman Coolidge (an Arapahoe) became president of the Congress of the American Indian Association in September 1915, with the purpose of establishing American Indian Day honored across the country, as well as fighting for Native American citizenship.

- After Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, all Native Americans were awarded citizenship.

- The first American Indian Day in the state was held in New York on the second Saturday in May 1916.

- Some states continue to celebrate a day of remembrance for Native Americans. In California, for example, the fourth Friday in September is American Indian Day. Other states and communities have switched to celebrating Native Americans' Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day on Columbus Day instead (South Dakota was the first state to do this in 1989). Additionally, Native American Heritage Day is now observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving (this year, on November 27, 2020).

- The population of Indigenous Peoples in the United States was 6.9 million in 2019. (or around 2.09 percent of the total population).

Currently, there are 574 federally recognized Native American tribes (approximately 229 are located in Alaska, and the rest are located in 35 other states).

- Native American tribes enjoy tribal sovereignty, which implies they have the power to govern themselves, much like a state government.

- There were 324 federally recognized Native American land reservations in 2019.

- The National Congress of American Indians claims that "The Navajo Nation reservation would be larger than the following ten states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. An additional 19 tribal nations are each larger than Rhode Island, and 12 tribal nations are each larger than Delaware."

- Outside of tribal boundaries, 78 percent of Native Americans live.

3. National Native American Heritage Month Activities

Read History Book

Read an Aboriginal American history book or a novel that dives into the history and traditions of native peoples. Movies like Pocahontas tend to sensationalize Native American history, so reading a book will likely give you a more accurate view.

Play Game

Let's get some lacrosse in! Lacrosse was one of the ancient stickball activities performed by American Indians as early as the 12th century, believe it or not.

Watch Film

There are a few non-sensationalized Native American films that are well worth viewing. The films Reel Injunction, Smoke Signals, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Winter in the Blood are all worth seeing.

Try a Native Recipe

In the kitchen, try a native recipe! There are various delectable recipes available, ranging from traditional soups to roasted duck and even pumpkin bread for a great autumn treat.

Learn Tale

Learn the real tale of the first Thanksgiving. Your primary school education was inaccurate.

Dive into the world of contemporary Indigenous art

Artists have a unique ability to shine light on histories and truths in ways that leave long-lasting effects. Indigenous contemporary artists contribute to our understanding of such histories, truths, and lived experiences, ranging from forced displacement to the generational traumas of residential schools to internal strength and self-awareness.

Discover the story behind contemporary Inuit ceramics

The pottery created by the artists of Rankin Inlet (Kangirliniq, Nunavut) are masterfully hand-modeled and offer a look into their rich cultural past. At the heart of these artists' inspiration are Inuit narratives, identity, and ethos; appreciation for the environment and the wildlife that roam it; regard for previous traditions; and commitment to their communities.

Meet the Kayapó tribe's women

Kayapó women are renowned as Warrior Women in Brazil because they battle for justice for their country and people. Discover more about the Kayapó women's lives, work, and detailed artisan work.

Learn about the Cherokee Phoenix's history

Learn about the print shop in New Echota, which was the home of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper produced in the United States and the first to be printed in Cherokee.

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