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Celebrating Native American Heritage Month: Honoring the First Americans

November is a special month in our nation's calendar, one where we come together to pay tribute to the rich and diverse cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Native American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the significant contributions, history, and traditions of the first Americans who played a vital role in shaping our country.

 


The origins of this celebration date back to the turn of the century, as forward-thinking individuals and leaders recognized the need to recognize the immense impact of Native Americans on the growth and development of the United States. Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y., was one of the early proponents of American Indian Day. He urged the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day dedicated to the "First Americans," and for a few years, they observed this special day.

 


The idea continued to gain momentum, and in 1915, at the annual Congress of the American Indian Association in Lawrence, Kansas, a formal plan for American Indian Day was approved. This remarkable step was taken by the Association's president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, who issued a proclamation on September 28, 1915. This proclamation marked the second Saturday of each May as American Indian Day, and it included the very first formal appeal for the recognition of Native Americans as citizens.

 


In the same spirit, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, embarked on a journey from state to state the year before, seeking approval for a day to honor Native Americans. On December 14, 1915, he presented endorsements from 24 state governments at the White House, although there is no record of a national day being proclaimed.

 


The first American Indian Day in a state was declared in New York in 1916 by the governor, and in the years that followed, several states chose to celebrate it on the fourth Friday in September. Illinois, for example, recognized this day in 1919. Today, some states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day. Still, it remains a day we observe without any official recognition as a national legal holiday.

 


In 1990, a significant milestone was reached when President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as "National American Indian Heritage Month." This tradition has continued to evolve, and since 1994, similar proclamations, with variations in the name such as "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month," have been issued annually.

 


During this special month, we join the nation in acknowledging the enduring legacies, customs, and accomplishments of Native Americans. It's a time to foster understanding, celebrate diversity, and honor the invaluable contributions of the first Americans to our shared history. If you would like more information, please visit the website Native American Heritage Month.

 

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