About National Native American Heritage Month

What started at the turn of the century 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., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose.

One of the very proponents of an American Indian Day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y. 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 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kans., formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. It directed its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, to call upon the country to observe such a day. Coolidge issued a proclamation on Sept. 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.

The year before this proclamation was issued, 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. There is no record, however, of such a national day being proclaimed.

The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.

In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994.

About this Site

This Web portal is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Executive and Legislative Documents

The Law Library of Congress has compiled guides to commemorative observations, including a comprehensive inventory of the Public Laws, Presidential Proclamations and congressional resolutions related to Native American Heritage Month.

Other Dedicated Web Sites

Images Used on this Site

Detail of the geometric design of a Native American saddle blanket, circa 1880
Detail of Double saddle blanket, circa 1880. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Cat.

Color photomechanical print of Chief Sevara of the Ute tribe and his family, circa 1899
Detail of Utes--Chief Sevara [i.e. Severo] and family. Photomechanical print, c 1899. Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Detail from a color drawing of buildings in the Jemez Pueblo by Helmut Naumer, 1936.
Detail of Jemez Pueblo, First View 1936 By Helmut Naumer, Sr. Pastel on paper. H 55, L 70 cm Bandelier National Monument, BAND 522

Detail from a color painting entitled Rabbit Hunt by Pablita Velarde showing men, women, and children of a pueblo joining in the communal activity, circa 1940
Detail of Rabbit Hunt ca. 1940 By Pablita Velarde Casein paint on masonite. L 37.8, W 20.5 cm Bandelier National Monument, BAND 654

Detail of a poster for the Indian Court exhibit at the 1929 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco showing a Haida Indian blanket design.
Detail of Indian court, Federal Building, Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939 Blanket design of the Haida Indians, Alaska. Work Projects Administration Poster Collection.

Detail of a poster for the Indian Court exhibit at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco showing an antelope hunt from a Navajo drawing.
Detail of Indian court, Federal Building, Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939 Antelope hunt from a Navaho drawing, New Mexico. Work Projects Administration Poster Collection.


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