November is Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month

Honor rich and diverse cultures, tribes, traditions and histories

native american heritage month After 100 years of efforts, American Indian and Alaska Native people finally have a special place on the national calendar to honor their contributions, achievements, sacrifices and cultural legacy. Photo by Jeff Olson

November is the perfect time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, tribes, traditions and histories of Native Americans. Many of our public lands hold stories of important Native American contributions, the unique trials they've faced in the past (and today) and the ways in which tribal citizens conquer these challenges. Check this list of America Indian related-sites within our National Parks or within one of the federal public lands near you (just enter your town and zip code into our home page search box). Then plan to explore one of these special places on a guided tour, during a special event, with a hike or walk, a scenic drive, or on a camping, fishing or mountain biking trip.

What is Native American Heritage Month?

It started a century ago as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S. and is now a month long celebration of the cultures of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The First Efforts

In the early 1900s, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, who was of Seneca ancestry, was one of the very first proponents of an American Indian Day. He was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York (now the Rochester Museum and Science Center). He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the "First Americans" and for three years they adopted such a day.

In 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state-to-state, seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House. The White House proclaimed no such national day, however.

In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. It directed its president, Reverend Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, to call upon the country to observe this national day. Coolidge issued a proclamation on September 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.

In 1916, the governor of New York declared the first official state American Indian Day on the second Saturday in May.

In 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, but took no action on a national American Indian Day.

Tony Redhouse


It wasn't until 1986 that Congress passed—and President Ronald Reagan signed—a proclamation authorizing American Indian Week. Then, recognizing that—for native Americans—November was generally a time of thanks and celebration after a successful harvest season, President George H. W. Bush designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since then, Presidents regularly issue similar proclamations.

Several states, like California, South Dakota and Tennessee celebrate a specific American Indian Day on different dates of the year (South Dakota has actually changed Columbus Day to Native American Day).

Read more at A History of National Native American Heritage Month on the US Department of Interior's Indian Affairs website.